Speak Up About Workplace Bullying
Workplace bullying happens more often than you think. According to worktrauma.org 77,8% of South Africans say that they have experienced some form of victimisation during their careers. According to 2017 research from the Workplace Bullying Institute about 70% of bullies are male, and about 30% are female. Both male and female bullies are more likely to target women. 61% of bullying comes from bosses or supervisors, while 33% comes from co-workers and the remaining 6% occurs when people at lower employment levels bully their supervisors or others above them.
Bullying from managers might involve abuse of power, including negative performance reviews that aren’t justified, shouting or threats of firing or demotion, or denying time off or transfer to another department.
Now you could be asking yourself what constitutes as workplace bullying. Workplace bullying is defined as “repeated, health harming mistreatment by one or more employees or an employer. Abusive conduct that takes the form of verbal abuse or behaviours perceived as intimidating or humiliating. Examples of workplace bullying can include the following behaviour, whether intentional or unintentional:
- Verbal. This could include mockery, humiliation, jokes, gossip or other spoken abuse.
- Intimidating. This might include threats, social exclusion in the workplace, spying, or other invasions of privacy.
- Related to work performance. Examples include wrongful blame, work sabotage or interference, or stealing or taking credit for ideas.
- Retaliatory. In some cases, talking about the bullying can lead to accusations of lying, further exclusion, refused promotions, or other retaliation.
- Institutional. Institutional bullying happens when a workplace accepts, allows, and even encourages bullying to take place. This bullying might include unrealistic production goals, forced overtime, or singling out those who can’t keep up.
Early warning signs of bullying can vary, for example:
- Co-workers might become quiet or leave the room when you walk in, or they might simply ignore you.
- You might be left out of office culture, such as chitchat, parties or team lunches.
- Your supervisor or manager might check on you often or ask you to meet multiple times a week without a clear reason.
- You may be asked to do new tasks or tasks outside your typical duties without training or help, even when you request it.
- It may seem like your work is frequently monitored, to the point where you begin to doubt yourself and have difficulty with your regular tasks.
- You might be asked to do difficult or seemingly pointless tasks and be ridiculed or criticised when you can’t get them done.
- You may notice a pattern of your documents, files, other work-related items or personal belongings going missing.
These incidents may seem random at first. If they continue, you may worry something you did caused them and fear you’ll be fired or demoted. Thinking about work, even on your time off, may cause anxiety and dread. Workplace bullying is not only humiliating but can be stressful and have an effect on one’s mental health. It is believed that even when you can remove yourself from the bullying environment, the impact of bullying can last long after bullying has stopped. When bullying isn’t addressed, it becomes easier for people to continue bullying, especially when the bullying is subtle. Bullies who take credit for work or intentionally make others look bad may end up receiving praise or being promoted.
What to do when you’re being bullied?
When experiencing bullying, it’s common to feel powerless and unable to do anything to stop it. If you try to stand up to the bully, you may be threatened or told no one will believe you. If it’s your manager bullying you, you may wonder who to tell.
First, take a moment to remind yourself that bullying is never your fault, regardless of what triggered it. Even if someone bullies you by making it seem like you can’t do your job, bullying is more about power and control, not your work ability.
Then begin to take action against bullying
with these steps:
Document the bullying. Keep track of all bullying actions in writing. Note the date, the time, where the bullying took place and other people who were in the room.
Save physical evidence. Keep any threatening notes, comments or emails you receive, even if they’re unsigned.
Report the bullying. Your workplace may have a designated person you can talk to if you don’t feel safe talking to your direct supervisor. Human resources is a good place to start. It’s also possible to talk about the bullying with someone higher up if your supervisor is unhelpful or is the person doing the bullying.
Review work policies. Your employee handbook may outline actions or policies against bullying. Also consider reviewing labour policies about the type of bullying you’re experiencing.
Talk to an AskNelson Counsellor. They can provide professional support and help you explore ways to cope with the effects of bullying while you take other action.
Confront the bully. If you know who’s bullying you, bring along a trusted witness, such as a co-worker or supervisor, and ask them to stop — if you feel comfortable doing so. Be calm, direct, and polite.
Reach out to others. Co-workers may be able to offer support. Talking to your loved ones about the bullying can also help. You can also talk to a therapist. They can provide professional support and help you explore ways to cope with the effects of bullying while you take other action.
Experiencing workplace bullying or know of someone who could be. Speak to our AskNelson counsellors on how you can overcome hostile working environments and become more assertive.
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