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Bullying in the Workplace

Updated: Nov 18, 2021

Anti-bullying week takes place on 15th - 19th November 2021, the purpose of which is to raise awareness of bullying. Schools and the communities are getting proactive in raising awareness of bullying, and if children learn this in their formative years, it can be stamped out, and there will be less chance of undue misery and distress caused to others. When left unchecked, any initial bullying behaviour can develop, and it will often transcend school; and migrate to the workplace. There are a lot of toxic workplace environments, where the behaviour of employees is often unchecked, conveniently ignored, or even colluded with. It is reported that 23% of employees have been bullied at work in the UK; which is a frightening statistic.

Photo by Yan Krukov from Pexels

There are the overt signs of bullying:

  1. Undervaluing. An unwarranted denigration of people's ideas and work contributions.

  2. Derogatory communication. Harassment, degrading jokes (often disguised as 'banter') and gossiping.

  3. Humiliation. belittling and embarrassing someone, often in front of an audience.

  4. Hostility. Expressing anger towards an employee by yelling and intimidating.

  5. Encroachment. Breaching someone's boundaries by unnecessarily invading someone's personal space, interfering with a colleague's work processes, tinkering with someone’s belongings; or pestering someone.

  6. Manipulation. Forcefully persuading someone to do or say things against their better judgment or will.

There are also more discreet forms of bullying.

  1. Disregarding: Actively ignoring someone; deliberately excluding someone from the group or from important communications.

  2. Minimization: Discounting, trivialising or failing to acknowledge someone’s legitimate concerns.

  3. Redirection: Evading any valid concerns or issues by changing the subject to refocus attention away from it.

  4. Projection of blame: Refocusing the spotlight of blame onto others, neglecting to take responsibility and ownership of problems.

  5. Making people feel expendable: Even though positive contributions have been made to improve a service, these will either be overlooked, or berated.

  6. Impossible or changing expectations: By constantly altering expectations, and/or creating unrealistic expectations employees to meet, an unsettling work climate is created which can jeopardised feelings of confidence and security in the role.

  7. Gaslighting: This is a multi-faceted form of bullying which involves a discreet form of bullying and then reframing the victim’s reality:

a) Being ridiculed and humiliated but this will occur under the smokescreen as a joke. Any response to this will result in you being ‘paranoid’, or devoid of a sense of humour.

b) Exclusion: Despite being extremely competent at your job, you may be overlooked for a promotion if you do not belong to the ‘in-group’.

c) Lack of ownership. When challenged about their behaviour, the gaslighter will deny any responsibility for perpetration, and may indicate that you are crazy or paranoid for arriving at this conclusion. Or they may reframe the scenario so that they project the blame onto you for your own victimisation.

Bullying has a longstanding profound effect on mental health. Being exposed to repeated toxic behaviour at work can make you feel unsafe and uncertain in your role, which can engender a feeling of lack of trust in others. This lack of trust can make you become withdrawn and depressed. Along with this, it may make you second-guess your contributions and doubt your competence. With the more discreet forms of bullying, if you decide to raise your concerns to the bully, you may experience a secondary layer of bullying by being accused of being paranoid ("this isn't happening, it's all in your head"), too sensitive ("lighten up") or having no sense of humour ("You can't take a joke"). It makes a situation seem hopeless and it plunges you into despair.

It is extremely unfortunate that this happens so often, and it is important to realise that this is not your baggage to carry. This is the bully's baggage that they are dumping onto you. Bullies have a plethora of insecurities that they are eager to shed, and this drives the need to overcompensate for their insecurities, by trying to make others feel as bad about themselves as they do.

There are things that can be done now, if you feel that you are being victimised:

1. Call the behaviour out - If a behaviour is unchallenged, then it will become part of the bully's automatic routine. If this is denied, also name what they are doing (gaslighting). This will bring to their attention that you are aware of this process, then they may realise it is less likely to work on you.

2. Diarise the incidents - You may need to take this further with your employer, or the HR department. Your employer should have a clear anti-bullying and harassment policy. Peruse this, and take the necessary steps. A log of these incidents will help to support your complaint.

3. Talk to someone - Being bullied is often a traumatic experience that has a detrimental effect on wellbeing. Make sure you reach out to someone, whether that be a close friend, a relative, or a counsellor. Talking this through with a trusted other can help you to restore your sense of self-worth, and your sense of empowerment.

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