Workplace Bullying: What should organizations be doing about it?

Jun 30, 06

This Month

Workplace bullying in much more prevalent than recognized or even acknowledged. In an age, where aggressive behaviour helps achieve results, where workplace pressure is at an all time high in terms of responsibilities and deadlines, it is all to easy to cross the boundaries and becoming ‘ruthless’ and a ‘bully’.

Chances are fairly high that you would personally have experienced workplace bullying in some form or else seen it happening to some one.

The repercussions of workplace bullying are high and I hope this article gives you some ideas to reflect and act on!

Warm regards,


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Workplace Bullying: What should organizations be doing about it?

“One in four are bullied in the workplace” is a statistic stated on the “Andrea Adams Trust”, UK based charity dedicated to addressing workplace bullying. The Trust, named after Andrea Adams, a broadcaster and journalist, who first coined the term and published a book called ‘Bullying at Work’ in 1992. Since then, various studies done across Europe, America and Australia reflect significant levels of workplace bullying that should make HR professionals and senior managers to address issues arising out of it.

What is Workplace bullying?

The Andrea Adams trust defines bullying “as a gradual wearing down process that makes individuals feel demeaned and inadequate, that they can never get anything right, and that they are hopeless, not only within their work environment, but also in their domestic life.”

It could take the form of humiliation and/or ridicule, unfair criticism and intimidating behaviour along with verbal abuse. It could constitute bullying if you are, on a consistent basis being marginalized in meetings and information needed to allow you to perform effectively is withheld. Also, if the performance criteria keep changing, your leave is refused and you are denied training necessary for fulfilment of your job. It could also be pressure to comply or accept whatever a supervisor wants or even pressure to stay behind to finish work, either paid or unpaid. On the extreme side, it could be verbal abuse or public humiliation on any grounds.

Bullying can be in multiple ways too. It could be intimidation followed closely by the person being made to feel fearful of speaking out or being pressured to accept excessive workloads.

It can happen to people at all levels irrespective of gender or race, between supervisor and subordinates or between peers.

Why should organizations start taking it seriously?

Workplace bullying is much more prevalent and insidious in organizations as compared to sexual or racial harassment. Unfortunately, many of the forms of behaviour in itself do not mean much and could seem that the aggrieved party is making an excuse for lack of performance or is unable to get along with a concerned person or worse still; is unable to cope with change or additional responsibilities.

In most cases bullying could be covert and unless the organization is vigilant, chances are that employees remain silent about the issue or discuss it with family, friends at or outside workplace. Most are also often advised to put up with it if they can’t consider alternatives such as leaving the job. “That’s his / her management style”, “Personality clash”, “Poor attitude”, “aggressive style” are often the explanations given for workplace bullying. It’s worse when the bully is seen as a ‘performer’, delivering results.

Yet, workplace bullying has a huge impact on the organization performance as well as culture. It leads to stress, absence from work, poor performance, poor employee morale, high employee turnover and in more severe cases damages resulting in medical as well as legal payouts.

How can organizations deal with Bullying at the workplace?

Raising Awareness through Education: It is important that people understand what constitutes bullying, how to recognize it when it happens at the workplace and what should be done if they observe it. More importantly, organizations should understand what constitutes a manager’s prerogative to manage or lead his / her team and when he crosses the boundaries. Training for employees in this area – both class room as well as web based sessions should be made mandatory. Guidelines with clear examples on what constitutes workplace bullying should be made available.

Policies and Procedures: Employees should know what the organization’s stated view on workplace bullying is, whether bullying constitutes disciplinary offence and whom they can approach should they face bullying at the workplace.

Training for ‘People Skills’: When managers take new responsibilities of managing teams or direct reports’, they should learn “people skills” such as appropriate communication, negotiation, mediation, and conflict resolution skills.

Counselling: Counselling to be provided to those who are victims of workplace bullying. In addition, coaching should be provided for those who perpetuate workplace bullying with strict change of contract conditions for those who do not demonstrate improvement.



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