Recent media reports and programs on bullying attest to the fact that it continues to be a problem that challenges the HR function.  I hold to the notion that where bullies thrive, authority is weak. Much of the problem stems from the failure of management.   

Sadly, workplaces lacking in quality leadership can be incubators for a whole raft of dysfunctional behaviours – bullying is one of the worst. Bullying is another toxic behaviour. It costs the corporate and public sectors billions of dollars. This comes from unplanned absences, employee stress, lost productivity, disputes and grievances, conflict, mistakes and rework, increased insurance costs, ill health, turnover, resignation, divorce, suicide and increased compensation and civil law claims and suits.

 No-one is immune. Even CEO’s can be bullied by their Board or Chairperson. CEO’s can in turn bully. It’s easy for them! Some even try to bully their Board. However, the main perpetrators are managers/supervisors/team leaders (around two thirds of bullies are in this category), with work colleagues accounting for the balance.

Bullying is a cancer that eats away at its victims. It destroys one’s sense of worth, confidence, commitment, energy and persistence. Like all cancers, bullying is also distressing and even debilitating for those who observe the relentless progress of the condition on its victims. Often workers see the ravaging effects on a colleague suffering bullying. It sends powerful messages like – ‘this could happen to me.’ ‘I ought be careful because I don’t want to cop that.’ ‘I need be quiet and compliant.’

Bullying is most likely to have been conceived and delivered in the school yard. It becomes a learned behavior that attaches to the perpetrator who relies upon it to survive and then dominate others. Typically, bullying is perpetrated by boss on subordinate; although this is not always the case. Even subordinates can employ bullying tactics on the boss. Men bully women, women bully men, men bully men and women bully women, staff bully staff, staff bully customers, and, customers bully staff – it’s a universal thing.


77  Symptoms of Workplace Bullying:

You are on the end of bullying behaviour when you observe, feel or experience any of the following:-

  • persistent and mostly unfair criticism
  • aggressive outbursts
  • ridicule
  • playing favorites
  • with-holding data or information
  • providing partial information
  • imposing unrealistic deadlines and timeframes
  • gossip, rumor, innuendo
  • jokes at your expense
  • embarrassment
  • humiliation
  • intimidation
  • threats
  • sabotage
  • abuse
  • slights and sarcasm
  • put downs
  • misrepresentations
  • persistent disagreement
  • setting up
  • bad mouthing
  • complaining
  • disaffirming behaviour
  • lies
  • with holding training
  • negative personal commentary
  • rostering to the worst possible shift
  • impossible performance targets
  • bad language
  • unwelcome advances, touching, hugging
  • coercion
  • rudeness
  • inability to access a complaints process
  • tyranny
  • entrapment
  • exclusion
  • hostility
  • screaming, yelling, stomping and unhinging
  • harassment
  • repression
  • teasing
  • denigration
  • manipulation
  • unwelcome notes, cards, letters, memos, phone calls, SMS, e-mails
  • tale telling
  • blackmail
  • threats of violence
  • poking, pushing, shoving
  • unwelcome invasion of personal space
  • sexual innuendo
  • inappropriate jokes
  • unwelcome comments re dress, appearance, race, religion, ethnicity, sexuality
  • staring and leering
  • allocating dangerous tasks
  • job redesign with sinister intent
  • professional isolation
  • unwarranted questions
  • persistent allocation of menial tasks
  • nit-picking
  • over ruling
  • interrupting
  • marginalising
  • faulting
  • patronising
  • initiation ‘ceremonies’ often dressed up as rites-of-passage
  • withholding resources or tools of trade
  • over loading
  • allocation of tasks beyond the job requirements
  • theft of personal or intellectual property
  • silence
  • denial of leave requests
  • refusing time to attend to family or personal crises
  • false and malicious accusations
  • coercion
  • denial of natural justice
  • providing false referee reports to third parties
  • constructive or unfair dismissal

Bullying is a big problem – above are the symptoms that make for workplace unhappiness! It can be overt, covert or subtle. Much of it is perpetrated with aforethought and deliberate and malicious intent. Yet it can be, in some cases, innocent or unconscious, for the perpetrator lacks insight into their behaviour. In these circumstances the person holds to a view that their unwelcome and discomforting actions are mere manifestations of ‘management’ or ‘supervision’. Others attempt to disguise their behaviour by referring to it as ‘old school’, or ‘discipline’ or ‘tough love’.

         From: Leadership with a ‘T’ a forthcoming eBook

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