المجلس العالمي للتسامح والسلام

The scourge of workplace bullying!

By: Vanessa M. Farhat

Vanessa M. Farhat

The majority of graduates feel excited to start their professional lives after spending around 20 years preparing for it. Once there, nervousness kicks in, trying to adjust to the work environment and fit in. Some may find very comfortable workplaces with friendly environments, while others face disturbed people ready to do whatever it takes to “step over” others and reach higher positions including workplace bullying.

One of the recent most important and truthful pieces of workplace research in 2017 showed that there’s a global epidemic that must be stopped, proven by the results which demonstrated that 69% of those who answered the survey have personally experienced workplace bullying in their careers.

Bullying at work can take shape or form in many different ways and can be a very devastating and distressing issue that can affect your emotional health. It can be verbal, physical, social or psychological abuse by your employer (or manager), or another person or group of people at work and can happen in any type of workplace, from offices to shops, cafes, restaurants, workshops, community groups and government organizations with all types of workers, whether they are volunteers, work experience students, interns, apprentices, casual and permanent employees. Some types of workplace bullying are criminal offences.

What does bullying in the workplace look like?

Some practices in the workplace may not seem fair but are not bullying, since your employer is allowed to transfer, demote, discipline, counsel, retrench or sack you as long as they are acting reasonably. But you know you are being bullied when you face other behaviors such as:

  • repeated hurtful remarks or attacks, or making fun of your work or you as a person (including your family, sex, sexuality, gender identity, race or culture, education or economic background)
  • sexual harassment, particularly stuff like unwelcome touching and sexually explicit comments and requests that make you uncomfortable
  • excluding you or stopping you from working with people or taking part in activities that relates to your work
  • playing mind games, ganging up on you, or other types of psychological harassment
  • intimidation (making you feel less important and undervalued)
  • giving you pointless tasks that have nothing to do with your job
  • giving you impossible jobs that can’t be done in the given time or with the resources provided
  • deliberately changing your work hours or schedule to make it difficult for you
  • deliberately holding back information you need for getting your work done properly
  • pushing, shoving, tripping, grabbing you in the workplace
  • attacking or threatening with equipment, knives, guns, clubs or any other type of object that can be turned into a weapon
  • initiation or hazing – where you are made to do humiliating or inappropriate things in order to be accepted as part of the team.

How bullying can affect your work?

If you are being bullied at work you might be less active, successful, confident, or happy about yourself and your work. You will feel scared, stressed, anxious or depressed, which will affect your life outside of work. You will want to stay away from work and feel like you can’t trust your employer or the people who you work with, in addition to having physical signs of stress like headaches, backaches, and sleeping problems.

What should you do if you feel you are being bullied or harassed?

After you make sure that what you are exposed to is workplace bullying, you should first consider whether the situation can be resolved informally. You could discuss your concerns with your line manager, an HR representative, trade union official, or even the person who is bullying you if you feel like you are able to. It can be helpful to confide in other colleagues, since they may be experiencing the same case as you.

If informal resolution is out of the question, you may want to escalate matters and lodge a formal grievance, following which your employer should investigate the matter and hold a meeting. Your employer should have a grievance policy that explains how the process works. Usually, the grievance is lodged with HR or your line manager, unless your line manager is the bully, in which case, if possible, you should lodge it with someone more senior. If the grievance is not upheld, you have the right to lodge an appeal. If it is upheld, the person bullying you could be disciplined or even dismissed.

It is advisable to keep a diary of events where you feel bullied or harassed, as well as emails and other communications that demonstrate the unwanted conduct. This evidence will not only be useful when you are required to recall instances of bullying but can also show that a series of isolated instances are actually part of a wider campaign against you.

What legal claims do you have?

Sometimes intensive bullying may lead to mistrust with your employer, which will demand your resignation and claiming constructive dismissal, that requires two years’ services, based on that fact that your employer has fundamentally breached your contract making your ongoing position untenable.

If you have experienced harassment in relation to a protected characteristic, such as a disability, you can similarly bring a claim for constructive dismissal. You can also claim damages for harassment under the Equality Act. In both cases, it is recommended that you lodge a grievance before resigning, and failure to do so in a constructive dismissal claim could reduce any damages you are awarded at tribunal by up to 25%.

Bullying is not confined to school playgrounds and classrooms, but for many adults, it has become the scourge of their work day and they often feel like there is no escape.

The trauma of bullying does not only last for the day it happens. It lasts for weeks, months, and sometimes years, leaving the bullied person with a hurtful memory of the exact words that were said to him, the time of day, and what he was wearing. The human price we are paying is far too high. This trauma of bullying eats away at people’s morale, productivity, and ability to work at optimum effectiveness. Leaders need to be aware that to permit these behaviors to persist means profits decrease due to absenteeism, presenteeism, and low motivation. No one can ever produce great work while feeling humiliated.

At the end, we need a fresh look at the problem by our leaders and human resources professionals in collaboration with the staff and recruiters in order to come up with a realistic plan, which begins with setting clear expectations at the start. “The difference between a bully and a mistake is with the intent: the bully wants to wound, to have power over, to humiliate, and destroy,” said Sherry Benson Podolchuk. The future of our global workplace is at stake. This is not hyperbole. Awareness on that matter is highly required, as well as training and education and effective policies that are actually enforced and based on accountability and consequences.

We should break the silence and the destructive cycle of bullying in order to transform the workplace not only for ourselves but for our daughters and sons. As leadership expert Simon Sinek says, “Imagine a world where people feel safe at work.”

Let us shine a bright light on the workplace issues that face us. Only then will we have a chance to solve them.




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