bullying in the workplace
by Lynn Eaton
Most of us might have thought we left bullies behind in the playground. But as many as one in ten people are on the receiving end of bullying at work, according to research in 2000. Each year, 18 million working days are lost because of workplace bullying, the report Workplace Bullying in Britain reveals.
Researchers at the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology (UMIST) contacted 5,300 people in various jobs across the private, voluntary and public sectors for their research. Almost half had witnessed some kind of bullying at work and one in six had been the victim of bullying in the previous six months. One in four had been bullied in the last five years.
'If one in six is suffering bullying it adversely affects sickness levels,' says Cary Cooper, Bupa professor of organisational psychology and health, who led the research.
And it is not only individual victims who are affected but others around them too, he adds. 'When somebody witnesses bullying, it affects the whole workforce.'
who are the bullies?
So what sort of people turn into bullies? 'The psychology varies,' says Prof Cooper. 'You go from the psychopath who had a problem early in childhood who, when they get to a position of power, feel that if they make other people feel incompetent it must mean they are very competent themselves. These tend to be very insecure people.
'But the majority of bullies are not psychopathic. The bulk of them are just under such stress they use bullying as a management tool. They don't know how to cope with their workload. If they are under stress they just say something like, "Just get that done and don't bring your problems to me."'
what is bullying?
Most of us think of bullying as being rude and shouting at people, but it can come in many forms.
Val Wallace, general manager of the Andrea Adams Trust, which was set up to tackle workplace bullying, had first hand experience of obvious bullying before she worked for the trust.
'I worked in a concessionary shop within a store, employed as area manager. I was doing extremely well. I had good staff retention. I had been with the company since the word go.
'Then somebody new came in – another woman who obviously saw me as a threat. I had no intention of going any further in the company as I was quite happy with what I was doing.
'She withheld information so I could not get on with my job. She would turn up and openly humiliate me in front of staff, calling me a non-thinker and asking why I called myself an area manager when I was only fit for sweeping the floors.
'It broke me down completely. Whenever it happened, I couldn't perform for the rest of the day. I just burst into tears all the time. I dreaded office meetings because she had got everybody against me. Everybody could see what was happening but did nothing about it. They would rather side with the bully simply to survive and because it was easier.
'Eventually I left. From that day on I promised I would never work in a situation like that again.'
Sometimes bullying can be much more subtle – so much so that the person being bullied may not be sure whether it really is bullying or not. Bullying can include, for example, deliberately ignoring someone or excluding them.
bullying warning signs
The Andrea Adams Trust defines bullying as:
unwarranted, humiliating, offensive behaviour towards an individual or groups of employees
persistently negative malicious attacks on personal or professional performance which are typically unpredictable, unfair, irrational and often unseen
an abuse of power or position that can cause such anxiety that people gradually lose all belief in themselves, suffering physical ill health and mental distress as a direct result
the use of position or power to coerce others by fear or persecution, or to oppress them by force or threat.
The Trust accepts there is a fine line between strong management and bullying. But when the target of bullying is persistently downgraded and becomes distressed, that line is crossed. The physical effects can be much the same as with any other form of stress: feeling sick, loss of appetite, numbness, panic attacks, even depression.
'We have a got a few people who say they are thinking about ending it all,' says Val Wallace. 'They are in tears all the time.'
Often the people being bullied are normally confident and high achievers. The bully sees them as a threat and tries to wear them down, bit by bit.
'Quite often it is a manager who is good at getting results but doesn't have any proper management training,' she says.
how to tackle bullying
So how do you deal with a bully? One of the most helpful pieces of advice is to get support, either from another colleague or, if you belong to one, your trade union.
Many unions have become increasingly involved in trying to tackle workplace bullying in recent years. The Royal College of Nursing launched a series of guides on dealing with bullying and harassment in March 2001 after finding that one in six nurses had been bullied in the previous year, with one third of that number saying that they intended to leave work because of it.
Similarly, Teacherline, the national counselling, support and advice service for teachers, finds about 3% of its calls relate specifically to bullying. Barbara Bowley, one of the helpline's counsellors, advises callers to talk to their union initially.
'They need to keep a written record of what is going on, because people often think "Is this really happening to me?". They then need to confront the person and say they don't like the way they are being made to feel. That can be difficult for some of them. If they can't do that they could go to another person and check with them whether it is happening with other people.
'The bottom line is that if somebody is behaving in a way that is causing stress, it is not acceptable. We try to give them the confidence to say "No, this is not on".'
Although the law might seem the obvious answer, legal redress is currently limited, according to Liz Adams, head of employment law with Beachcroft Wansbroughs. 'If you can link it to sex, race or disability discrimination, you can claim under those pieces of legislation,' she says. 'If you can't, it is not so easy.'
However, there have been some successful cases. Firefighter John Richards, who was forced to leave his job in 1995 after he claimed he was victimised and bullied by his boss, won more than £100,000 in an out-of-court settlement with West Glamorgan Fire Service after backing from the Fire Brigade Union.
Maths teacher Alan Barber won £100,000 damages at Exeter county council in March 2001 for stress caused by bullying at his school in East Bridgwater, Somerset. He was head of department and took on the additional role of public relations officer, until he became so ill he had to give up work due to bullying from the head teacher.
For most of people, however, legal action is the last resort. They would much rather be able to do their job – without the bullying.
Many thanks for that Steve...unfortunately, as seen in the BB House, bullying seems to be something that people find to be the norm these days, but hopefully articles like the one above can hopefully change the thought patterns of people who really should know better.