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  • Waheena

Challenging workplace bullying

Bullying is endemic in society but when we think of it, we generally conjure up images of the school playground. Bullying, in all of its forms is rife at school and it’s likely that we have all known someone who was either a bully or a victim of bullying during our formative years. Sadly, however, bullying isn’t just restricted to childhood. Bullying in the workplace is now such a serious problem that each year in November, an entire week is dedicated to campaigning against it. In fact the Samaritans conducted a survey a few years ago and found that some 80% of workers had experienced bullying at some stage in their career.

What are the signs of bullying:

Bullying isn’t just about verbal or physical abuse; email, texts and social media have made it even easier for the bully to attack their victims. The Health & Safety Executive website states that bullying involves negative behaviour being targeted at an individual, or individuals, repeatedly and persistently over time by one person or a group of people.

This behaviour can include;

  • Ignoring or excluding you

  • Misuse of power or position

  • Giving you unachievable tasks or “setting you up to fail”

  • Spreading malicious rumours or gossip

  • Giving you meaningless tasks or unpleasant jobs

  • Making belittling remarks in front of others

  • Undermining your integrity

  • Withholding information deliberately

  • Undervaluing your contribution – not giving credit where it is due

  • Unwelcome sexual advances such as touching, deliberately brushing up against you, innuendos or lewd comments

  • Coercing you into leaving your position through no fault of your own

  • What are the effects of bullying:

Behaviour such as these can have emotional and physical consequences on the person being bullied. Individuals can experience;

  • Increased anxiety

  • Feelings of worthlessness

  • Humiliation

  • Intense stress

  • Reduced confidence

  • Loss of appetite

  • Headaches

  • Frustration and anger at not being able to cope

  • Insomnia

  • Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

What to do if you are being bullied?

It’s not your fault

The first thing to do is to recognise that this isn’t your fault. The bully is not picking on you because your work is inferior or because your work rate is less than that of your colleagues. Bullies often have confidence or self-esteem issues and they try to make up for this by picking on those they see as a threat - or rather competition. They are simply projecting their own weaknesses and failings through manipulation and cunning.

Due diligence

Have a chat with a colleague, someone whom you trust, and ask them for their observations. It’s vital, before taking any further action, that what you believe is happening is actually happening. While doing this you may discover that you are not the only one suffering in the office.

Nobody deserves to feel worthless, you are no exception. You have the power to do something about it. Be brave, knowing that you are not alone will give you the courage to regain some control. Don’t suffer in silence.

Seek advice

The best place to get advice at this stage is from your HR department, they will be able to provide you with the best course of action. Most firms adopt a zero-tolerance attitude towards bullying and take it very seriously.

Document everything

Make explicit notes of every incident; describe what lead to it, what happened, who was in attendance and how you felt. Keep these in a safe place, preferably out of the office. Keep all emails, communication from the bully. It would help support your case if you can get a trusted colleague to testify in writing that the incident took place.

Confront the bully

You may not feel comfortable doing this but if you do, it can often save a lot of upset further down the line. Tell them what you have experienced, how it has made you feel and that you are no longer willing to put up with it. You may find that the situation resolves itself there and then, as the bully may be unaware of their actions and effects on you.

Make a formal complaint

If all else fails - it is time to file a formal complaint. Your HR department will be able to help you with this.

Seek counselling

If it is difficult for you to raise a complaint or discuss it with your colleagues/ HR then see a professional. Even if the bullying has stopped, the effects can last for a long time. An experienced counsellor or therapist will support you to deal with the stress of finding yourself in such a situation.

This article was first published in: Qualified Lawyer Magazine

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