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Do Not Stand Alone: Workplace Bullying. Part 2

In my last post, Do not stand alone, I took a look at workplace bullying, what exactly is bullying and how to spot a bully within your company/team. So just what type of impact can bullying behavior have on the victim/s and ultimately your business/company? Workplace bullying can have a very serious negative impact on individuals and companies, and sadly it is all too common.

Staffordshire University Business School, in 1994, published the results of a survey indicating that 1 in 2 UK employees have at some point been the victims of bullying behavior in the workplace, and according to the Workplace Bullying Institute (US) up to a third of all US employees may be the victims of workplace bullying at some point in their working careers, not much research into workplace bullying exists for Ireland however in 2007 the ESRI (Economic and Social Research Institute) exposed a disturbing picture of bullying in the workplace in Ireland, in their research it was revealed that 7.9% of those at work reported that they had experienced bullying within 6 months of the study, (that’s an equivalent of 159,000 individuals) and women were at more risk to be bullied at work than men (10.7%).

Every person and every company would benefit from learning to recognize and stopping workplace bullying. Why? Workplace Bullying can have negative effects on employees such as:

  • Stress (long term high stress levels can lead to a whole host of physical, physiological and emotional problems)
  • High absenteeism
  • Low productivity
  • Lower self-esteem
  • Depression and suicidal thoughts
  • Anxiety
  • Physical issues such as digestive problems, high blood pressure, insomnia
  • Post traumatic stress disorder
  • Breakdown or issues with home life due to workplace stress

And workplace bullying is also bad for your business. Some of the ways the companies suffer include:

  • High turnover of employees, which is expensive for companies/businesses due to hiring and training employees only to lose them a short time later.
  • Low productivity due to lack of motivation to perform, increased annual sick days due to stress-related illnesses and disorders.
  • Poor Company image and difficulty to find employees as the company gets a reputation of having a hostile working environment.

Despite all this information is it possible that our own behavior could cause this type of upset for another individual. In other words can you yourself be a bully (or your actions be taken as bullying behavior), perhaps without really realizing it.

Robert Sutton in his book, “The No Asshole Rule” (an excellent book about bullying behavior at work) asked the question “Who deserves to be branded as an asshole?

So who does deserve such a title? Do you? Does your colleague sitting beside you? The truth is that anyone of us can have a bad moment; day, week etc and so can become a ‘temporary asshole’. By taking a little time to look at ourselves and how we treat others around us may be the first step in reducing workplace bullying, every action has a re-action after all.

Try answering the following questions:

  • You are having a disagreement with someone you work with and things are getting a little frosty, how do you behave towards this person? Do you find yourself talking about the issue to other colleagues? Have you attempted to resolve the issue with your colleague?
  • You have used a nickname for a colleague which they do not like, they have asked you not to do this again. Do you stop?
  • Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you have partaken in company gossip (or rumors) surrounding one individual? How did it make you feel? Would you do it again?
  • Have you ever taken part in teasing, tormenting or belittling another colleague for the amusement of yourself and/or others? Do you feel that people should be ‘able to take a joke’? How did your colleague feel after this treatment?
  • Someone at work is having personal issues, how do you generally react to this type of situation? Would you consider yourself to be a supportive colleague? Could you be more understanding? Do you find yourself gossiping about them with other colleagues?
  • Someone in your department has come to tell you that they feel picked on by other, how do you react to this information? Do you find yourself thinking ‘it’s time to toughen up or find a new job’? Do you investigate the complaint or is it left on the ‘long finger’?

There are no right or wrong answers, only questions that are designed to make you think about how you behave within your working environment. By making some simple changes in our own behavior can greatly aid in a healthier working environment for all, often time change begins with one person.

In my next and final post I will take a more in-debt look at what we can do increase our chances of getting through the ‘workplace bullying’ minefield in one piece, where to go for help and what companies should be doing to decrease workplace bullying and create healthy working environments for all.

The issue of bullying is a huge subject and these posts only touch the tip of the iceberg but please feel free to share your own thoughts and any areas of this subject you would like to read about in the future.

I am a Stress Management Coach (also a Holistic & Natural therapist and teacher). I am dedicated to managing stress, resilience and well-being, my training courses and consultancy are designed to help create a working (or home) environment where resilience is enhanced and well-being is protected, allowing people to respond positively to challenges and perform at their best. I provide in-house training courses, consultancy and workshops to private and public sector organisations (also one-on-one sessions). I specialise in providing practical training for managers and employees aimed at minimising the risk of stress and enhancing well-being within the organisation.

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  • Hi Catherine, I think the point you making about us examining our ownu00a0behaviour is so important! I know for instance, that I on occasion can be quite demanding because I tend to work at a very high temp. This sometimes leads to impatience on my behalf. It is something I have tou00a0constantly work on within all my relationships, business and personal. Thanks again for raising this veryu00a0importantu00a0topic via Bloggertone.u00a0u00a0

  • Angela Carr

    It’s very encouraging to see this topic being talked about, Catherine – I’ve repeatedly experienced and witnessed bullying in almost every workplace, whilst working in Ireland, and it is much more insidious than most people realise. nnThe types of scenarios above are probably the most recognizable forms of bullying – the ganging up on a particular person, typical of schoolyard bullying, but the more severe forms tend to carried out by one person against another without witnesses present. This is a much harder situation for employers to identify and is often carried out by someone who uses their authority as a justification for their actions, making it very difficult for the recipient to complain – who will they believe? A member of staff or one of their own managers? nnMost of us think we know what bullying is but my experience, as an intelligent adult working at a senior level within a professional practice, is that the bullying actually reached quite an advanced stage before I even understood that the situation was outside ‘normal’ realms of interaction. Often, it is carried out by someone who feels threatened and seeks to undermine others as a means of retaining their own position. It is subtle and manipulative. The bad behaviour can be low-grade but persistent – constant criticism of work, moving goalposts to ensure tasks are never achieved, changing work deadlines, implication and manipulation, denying support or resources, targeting dress, professional competence, attractiveness, understanding, being forced to work at a level well below capabilities and job description, questioning ability to carry out menial tasks, threats or implied threats.nnThere is also a phenomenon known as serial bullying where an individual will carry out this kind of behaviour continually – selecting a new ‘victim’ within weeks of their previous target being removed from their influence. I have experienced this behaviour, where I witnessed an extremely negative working dynamic between two members of staff and even questioned it with the senior member of staff, only to find myself subjected to the same behaviour when the first woman left. The senior member of staff’s behaviour turned on a pinhead – from effusively supportive (in hindsight, a tactic to further stigmatise the other member of staff) to insidiously abusive. When I left, I received a phone call about 6 months later from my replacement – a woman I had never met – in tears, having been subjected to exactly the same behaviour, despite my having brought the situation to the attention of management before I left. nnBullies rely on the blurred lines between acceptable and unacceptable behaviour to cover their tracks – they will point to over-sensitivity on the part of their target. One specific comment or negative situation does not constitute bullying – repetition does, targeting one person does – regardless of how seemingly innocuous the behaviour. nnMy breakthrough came when I read up on the subject and found a comprehensive list of behaviours, all of which, if repeated on a regular basis constituted bullying. When I read it, I found I could tick almost every type of behaviour identified and it was a huge relief. Until then, I was questioning myself – was I the problem, was I inviting or justifying this behaviour? nnKnowing I had real grounds for complaint gave me the courage to stand up and confront the situation and, even though I lost my job as a result, it was the best thing I could have done for my own self-esteem and confidence. The article I found is so useful is here: – I would recommend it as essential reading for employees and employers alike.n

  • Hi Angela,nnThank you so much for taking the time to write such an insightful comment, I’m very sorry to have read your own experience with workplace bullying.u00a0 nnYou have raised some excellent points in your comment which I will address in my next post, even without witnesses a system can be put in place within companies where employees can address problems such as these to higher management (and can be done anonymously).u00a0Some simple changes can then be made until positive feedback is achieved.nnThank you for the link and if you would like to share more of your story with me please feel free to contact me directly at stress.solutions4life@yahoo.comnnCatherine

  • Thank you for your comment Niall, you seem to be very self aware which is always a plus in any profession however impatience can make us behave in a way we are not comfortable with.u00a0 I’m happy to see that this is something you are well aware of …. it makes the difference doesn’t it 🙂

  • Brillliant post Catherine.u00a0 I’ve worked (and been bullied) in quite a few companies that had a high staff turnover and with hindsight I can see why they did.u00a0 It still (to me) comes down to educating people on both sides of the coin to take personal responsibility for their behaviour, not just the bully being brought to task, also the bullied being taught the skills to counteract the bullying.u00a0 Until that happens this type of behaviour will continue unfortunately.

  • Thanks Sian – Flor has a great way with words and takes a wry look at life 🙂

  • Thanks Sian. And thanks Helen for doing the interview. Glad you enjoy the emails. Pressure’s really on now to keep them interesting!

  • Flor… do you automatically add clients to your email list or let them find your blog or just ask them?

  • Hi Brett, apologies for the delay in responding, I am not getting notifications of the comments. Initially we added clients automatically after running a promotion. While the response was overwhelming positive, some people did react negatively. Therefore, I think on reflection I would recommend sending clients a link or a promotional item with an offer of a download in order to get them to subscribe directly themselves rather than just add them. It may result in smaller numbers to start with (my list is actually quite small in any case) but it will a better qualified list. Hope this helps. All the best, Flor

  • Ger Deane

    Flor, Interested to know do you always write the emails daily or do you sometimes have them ‘lined up’?
    do you proof-read your emails before sending? I find bad spelling &
    grammar infuriating but I know it’s hard to keep it perfect if you are in a rush.
    ….For example I notice this post has your name wrong (as McCarty)….twice

  • I agree with J Richard but now there are many softwares out that help you manage your company purchases. The one we use is

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