BULLYING IN THE WORKPLACE
Are you fearful in work? Do you think you are being bullied but cannot define to yourself or others exactly why you feel that way? Don’t risk your recovery – diagnose your dilemma now, advocates Deirdre Boyd.
“It never occurred to me that I could be bullied in the workplace, but I was.
For over a year, I endured the experience of losing confidence, self-esteem and hope. It took me considerable courage to leave and look for another job.
“Now, having met so many victims of bullying, I am convinced it is widespread, has many facets and is deeply destructive. It can also destroy the workplace itself.
Slowly and surely, it can change the whole ethos of an organisation.
For the victims of workplace bullying, life can be unbearably lonely: if you are able to speak about it no one seems to hear or care.”
Diana Lamplugh OBE
Download AddictionToday142-Bullying in workplace
The March 2013 issue of Addiction Today featured an article on bullying as a trigger to addiction: why targets do not report abuse, identifying a serial bully, how serial bullies react when confronted, and survival tactics. This article investigates the bully in the workplace.
People in recovery need more than a mere pay packet. They need fulfilling employment: a career which offers hope. This can be the difference between staying in recovery and repaying their families and community – or resorting to drugs/ alcohol as a means of coping with the bullying and, in the process, losing everything.
Bullying triggers memories and emotions linked to addicts’ childhood abuse, be it consciously or unconsciously. And people in recovery are perhaps more susceptible to the effects of bullying as they are generally more open-minded and open to all emotions, negative as well as positive.
My previous article showed how to identify specific bullying acts rather than victims feeling bullied without being able to put their finger on why. This article extends this aid by pinpointing more subtle bullying techniques.
WHEN DOES BULLYING OCCUR?
“Bullying occurs when one person, typically in a position of management or trust, feels threatened by another person, usually (but not always) a subordinate who is displaying qualities of ability, popularity, knowledge, skill, strength, drive, determination, tenacity, success, etc. The bully believes that he can never have these qualities which he sees in others,” stated Tim Field. He was founder of an anti-bullying website and author of Bully In Sight: How to predict, resist, challenge and combat workplace bullying.
“The bully seeks to increase his confidence, not by raising his own, but by bringing the other person’s down to below his, so that in relative terms he can feel good about himself. Through fear, domination is established, leading to disempowerment of the individual. The bully seeks to project his failings onto other people.
“The bully’s behaviour is exacerbated by stress, change, uncertainty, the prospect of failing to meet budget targets and lack of resources, among other factors. It can be then stimulated by the victim’s apparent low assertiveness and approval seeking.”
WHY DOES IT HAPPEN?
In the workplace, one criterion for choosing to bully is stress brought about by an inability to fulfil the responsibilities of one’s job, reasons for which include:
>> the lure of more money from accepting higher office without understanding the obligations
>> getting promotion/appointment beyond ability
>> taking an unwanted job
>> the job/appointment changes.
So someone who was merely a “tolerable”, “not brilliant” manager can turn into a bully.
WHAT IS BULLYING?
Bullying consists of refusal to recognise and overcome one’s weaknesses, failings and shortcomings. And it consists of denial of responsibility for the impact of one’s actions and behaviour on others. If the bully is in a board/management position, it also consists of refusal to accept legal and moral obligation for the safety, care and wellbeing of people in their charge.
Bullying can be separated into two distinct phases: (1) subjugation and control or (2) destruction and elimination if the bully realises that total control over the target/victim will never be possible.
Everyone occasionally exhibits some of the behaviour below. Bullying occurs if these methods are used regularly and repeatedly:
>> claims of underperformance which do not square with the facts, or are not specific
>> sidelining, overruling, ignoring or marginalising people, ideas, opinions and contributions
>> removal of status and authority, especially in an underhand or devious manner
>> demotion, real or implied
>> increasing responsibility but removing or reducing the necessary authority
>> exclusion from anything to do with the running, operation or management of the section
>> isolation, cold-shouldering
>> being singled out for special treatment – such as: everyone else can be 10 minutes late but if you are, you are singled out for disciplinary action
>> giving performance markings significantly lower than documented achievements merit
>> taking advantage of your good nature, regularly
>> making mountains out of molehills
>> refusal to clarify job description and function or put it in writing
>> changing your job description without consultation, imposing it without right of reply
>> withholding information or permission necessary for you to carry out your duties
>> setting tasks while refusing to be specific about timescales
>> sabotaging or impeding performance for the purpose of later criticism
>> holding meetings, the purpose of and attendance at which is significantly at variance with what you have been led to believe
>> meetings, hearings, etc, run like interrogations
>> claims of misconduct but refusal to formalise in writing
>> contacting employees on holiday or sick leave with “urgent” work or unreasonable demands
>> the use of threat or implied behaviour
>> any form of coercion disregarding your rights
>> appointment of jobs or contracts to friends and/or relatives.
Added to this are, of course, the more obvious forms of bullying: pestering/ teasing/ridiculing, dirty-tricks campaigns, and aggression.
NEGOTIATING WITH A STRANGER?
If you start noticing the following traits, you know you are dealing with a bully… lack of foresight, short-term memory when it suits, focus on the victim/target, differing values, taking credit, ingratitude, Jekyll and Hyde persona, mixed messages about delegation (delegates job he cannot do but interferes, hindering you but enabling him to claim a contribution to success), need to show “who is in charge”, sees role in life as leading others, self-importance, unwillingness to apologise or accept responsibility, evasiveness, misinterpretation of your words, rigidity, humourlessness and threats such as “you’d better do this – or else” more usually implied as “if you do/not do this, I can’t be held responsible for the consequences”.
STANDING UP FOR YOURSELF
“It is important to remember that it is exceedingly difficult, and usually impossible, to handle a bully by yourself. To do so requires a high degree of interpersonal skills, unshakeable self-confidence, advanced assertiveness, extremely mature behaviour skills, nerves of steel, plus the financial independence to put your job or career on the line through risking being dismissed. Few people have all these qualities,” states Field.
He does not advise putting up with the bullying as this could lead to psychiatric injury. But if you act to improve your position, you are taking the risk of being ostracised, called a trouble-maker or worse.
Moving within the organisation carries the risk that you will find yourself in the same situation again. Taking shelter behind a kindly colleague eases the pressure but you are still trapped and fearful – and what if your protector leaves? If you put in a formal complaint you risk your job, career, friends, even your marriage. If the management backs the bully, you lose.
But there are inspiring ways to handle bullies at www.bullyonline.org/action/action.htm. And if you work in a charity, you can go to the Charity Commission with “protective disclosure”.
Finally, you can leave. “This is not a failure but a valid choice,” Field states. “It is important to understand that leaving might be the right, and only, choice, a recognition of an unacceptable situation which is not of your choice or your making and over which you have no control.”
If you decide to leave, there are more choices, from voluntary redundancy or settlement to legal action. Acquaint yourself with all the pros and cons in Field’s Bully In Sight before acting.
HOW DO BULLIES SELECT THEIR TARGETS?
The bully selects his/her target using the following criteria:
>> bullies are predatory and opportunistic – you just happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time; this is always the main reason: investigation will reveal a string of predecessors, and you will have a string of successors
>> being good at your job, often excelling
>> being popular with people (colleagues, customers, clients, pupils, parents, patients, etc)
more than anything else, the bully fears exposure of his/her inadequacy and incompetence; your presence, popularity and competence unknowingly and unwittingly fuel that fear
>> being the expert and the person to whom others come for advice, either personal or professional (ie you get more attention than the bully)
>> having a well-defined set of values which you are unwilling to compromise
>> having a strong sense of integrity (bullies despise integrity, for they have none, and seem compelled to destroy anyone who has integrity)
>> having at least one vulnerability that can be exploited
>> refusing to join an established clique
>> showing independence of thought or deed
>> refusing to become a corporate clone and drone.
Read more reasons…
DEIRDRE BOYD is CEO of the Addiction Recovery Foundation, editor of Addiction Today journal and cofounder/organiser of the UK/European Symposia on Addictive Disorders. She serves on the Centre for Policy Studies’ prisons & addictions group and on the Advisory Council of ‘gold standard’ IC&RC international credentialling of alcohol- and drug-recovery professionals, and was a trustee of the National Association for Children of Alcoholics UK.