How to tackle workplace bullying
Last summer, I bought a fish tank with eight goldfish. It was a pleasant experience to bring the lovely, active, colorful and vibrant fish at home. My family and I spent hours watching them play around in the tank. After a week passed by, I observed the smallest fish spending hours sitting near a bush of plants that we had fixed in the tank to beautify it. It used to swim and then park itself behind the bush. As weeks passed by, it’s time behind the bush increased. It was a strange experience for us to see a fish spending time, not swimming.
We gradually noticed another strange development of one big fish constantly swimming around the bush where this tiny fish used to get stationed. I observed that it started coming out of the bush only when I dropped the food in. It used to quickly eat and go back to the bush. The moment it used to come out for food, the larger fish used to chase it back to the bush.
As days advanced, it stopped coming out for food and the bigger fish continued to hover around the bush. Only the bits of food that floated in the bush became its only portion of food. Finally, by mid of the fourth week, the tiny fish gave up and we found it dead behind the bush. It was a sad story of these silent /voiceless creatures but reminded of a harsh fact of “Bully” culture. The little fish stopped swimming, which was its natural way of living, because of the fear of the large fish which bullied it, knocked it and made it compromise its natural way of living and with its ‘original self’.
Yes! The little fish lost the will to combat life just because of the ‘fear’ of another fish whose ‘bullying’ led it to the dead end.
Today, in the Digital Era, if Self Driving cars and Automated Drone delivery become a reality, what will happen to the ‘human connect?. Will the discomfort of ‘workplace bully’ ever get attention? Yes, the time for self-action has come to turn around the discomfort into more productive and satisfying work experience. It just needs two aspects: awareness of the problem and readiness to face it. Knowledge of ways to defend self in such challenging circumstances is the key to move ahead.s
What is workplace bullying?
“Bullying means directly or indirectly inflicting physical hurt or psychological distress on one or more employees.” It is further defined as intimidating and repeated written, verbal, or physical behavior, including any threatening, insulting gesture, by an adult, which is severe or invasive enough to create an uncomfortable or humiliating environment. It may involve mockery, social elimination, threat, invalid criticism, false allegations, physical or racial harassment, public humiliation etc. Bottom line is bullying and harassment at workplace lead to a terrible effect on the health, well-being, and performance of the employees.
PremillaD’Cruz and Ernesto Norohna, Organizational Behavior professors at IIM Ahmadabad, had conducted a study on workplace bullying among the ITeS employees in India, in 2010. The findings revealed without a doubt that bullies at the office are not rare.
“A range of bullying behaviors was described including isolation, personal attacks, verbal threats and task-related difficulties.”
Workplace bullying has been identified as one of the major existing challenges for occupational health and safety and is linked to other emerging risks such as work-related stress and violence. These vulnerabilities are often termed psychosocial risks and are now being termed as global issues, affecting all countries, professions, and workers. Few countries have introduced new legislation or have added new provisions into existing legislation to protect workers from bullying. Other countries have opted for non-regulatory instruments, such as codes of practice and provisions of similar agreements.
Workplace being a type of social setting, a certain amount of banter does occur naturally. However, when it becomes persistent and repetitive, causing severe stress to the targeted individual; it crosses over to the line of bullying.
Few signs that you're being bullied at the office
Do you feel challenged proving yourself?
When you get directives with certain objectives and a deadline and you give your best to work hard and with focus, only to find out that suddenly there's a change in direction, your progress and contribution are is not even acknowledged and not taken into account; or managers give credit of your efforts to others. Here comes the major act of bullying when you see your manager, purposely throwing roadblocks in front of you, to prevent you from successfully completing a task.
Does every decision of yours get questioned?
If you get constantly micro-managed, you begin to feel like your decisions are not being trusted and you can't explain why. Constant accusation over small matters, being perceived wrongly, get you to start self-doubting your own decision-making capacity. As a result, the ability of decision making and management gets hit.
Do you feel estranged?
Over a period of time, you get excluded from important meetings and discussions that you were part of once. Colleagues’ interaction with you gets reduced to a minimum. You get excluded from post-work get-togethers. You become subject to verbal abuse with insulting and offensive language. Feedback is always provided in the form of criticism and delivered in a way to make you feel awful about yourself. You are unable to see any effort of guidance.
Do you feel being subjected to biased treatment?
Your teammates get preferential conduct. They get opportunities for top projects; meanwhile, you find that most of your requests along the same lines are denied without reasonable explanation.
Do you see your health apart?
Bullying can lead to anxiety, panic attacks, and mood swings and even to serious issues like depression. There are physical symptoms such as increased blood pressure, loss of appetite or excessive eating and nervous breakdown. Mental symptoms like the feeling of loss of energy, loss of focus, loss of interest to socialize, loss of interest and confidence to attend to even the simplest official chores. Fear of facing the bully forces you to find ways to skip your office and tasks.
How to deal with workplace bullies?
Acknowledging and accepting that you are a victim of bullying at work will give you the road ahead. Here are possible actions that you could take.
“Remember, Workplace bullying is not country specific. It is universal and is also gender agnostic and can be carried out by both male and even a female manager or colleague. Compromising with the harassment is ending up your passion to work and live.”
Do not ignore– Silence is not the best defence mechanism in such cases. Ignoring it with the hope that it will go away will actually escalate the issue. If you don’t want to take the step of registering your complaint, then you need to articulate explicitly what you feel in a clear but non – threatening manner.
Work on Self –The first impact of workplace bully is to your physical and mental health. Hence, spend enough time to self-introspect, find ways to deal with the challenges. You will feel that the professional journey covered so far was futile. Remember, nothing is ever futile. Your choices brought you to this stage. Look at these choices as a gateway to recognize your hidden strengths. Truth is that every experience of yours enriches your wisdom about your own self and on areas your incompetence needs attention.
Raise your concern – Voicing out the concern to a trusted authority in the organization is critical. Contacting human resources is a good idea. They should be able to help you understand if you're actually being bullied. If bullying is confirmed, they can also provide guidance on how to deal with it. Alternatively, you may contact a higher authority, like a designated ombudsman or a senior colleague.
Know your rights- You may experience that you're not being heard within your company. Instead of correcting the problem, you became the bearer of bad news, who dared to expose truths about incompetence or illegality. This can happen as your concerns may not be incident specific because bullying is persistent which affects the emotional, psychological and mental health of the victim.
In such cases, you must seek grievances under different provisions provided under the constitution of India. An experienced employment attorney can assess the facts of your case and determine whether you have viable legal claims against your harasser.
While raising concern internally or externally, please remember the following:
- Maintain records – Start collecting records of everything whether it is CCTV footage, date, time, duration and nature of phone calls, SMS, emails etc.
- Do not take back your complaint – There are high chances that the moment you file your complaint, an immediate investigation will be initiated that may blemish company’s image. The investigator, who is not sensitive, may find loopholes in your quality of work and can interrogate about you as well as your personal lifestyle. You taking back your complaint would not only weaken your image as an escapist but will also boost up the ego of the harasser.
Look for another job- Sometimes it's not worth the fight - emotionally and financially. Respect yourself. Look for new opportunities with a company possessing a strong culture of integrity. Some companies have zero tolerance policies. Have a backup plan in place.
Muhammad Ali quoted it so well, “Only a man who knows what it is like to be defeated, can reach down to the bottom of his soul and come up with the extra ounce of power it takes to win when the match is even.”
The views expressed in this article are the authors own and do not reflect that of the employer.