Do you think bullying only occurs in big corporate houses where you have to work with a large number of employees and get smarted under a bully? Did you think a PR or an Advertising agency is free from such a social menace? Think again, ask around and you would come across anecdotes that is fit to give you sleepless nights. Such agencies fail to go through a proper induction process of forming, storming, norming and performing and end up with a lopsided organizational structure.
How do you erase this indelible scar created by your senior? Do you move to seek help from the human rights commission or speak against it and jeopardize the rest of your career growth with bad recommendations? I have been a victim of such circumstances facing bullying in the workplace for three consecutive years, which led me to do some study in this field. I wanted to know what exactly is bullying. Who is responsible for it and what could be the possible solutions?
Several definitions of workplace bullying have been provided in literature. Despite several definitions of bullying, there is a general consensus regarding what constitutes bullying (e.g. Einarsen et al., 2003). Specifically, for behaviour to qualify as bullying, it must be perceived by the victim as oppressive, unfair, humiliating, undermining, threatening, difficult to defend against or an infringement of the victim’s human rights. Furthermore, according to several authors (e.g. Vartia, 2001; Einarsen et al., 2003), such behaviour is considered to be bullying only if it recurs over an extended period of time. While I was writing this article, I felt that I had gone through each and every aspect of bullying in my workplace. I was treated in an unfair manner, humiliated and undermined by my superior Ms. SASA over an extended period of three years, which physically and mentally made me distraught.
Bullying is a multidimensional construct and comprises a wide spectrum of behaviour that can be targeted at the work or at the personal characteristics of the victim. The more subtle types of bullying behaviour include withholding information and physically or socially isolating the victim, whereas the more overt types include setting impossible deadlines for the victim and publicly belittling the victim. Little did I realize at that point of time that setting of impossible deadlines or procrastinating the work towards the deadline is a form of bullying, victimizing me in my workplace.
Workplace bullying behaviours, as suggested by Hoel and Cooper (2000) comprises of four categories: (1) work-related harassment (e.g. persistently criticizing the victim’s work); (2) personal harassment (e.g. spreading rumours about the victim); (3) organizational harassment (e.g. removing key areas of responsibility from the victim); and (4) intimidation (e.g. threatening the victim with violence). Workplace bullying has several unfavorable psychological effects on victims (Fox and Stallworth, 2005), such as negative affect, depression, low self-esteem and suicidal thoughts (Einarsen and Matthiesen, 1999). There is evidence supporting the psychosomatic model of bullying, which posits that bullying leads to negative affect, which then leads to physiological problems. Consistent with the psychosomatic model of bullying, being bullied has been shown to be associated with physiological problems, such as musculoskeletal pains, chronic fatigue syndrome (Einarsen and Mikkelsen, 2003), headaches, stomach disorders,
rashes (e.g. O’Moore et al., 1998; Vartia, 2001) and cardiovascular disease (Kivimaki et al., 2003).
Workplace bullying has widespread negative effects on organizations because it affects not only the victims but also those who witness the bullying (Hoel et al., 1999). Bullying adversely affects organizational performance in terms of output, creativity and innovation (Rayner et al., 2002). Being bullied at work also reduces the organizational satisfaction and commitment of victims (Hoel and Cooper, 2000), If an organization is to send a message to its employees that they are valued and cared for, then it is imperative that leaders themselves are aware of the various subtle behaviour that constitute bullying and that they refrain from enacting such behaviour (Fox and Stallworth, 2005).
How can this bullying stop, is there a solution to it? I think when informed of workplace bullying, leaders need to respond in ways that demonstrate to victims and other staff that the organization supports them and will not tolerate such behaviour (Brodsky, 1976; O’Moore et al., 1998; Hoel and Salin, 2003). Better still, leaders need to proactively address workplace bullying and can do so by developing formal statements and policies that indicate clearly that bullying is unacceptable and that bullying holds serious consequences for the perpetrators. Such primary interventions play a critical role in preventing bullying behaviour in the workplace (Djurkovick N et al, 2008).
Specific ways in which an organization can demonstrate that it is supportive of its employees include providing avenues for victims to lodge their complaints and ensuring that these complaints are acted on in ways that signal to all employees that the organization will protect their basic human rights. Furthermore, it is important that organizations demonstrate that they are concerned about the welfare of their employees by encouraging them, from time to time, to come forth should they have any work-related or personal problems with which the organization can assist them. An example of such an approach is the use of employee assistance programmes. It is in the hands of the leaders to stop this bullying and create a whole new world of harmony.