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Bullying Article: Bullying or firm management?

Article by Lynne Walton

Looking back over 30 years working life, I’ve been supervised by many bosses, all of whom had their own management style. The ones who left me completely to my own devices; the ones who had difficulty delegating and the odd one who seemed to get it just about right. There are, however, two bosses who spring to mind when I consider the subject of workplace bullying: one who just enjoyed being bossy to all staff, and the other who seemed to have a problem with me!

I had worked in that location for 7 years when a new manager joined the organisation. This was her first post following university. Previously I had invariably received glowing appraisals, was known as a keen worker and seemed popular with the clients. Almost immediately I seemed to attract trouble; everything I did was criticised; I was frequently told off in front of clients and her dislike for me was even remarked upon by other staff. Luckily the job was part-time and I still enjoyed the work itself. I had a second part-time job, which remained rewarding and challenging, and the support of my family and friends. Many occasions I would wait until the drive home before allowing myself the tears I had determinedly held back during the days work. Determined not to let her get the better of me, I stuck it out and The Bully remained my boss for two years. Eventually she moved on, a new manager was appointed, fairness was re-established and I managed to repair my damaged reputation over time.

All this happened 15 years ago when very little was known about workplace bullying. Now I deliver awareness training on the subject I often wonder what I would do in the same situation. The answer is “I don’t know”. Unlike most bullies who ensure that their bullying behaviour is not witnessed by others, she was more public, however, even I could see that had I made a complaint, many of my complaints and evidence would have seemed very minor and petty. Although the other staff disliked her behaviour to me, I am not convinced they would have wanted to risk their positions by backing up my claims. No doubt she would have labelled me a trouble-maker; insolent and having an attitude problem. I can now see that some of her behaviour may have stemmed from a combination of a lack of management training and a lack of self-confidence.

It is recognised that the following are some of the most common forms of workplace bullying:

  • Micro-management
  • Setting up to fail
  • Withholding information
  • Withdrawing interesting and challenging jobs and replacing with the mundane
  • Blocking requests for leave or promotion
  • Constant criticism
  • Spreading malicious gossip
  • Encouraging others to make complaints.

I now recognise that manager used every one of these tactics during those two years.

What could I have done? The following guidelines may help anyone facing similar behaviour:

  • Keep a record of every occasion of bullying behaviour, with times, dates and names of witnesses.
  • Speak to the bully directly, explaining how the behaviour is affecting you and stressing what your next steps will be if the behaviour continues. Make notes of the meeting and give a copy to the bully. After all, they may not be aware of their behaviour or its effect.
  • Make contact with a staff counsellor / welfare officer, explaining how you feel.
  • If the bullying continues, make a formal complaint to HR, backed up by evidence and statements from others.

It is common for a victim of workplace bullying to exhibit symptoms of stress, often resulting in an increase in absenteeism. Relationships outside work may suffer and the victim may become increasingly withdrawn and lacking in confidence. They are no longer able to be the confident, outgoing, popular individual they may have been before. In extreme cases, suicide may be contemplated. Many victims of bullying see changing their job as the only solution to the problem, thus making them doubly victimised, while the perpetrator remains in post to practice their skills on some other member of staff.

With an increase in public awareness and the introduction of relevant legislation, gradually organisations are waking up to their legal responsibilities in this area in addition to recognising the benefits of providing bullying and harassment awareness training for their staff. It is crucial to remember that the problem lies with the bully, not the target and that everyone has a right to be treated fairly and with respect.

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