When the bully is your boss

“For many kids, their school day is not spent thinking about education, but how they are going to get through the day.”

Myrna Driedger Broadway Journal
Myrna Driedger
Broadway Journal

This is the quote I used when I wrote an article about bullying in schools. In my current article I have changed the quote slightly to “For many adults, their work day is not spent thinking about work, but how they are going to get through the workday.”

There has been a lot of focus in recent years on schoolyard bullying, on kids committing suicide after months of relentless bullying. Bookstores have whole sections dedicated to the subject. There are countless articles on the Internet.

Bully_BossTypically when we hear the term bullying we most often assume it is an issue with children. It wasn’t until one of my female friends mentioned a male friend of hers was under a lot of stress at work due to being bullied by his boss that I began to wonder how broad a problem this actually is. This led me to think about “adult bullying” and exploring it further, and to try to help raise awareness.

The workplace is the “grown up” schoolyard. Any co-worker can be deemed a bully but quite often a bully is a boss or member of management. If one continually feels intimidated by a bully at work you may be the bully’s target.

When a person is dependent on that paycheque, they may not think they have a choice but to endure the bullying. Also as an adult you may be too embarrassed to report bullying to anyone. Instead you internalize the issue, with a possible negative impact to your health and/or your pocketbook. You may become depressed and/or quit your job to look for employment elsewhere.

According to scholars at The Project for Wellness and Work-Life at Arizona State University, “workplace bullying is linked to a host of physical, psychological, organizational, and social costs.” Stress is the most predominant health effect associated with bullying in the workplace. Research indicates that workplace stress has significant negative effects that are correlated to poor mental health and poor physical health, resulting in an increase in the use of “sick days” or time off from work.

Bullying in the workplace does not just impact the victim. It can have a detrimental effect on a whole organization. Work peers who have witnessed bullying can be prone to suffer stress through worry and mental exhaustion. The bullying can negatively impact overall performance, due to the effect on team dynamics, lack of effective peer communication and fear of speaking up. Over a long period of time a victim’s health can be affected resulting in sick leave.

Many people don’t fully recognize the signs and behaviours of bullying. Some are more pronounced than others. The following five career threats posed by bullies, and the destructive methods used, were identified in a 2001 book by three distinguished British authorities, Workplace Bullying: What we know, who is to blame and what can we do?

Threat to professional status. The threats include belittling opinions, public professional humiliation, accusations regarding lack of effort, intimidating use of discipline or competence procedures.

Threat to personal standing. These include undermining a person’s integrity, destructive innuendo and sarcasm, making inappropriate jokes about the targeted person, persistent teasing, name calling, insults, intimidation.

Isolation. Actions include preventing access to opportunities, physical or social isolation, withholding necessary information, keeping the target out of the loop, ignoring or excluding the targeted person.

Overwork. Action includes undue pressure, impossible deadlines and unnecessary disruptions.

Destabilization. The actions can include failure to acknowledge good work, allocation of meaningless tasks, removal of responsibility, repeated reminders of blunders, setting target up to fail, shifting goal posts without telling the target. Use of the “oh, didn’t you get the e-mail” manoeuvre.

How to handle the bullying?
First of all become aware of the variations of bullying. Read everything you can on the subject. If you have experienced personal bullying or the bullying of a co-worker be aware of how to handle it.

Document the time and date of the specific behaviour including a detailed description of the bullying act. Get witnesses if you can. Submit your documentation and report the behavior to your HR department. In the meantime always remain professional; in a professional manner confront the bully and demand to be treated in a respectful manner. Stay calm and professional.

A bully is emotionally immature. Do not stoop to their level with inappropriate behavior or verbal assaults. You do need to protect yourself where there is the possibility of physical threats or confrontation. Immediately report any physical threats to someone with higher authority within the company or to the police.

Myrna Driedger is MLA for Charleswood and deputy leader of the provincial Conservative party.

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