These days we are all hearing a lot about bullying in schools. If you have kids, you may be learning about the steps your child s school is taking to deal with bullying. You may remember having been bullied, or having witnessed bullying when you were at school.
Have you ever wondered what happened to all those schoolyard bullies when they grew up and got out of school? Unfortunately, they are alive and well - and may, in fact, be in your workplace.
Your first response may be, I think I would know if I had a bully in my workplace. However, the relevant question is how would you know? Would you recognize the signs of workplace bullying? Are your employees likely to tell you that they are being bullied? My experience, which reflects research in this area, shows that the surprising answer to these questions is... probably not.
How do you recognize workplace bullying?
It is rarely about overt physical violence or threats, public taunting, yelling or screaming. Workplace bullying tends to be much more subtle and covert. It is generally about power and control. It is often embedded in corporate culture, a legacy of the power based command and control model which has dominated the military and competitive sports for generations.
Take the case of Helen Green, a former executive at Deutsche Bank AG. Ms. Green was awarded more than $1.7 million Cdn in damages after claiming that her ex-colleagues bullied her. Miss Green, who worked in the firm s secretarial division between 1997 and 2001, said that she suffered psychiatric injury because of offensive, abusive, intimidating, denigrating, bullying, humiliating, patronizing, infantile and insulting words and behaviour. (London Times, â¤800,000 Payout for Bullied City Secretary. Adam Fresco, Tuesday, August 1, 2006) Ms. Green claimed that Deutsche bank knew about the bullying, particularly after she was forced to go off work due to a nervous breakdown, but did nothing to stop it.
The High Court described the behaviour complained of by Ms. Green as respectful, dismissive, confrontatory and designed to undermine and belittle her in the view of others.evancouver Sun, Bank Owes Bullied Employee $1.7 Million. Megan Murphy, Wednesday August 2, 2006 D8)
Workplace bullying may involve intangibles like constantly changing work responsibilities, deadlines or priorities. It may involve someone taking public credit for joint projects. It may involve asking for input and then ignoring it. In some cases there may be embarrassing scenes in front of co-workers, or being spoken to in a condescending or belittling manner. The intention, and it is an intention, is to slowly undermine the target's self-esteem and self-confidence.
Why won't you hear about an employee that is being bullied? There are a number of reasons that most complaints of bullying go unreported. According to the results of a research study by Drs. Gary and Ruth Namie, in over 80% of incidences of bullying, the bully ranks higher than the target. (The Bully at Work, Gary Namie Ph.D & Ruth Namie, Ph.D, 2003) This means that in most cases, the bully is in a position of power. This power dynamic alone is often enough to stop any employee from raising concerns.
The Namies earch further suggests that while men and women appear to be equally likely to be bullies, female bullies target other women 84% of the time, while male bullies target women 69% of the time. Therefore, in around 75% of incidences, the person being bullied (the target) is a woman, and often a bright and competent one, like Ms Green, who was promoted twice before suffering a nervous breakdown due to the bullying behaviour.