Workplace bullying: A symptom of a dysfunctional organisation

Guest Column: Emmanuel Zvada

WORKPLACE bullying is a widespread problem and a cancer that has been gaining momentum. Every day, employees across the nation are bullied and abused at work.
In fact, the issue of workplace bullying is a growing problem that affects almost everyone at workplaces.

Organisations cannot allow workplace bullies to run rampant, given that they cause enormous and costly negative impacts on employees and organisations at large which may lead to a dysfunctional organisation.

Workplace bullying is a repeated behaviour that creates an emotional imbalance and causes harm to both victims and observers. Where bullying exists there is either threatening, humiliating, intimidating, abusive, or sabotaging actions. Actions that would constitute bullying include shouting at a workmate, denigrating them, ignoring them intentionally, overloading them with assignments or name calling.

What causes bullying at work

There are many different issues that motivate bullies to abuse their victims. Although tactics may vary from person to person, bullies share common mental characteristics that cause them to behave badly toward their workmates. There are many different issues that stimulate bullies to abuse their victims.

In most cases bullying is motivated by the bully’s own lack of self-esteem rather than the specific actions, appearance, or personality of the victim. In this case thereof many bullies feel that they cannot cope with certain aspects of their own job or they cannot perform their job properly, so they will have to complain or just pass the blame to the next employee who then becomes the victim.

It should be known that bullies feel threatened by a highly competent workmate or a colleague who receives praise from a manager. Ultimately, bullies operate to hide their own incompetence. They view their victims as direct threats and bully them in an attempt to prevent their own inadequacies being revealed to other colleagues and managers.

You may be bullied at work because you receive a lot of positive attention for your work. Maybe you are intelligent, resolute, or you go the extra mile and gain recognition for your hard work. All these things attract the attention of workplace bullies and they normally target skilled workers either to steal credit or undermine the target’s work.

When you are well liked, popular or good you are also likely to be bullied at work. It is the popular and well-liked workers that are most vulnerable to workplace bullying. If this describes you, bullies believe you pose a threat to their own popularity and social status at work. Bullies want to be in control and to call all the shots.

So, you may be targeted by bullies because you are a team player. This does not mean you should change your behaviour. It simply gives you some insight into why you are being targeted.

You also may be targeted for being ethical and honest at work. For instance, whistleblowers that expose fraudulent practices are frequently bullied by others at work so that they keep quiet. In addition to that, workplace bullying can also target those who have physical features that attracts attention. Whether you are short or tall, heavy, or thin, have a large chest or no chest at all, workplace bullies will find a way to exploit your appearance.

In fact, almost any type of physical characteristic that is different or unique can attract the attention of bullies

Effects of workplace bullying

Workplace bullying has detrimental effects on employers, not just the victim and their co-workers who witness it. Bullying can have terrible results for both individuals and organisations in the short and long run. People who are the targets of bullying may experience a range of effects. These reactions include increased levels of stress, anxiety and depression, among targets and witnesses.

The victims of bullying are also likely to face physiological problems, including raised blood pressure and restlessness due to mental distress. All these can result in higher rates of absenteeism, as employees are unable to concentrate at work. This can also then reduce the productivity of the company, which can make the organisation less competitive as a whole.

Bullying is characterised by lack of respect for a co-worker and is responsible for increased absenteeism, a lack of workplace motivation and employee satisfaction, increased turnover, and a lack of trust and team building among workers.

Additionally, bullying can cause serious damage to an employee’s self-esteem and his ability to contribute at work, thus affecting the organisation at large.
Measures to address workplace bullying

It is never a good idea to let workplace bullying continue without addressing it in some way.

Bullying is a serious issue and it will not go away unless it is dealt with correctly. Ignoring a workplace bully can suggest to your employees that you overlook such behaviour because aggressive, abusive, and offensive practices are tolerable in your business. This will adversely affect the rest of your staff due to fear of being victim to such abuse one day.

Treat complaints of bullying seriously and objectively. By doing so you ensure that all reported cases of bullying are dealt with quickly and in strict confidence. It is also important to educate everyone that bullying is a serious matter.

As management, when approached by the victims, you should also try to find solutions before the situation gets serious or “out of control”.

Educating everyone about what is considered bullying, and where they can go to for help is also necessary for organisations. In addition, it is also important to those who handle workplace bullying issues to treat all complaints seriously, and deal with complaints promptly and confidentially.

Develop and publish an anti-bullying policy and distribute it to all staff and new hires, making a copy available in the employee handbook or on a shared bulletin board. It is rather the right time to dust down and review human resources policies, time to consider the culture, structure and anti-bullying strategies.

These are essential in developing workplaces that offer better work and working lives. The managers should also set good standards of behaviour themselves and encourage other staff to do the same so that any anti-bullying workplace culture is created.

Diagnosing the symptoms of a dysfunctional workplace such as backbiting, finger-pointing or a refusal to take responsibility is not that difficult.
Nevertheless, solving these problems does not happen instantly, especially if such behaviours are deep-rooted practices. Company owners and managers must take the lead in discouraging such behaviours, and employees will feel comfortable reporting problem behaviours without fear of retribution.

The Labour Act Chapter 28:01 prohibits the victimisation of employees who makes a complaint or intends to make a complaint.

Bullying is a form of harassment and is defined as the repeated less favorable treatment of a person by another, or others, in the workplace, which may be considered unreasonable and inappropriate workplace practice.

All managers and supervisors have a responsibility to model appropriate standards of professional conduct at all times and to ensure that the workplace is free from harassment, victimisation and bullying.

The time is now to treat workplace bullying in the same way you handle sexual harassment or racial discrimination, to identify the perpetrators, establish rules of conduct and penalties, and even pass laws prohibiting and penalising bullying.

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