Not everyone has been a bully or the victim of bullies, but everyone has seen bullying, and seeing it, has responded to it by joining in or objecting, by laughing or keeping silent, by feeling disgusted or feeling interested

– Octavia E. Butler

Many employees get bullied at their places of work but most of them have no idea that what they go through is a form of bullying. Those who are aware of this situation choose to keep quiet for fear of being victimized.

Workplace bullying can take any of the following forms: an employee being assigned heavy work load, removing responsibilities from an employee, being asked to do menial tasks in the name of delegation of duties, stifling an employee’s opinions and overruling decisions, denying an employee resources or withholding information useful for an employee’s functioning, direct professional attacks and flaunting status and power among other things.

Workplace bullying is a form of violence though it rarely involves assault. That is why it is often ignored. Workplace bullying came into the forefront in 1980s when a German psychiatrist, Heinz Leymann established the International Anti-bullying Movement. But the word “workplace bullying” was coined in 1992 by Andrea Adams.

Defining workplace bullying

There are many definitions of workplace bullying. For the purpose of this article, I will use the definition given by Dr. Namie, who brought workplace bullying to the American media. She defines it as a “status blind” interpersonal hostility that is deliberate, repeated and sufficiently severe as to harm the targeted person’s health or economic status.

Usually, workplace bullying is driven by the perpetrator’s need to control another person. It is a psychological violence, both in nature and impact.

Regardless of how it is expressed, whether verbally or in a form of strategic move, in order to render the target unproductive or unsuccessful, it is the perpetrator’s desire to control the target that motivates it. That is perhaps why most of the time it is never reported; silence by the targeted person is understandable because shame stems from being controlled and humiliated. Other employees may also not take any action for fear of being targeted.

Research shows that both men and women can be perpetrators. Researchers have found that when the targeted person is a woman, she is bullied by a woman in 63 percent of incidents; when the target is male, he is bullied by a man 62 percent of incidents. Our laws most of the time protects opposite sex harassment, hence, it is easier to ignore workplace bullying.

Effects of Workplace bullying

Workplace bullying can cause severe anxiety, disrupted sleep, and loss of concentration, clinical depression and panic attacks.

If it is left untreated, and with prolonged exposure, cardiovascular stress-related diseases can result from pathophysiological changes to the body that transform social factors into damaging biological consequences.

Researchers have also found out that workplace bullying is worse when trauma is induced by intentional human design. It is the emotionally unintelligent perpetrators who escalate their tyrannical misconduct when they feel threatened by, and react in response to, target’s asserted independence, technical and social skills.

Bullied victims have a 70 percent chance that they will lose their jobs, either voluntarily or through constructive discharge, after being targeted.

Identifying the perpetrators?

Most perpetrators outrank their victims. They are mostly bosses. Some writers have categorized them into four groups:

The Gatekeeper, who is obsessed with control. She allocates time, money, staffing and information in ways that ensure her victim’s failure. Then she has an excuse to complain about “performance problems”

The Two-Headed Snake, who defames the reputation of targets to boost his own self-image. He turns co-workers against the target through spreading rumors and engineering “divide and rule”. His version of events is always believed while the target’s perspective is ignored.

The Screaming Mimi, who controls the emotional tone for everyone else. He is prone to unpredictable display of anger and mood swings. He humiliates targets publicly, hence, scaring other employees. He can easily turn to physical violence.

The constant Critic, who is obsessed over others’ performance so as to hide her own deficiencies and insecurities. Sometimes she resorts to name calling and she loves to complain about everyone else’s incompetence. She invents targets’ “errors” to belittle and confuse them. She mostly prefers behind-closed-door settings but she can berate targets in public as well.

Stopping workplace bullying?

Bullies have one thing in common: they are controlling competitors who exploit their cooperative targets. They will stop if bullying was punished. Unfortunately, most employers are reluctant to even recognize incidences of bullying in their businesses. They prefer to minimize it as “personality clashes”. These might change if we had a legislation on workplace bullying.

The victims may not be able to solve this problem. Companies and other employers should have a code of ethics to guide interaction among employees.

Having laws against workplace bullying will enable victims to seek justice in a court of law.

Workplace bullying closely resembles the phenomenon of domestic violence. Both are often shrouded in silence before being brought to public. Employers should maintain an open door policy that can encourage victims to report cases of bullying.

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