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Workplace Bullying

Workplace bullying is shockingly common, and if you have been a victim of it, you will know that affects your whole life, not just your life at work.


Workplace bullying can undermine self confidence, self esteem and even produce symptoms of depression. If you are being bullied at work you must get help, which may include legal assistance. Every employer should have an anti-bullying policy, and remember, if you are being bullied, any 'weakness' is on the part of the bully, not you.


How workplace bullying happens:

Most people who are bullied at work are targeted by a line manager. Bullies are often (but not always) in positions of power. If someone is bullying others they cannot handle the responsibility of being in authority in an adult manner.


What is bullying?

Bullying is any intentional and repetitious aggressive behaviour designed to undermine, embarrass, or otherwise distress the target of such behavior. The worse thing is that some bullying may seem petty or 'nothing much to complain about' but any undermining behavior used repetitiously can become unbearable. Water torture is just a drip on the head. One drip on the head is no problem but 100,000 repetitive drips can drive you insane! We all have needs in life to be psychological and physically healthy. For example:

  • We all need to feel safe and secure. A bully will try to block this need in those they target by being unpredictable, hinting at or making overt threats or being 'nice' one minute and nasty the next, so you never know where you are with them. The experience of being bullied is traumatic and can make you less able to concentrate on your work. Any assertions that your work is not up to scratch may then become a self-fulfilling prophecy as your work becomes less efficient because of the bullying itself.

  • We all need to feel connected to other people and to give and receive attention. A bully will often try to block this fundamental need by ostracizing the target of the bullying. Not being invited to meetings, social events or even not receiving a cup of tea when everyone else gets one can be part of bullying (if it is intentional which the bully will of course claim it isn't.)

  • We all need to have a sense of status and achievement. A bully may take credit for your work and undermine what you've done. They may relieve you of duties without telling you, be unfairly critical and remove desks, laptops or other items connected to your status. They may place crazily unrealistic work demands on you, making you feel it is 'your fault' if you can't cope. Bullying often involves attempts to humiliate and undermine you in front of peers.

  • We all need to have enough rest, food etc. Bullies may drive you to exhaustion making you work overtime, denying you family time or sufficient rest.

  • We all need to feel intimate and understood with at least one other person. The bully may make it so hard for you that you feel no one else can really understand how bad it is. This can make you feel less connected and intimate with important people in your life.


Some bullies will target just about everybody but many will single out certain people.


Profile of a typical bullying target:

Please understand that absolutely anybody can be targeted by a bully. Bullies will often test potential victims to see if they can manipulate them. They will push a little here and there to see what gives. A typical target for bullying in the workplace will be someone who is:

  • Conscientious. If you are hardworking then this may make you a target because you may be perceived as someone who will 'upset the apple cart' or make the bully appear lazy or incompetent in comparison. Also if you are conscientious then you are more likely to blame yourself when things go wrong rather than the bully.

  • Sensitive. If you are perceived as sensitive then the bully will feel you have more 'buttons to press.'

  • Popular and/or attractive. Jealousy may drive the bully to target you.

  • Quiet. If you tend to keep your head down the bully may instinctively feel you won't let on what is happening (and possibly blame your self for the bullying).

  • In the wrong place at the wrong time.


Why bullies bully:

There is no evidence that bullies treat others badly because they themselves have low self esteem. People with genuinely low self esteem tend to treat themselves badly but not other people. On the contrary bullies are often genuinely full of themselves and feel superior. They bully because they feel the bully target may show them up as incompetent, less intelligent, less hardworking or purely because they find they get a kick out of bullying. It may be their way of getting 'entertainment.'


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