Bullying is a National Pastime

Bully 1A recent News Limited article contained the results of a survey conducted by Drake International that found that half of the respondents had witnessed bullying and 25 percent had been bullied.

The article published by News Ltd online went on to quote Dr Annie Wyatt, a senior lecturer and occupational health and safety consultant at the University of New South Wales.

“Harassment can be a single instance of offensive behaviour which usually involves race, age, sex or other criteria that come under anti-discrimination legislation,” she says. “Bullying is a pattern of unreasonable behaviour and is defined as a workplace hazard. Often, there is no proof and no witnesses, and even if work colleagues know what is going on, they tend not to speak up.”

Workplace bullying can cause several problems, including anxiety disorders, stress, depression and insomnia.

“Workplace bullying involves the repetitive, prolonged abuse of power,” says Evelyn Field, a clinical psychologist and author of Bully Blocking (Finch). “That is, unreasonable, escalating behaviours aggressively directed at one or more workers and causing humiliation, offence, intimidation and distress.”

Just like the schoolyard bully, the most obvious and easiest-to-detect bullying behaviour involves swearing, taunting, put-downs and even physical abuse, but more common is an insidious form of subtle intimidation: silences when the target of the bully walks into the room, bitchy comments in front of other colleagues, the spreading of malicious gossip to co-workers, not being invited to crucial meetings, rolling of eyeballs when the target speaks, being stripped of critical duties and constantly set up to fail, and being excluded from social events.

According to Ms Field, workplace bullying can affect anyone, in any career, at any level, within any organisation, at any time. “Workplace bullying cuts across all professions, can be perpetrated by both genders and happens between management, employees and co-workers. There are also cases of bullying going upwards – employees bullying their managers.”

Research indicates that while it is usually men who do the bullying, as they are more often in management positions, there is evidence that women use bullying behaviours too. “While male bullies harass men and women, women appear to prefer to choose other women as targets,” says Ms Field. There are two main types of bullies: those with an anti-social personality disorder, and sociopaths, who take pleasure in hurting people.

The rest are normal people, who would generally be horrified when it is pointed out that they are exhibiting bullying-type behaviours. “Most bullies are not aware that what they are doing is classified as bullying. They’ll justify it by [saying] they are just getting the job done, that their colleague has brought it on themselves or it is simply a personality clash,” says Dr Wyatt.

Dr Wyatt says there are various reasons that bullying takes place. “In difficult financial times, there is competition for resources, so people undermine others to shore up their own position.” Another theme evident in the research into workplace bullying is envy. Mostly, the targets of bullying behaviour are “successful, high-performing employees. The perpetrator envies them and seeks to undo them,” says Dr Wyatt.

In today’s corporate culture, an organisation may condone bullying as part of a tough management style, but it has serious economic consequences. According to the Workplace Bullying Project Team at Griffith University, the financial cost of bullying to business is between $6 and $13 billion per year and can include decreased productivity, increased absenteeism, staff turnover and poor morale.

About the Author

Safety Concepts is an online resource providing up to date insights and covering issues in the field of Workplace Safety.

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