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Workplace Bullying

As a counsellor people often come to me because they are suffering workplace bullying.  And indeed I have witnessed it myself in my own working life. It is very important to realise that bullying is NOT just something that happens in the school playground. Workplace bullying is a very real and common occurrence that is both a legal minefield and incredibly difficult for a person to deal with. The effects, as with bullying among children and teenagers, can be completely devastating.

You might be one of those people who suffer a ‘stomach- churning’ feeling when you go to work each day, BUT, are you being bullied?

Legally, bullying is defined as “repeated inappropriate behaviour, direct or indirect, whether verbal, physical or otherwise, conducted by one or more persons against another or others, at the place of work and/or in the course of employment, which could reasonably be regarded as undermining the individual’s right to dignity at work”.

So what IS and what ISN’T bullying?

An isolated incident is not bullying. Bullying is not a personality clash, banter or a once-off flair-up, it is something much more systematic. A “tough” manager is not necessarily a bully by virtue of being demanding. If your boss holds high expectations while being respectful and fair then he or she may not be considered a bully.

Workplace bullying involves abuse or misuse of power that results in feelings of defencelessness in the victim.The bullying might be verbal, physical or cyber bullying (through social networking, emails and texts). There is no exhaustive list of what is bullying but some examples include:

  • Social exclusion / isolation
  • Intimidation
  • Aggressive / obscene language
  • Repeated requests of impossible tasks / targets

Workplace bullying can take various forms, including:

  • shouting or swearing at an employee
  • being repeatedly singled out for unjustified criticism or blame
  • being excluded –  social isolation
  • excessive micro-managing or being given unrealistic deadlines
  • having your work or contributions purposefully ignored
  • language or actions that embarrass or humiliate
  • practical jokes repeatedly-occurring to the same person
What steps to take
Within the workplace

My later blogs will look at dealing with the physical and psychological consequences of bullying in the workplace. This blog will focus on what a person might do at work in order to resolve the situation.

Obviously the first step is to try to  resolve the situation informally. This depends an awful lot on who the bully is (especially whether the person is a colleague on your own level or a manager), but sometimes a directly approaching the alleged bully and explaining that what they are doing is not acceptable can mean an end to it. (If you find it difficult to approach the person, you can seek the assistance of a line manager, a colleague, HR personnel or Trade Union representative.)

If the informal route does not resolve it for you, then you may need to move on to the formal stage. Each place of work should have its own policy that you will need to follow, but generally the formal phase will involve making a complaint in writing to a member of management/HR Department. It may be necessary to keep a diary and write down what happened, who was involved, when it happened (dates/times), where and any witnesses. Check whether the organisation you work for has a policy in place around bullying and follow the process described exactly, if there is one.

Seek outside support

Even if you are following the above steps and trying to sort things out either informally or formally within your workplace, it’s vital that you don’t try to work through this on your own. Bullying makes us feel isolated and low and so it is extremely important to talk to your GP and if your mental and physical health are being affected, you may need to take some time off in order to look after yourself. Talking to close friends and family or trusted work colleagues about how you are feeling is extremely important and it may help to talk to a professional counsellor. Future blogs will look at this is much more detail.

Need some advice and support?

If you are struggling with any of the issues raised in this article, or indeed any other emotional issues or life challenges and would like to talk things over in complete confidentiality, call Alison Winfield, Mindfully Well Counselling Cork on 087 9934541.


Book a counselling session today!

See also: Helping a young person to deal with bullying, Burnout or Stress?