Bullying is a toxic problem, which can severely impact the cohesion and harmony of the workplace. It may be attributable to one or two bad apples, or may be the symptom of more profound problems within the office culture – intense pressure to out-perform colleagues in order to climb the greasy pole can easily distort and poison office relationships.
Workplace bullying can cover a range of behaviour: verbal abuse, intrusive questions, offensive or sexual remarks, jokes or innuendo-laden remarks made at an individual’s expense. It can happen between colleagues, or a boss can bully a junior.
Some bullying is a group phenomenon: a group of individuals bond together to isolate or freeze out a colleague.
It is generally considered that behaviour is bullying if it is humiliating, offensive, intimidating, hostile or degrading. It can often be a fine line between a tough boss and an abusive one, but this line has to be drawn. Bullies, when called out, will often adopt the ‘can’t you take a joke or a bit of banter?’ defence, but this is open to challenge.
Unfortunately, in our online world, bullies have a whole range of new weapons in their armoury. They can take their bullying online, or onto the office intranet, or social networking sites, sharing photos for the purpose of ridicule, spreading scandal and scurrilous rumours, or creating groups that exclude you. They can use a shield of anonymity to undermine you or even create bogus profiles, which they can use to persecute you.
This form of bullying may take place in the virtual world, but it will have a very real life impact on you. In fact the insidious privacy of digital communication can be very sinister, making you feel stalked and persecuted.
Whether you are being bullied in person or online, follow these simple guidelines:
What to Do if You’re Being Bullied
•Corroborate: if you are suffering from bullying and there are witnesses, elicit their opinion.
•Consult: if the bullying takes place in a private context, explain what has happened and seek the advice of an objective friend.
•Catalogue: make a detailed record of what has happened, including examples of offensive remarks.
•Complain: the main priority is to report the problem to a manager, or to Human Resources, and to give them clear instances – and evidence, if it exists – of the behaviour.
How to Deal with Bullying
Employers are held responsible for the wellbeing of their employees. As with all office behaviour, managers need to be vigilant about bullying. Above all, they should never condone the behaviour in the belief that ‘robust’ business relationships get results.
If you have evidence of a case of bullying in the office, it needs to be nipped in the bud, otherwise the situation will escalate and other staff will feel intimidated and discouraged. You need to make it clear to all your staff that you are committed to promoting dignity and respect at work.
•Talk to the bully, and do so as soon as their behaviour comes to your attention.
•Make it clear that this sort of behaviour is unacceptable,
• Where possible, confront the bully with evidence of his or her behaviour.
•Monitor the situation very carefully: if the bullying persists, you may have to escalate procedures against the culprit: from written warnings, to suspension and ultimately dismissal.
•Above all, carry out your threats: it’s no good blustering and saying you’ll take the issue to HR if it doesn’t stop and then failing to do so. This will demotivate everyone in the office, not least the complainant.
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