They must be having a bad day.
I’m just being paranoid.
Am I imagining this?
Why are they treating me differently?
Have I done something to upset them?
I can’t believe this is being allowed to happen!
Why is this happening to me?
Sound familiar? These are questions that bullying victims will ask themselves over and over before actually reporting the behaviour, that is if they ever do. Anyone can become a bullying target at work. Bullying victims can be successful high achievers with an excellent reputation in the company for many years before they become a target for a bully. Bullying doesn’t stop when you leave the school gates, unfortunately. Only the perpetrator is now an adult who can be expected to be aware of and show responsibility for their behaviour.
ACAS (Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service) characterises bullying as: offensive, intimidating, malicious or insulting behaviour, abuse or misuse of power through means that undermine, humiliate, denigrate or injure the recipient. Bullying at work can be overt or very subtle, but consistent, persistent and highly destructive for the individual’s career, and physical, emotional and mental health. Bullying tactics includes behaviour such as constant criticism and insults (often in front of others with the aim to humiliate), screaming and shouting, undermining integrity, pointing out mistakes for no reason or falsely accusing someone of mistakes, spreading gossip and lies, deliberately withholding information the employee needs to do their job, excluding, isolating and the silent treatment and making life at work difficult by setting impossible targets and many more.
Most of us will be exposed to workplace bullying at some stage in our careers, whether it is directly as a target or indirectly as a witness. Unfortunately, workplace bullying is still a taboo subject. Many victims bear the brunt and perpetrators are rewarded in the form of promotion, regardless of their bad behaviour. Whistleblowers are still treated with the stigma you’d expect from ‘ratting out’ a fellow prisoner in a secure unit and not from a 21st-century company, but it goes on more than anyone realises. From a survey conducted of 2000 people by SME Loans, a massive 23% had been bullied; and 25% have been made to feel left out – in addition to the 23% (exclusion is a form of bullying).
People are often reluctant to speak up about experiencing or witnessing bullying at work out of fear of retaliation. Despite the cost of absenteeism due to sick leave, staff turnover, a decrease in productivity, commitment and loss of morale, etc., companies have been known to sweep bullying reports under the carpet. Rather than dealing with the perpetrator, non-disclosure agreements and payouts are deemed to solve the problem. In some cases, the victims are made redundant. This is despite 83% of UK companies participating in a survey by the CIPD, having an anti-bullying policy in place.
We are making our contribution to National Bullying Prevention Month (October) by publishing a book about the experiences of some women who have been at the receiving end of this behaviour. Look out for SINGLED OUT: Fighting the stigma of workplace bullying.