Bullying At the Workplace
“Workplace Bullying is like domestic abuse without the physical violence.” Garie Namie, Founder of Workplace Bullying Institute
The Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI) defines bullying as repeated health-harming mistreatment of one or more person by one or more perpetrators, abusive conduct that takes the form of:
- Threat, humiliation, and intimidation
- Work interference – sabotage – which prevents work from getting done
- Verbal abuse
It is necessary for every worker – subordinates and superiors – to be aware of this definition by WBI, and I would encourage you to pass on the message to everyone else. The truth is that most of us never talk of workplace bullying, we believe ‘bullying’ to be something that you leave behind once you grow up, and yet the worst form of bullying is perhaps that which you encounter as an adult.
People at the workplace can be ruthless, and we often chalk up behaviors that are classic signs of bullying to simply ‘healthy competition’, or as someone once wrote, what is considered bullying in school is simply “upper level management” at work. We don’t recognize that we, or someone in our work environment is being bullied, until one day we find that our/their career, mental health and self esteem has been irrevocably harmed.
More than half the workplace population, a survey suggests, has been a victim of bullying; and such instances of bullying usually never come to light until the victim has suffered serious harm.
Svetlana Lokhova’s Fight Against Sberbank CIB
One such instance, is the recent lawsuit against the London branch of Sberbank for severely bullying a female employee, that has received a fair amount of media attention.
A Cambridge graduate, Svetlana Lokhova, accused her coworkers of nicknaming her “Crazy Miss Cokehead”, “Miss Dodgy Septum” and “Miss Bonkers”, and for announcing that she was only hired on account of being a female. She was sexually harassed, verbally abused and accused of being a drug addict, until overwhelmed by the stress, she quit her job in April 2012.
Lokhova recently won the lawsuit that she had filed almost three years ago and was awarded £3.2 million
However, while Lokhova still suffers from a mental breakdown and has been ruled unfit to take up an office job, the bank’s manager David Longmuir, was simply allowed to resign without any disciplinary action taken against him, and the court did not rule against Sberbank CEO Paolo Zaniboni either.
It is difficult to imagine that a group of adults – office-going, responsible, educated individuals – are to blame for Lokhova’s present condition, but this is the sad truth of the real world. Perhaps Lokhova would have taken action earlier if she was aware that there were strict laws against workplace bullying, or perhaps she was just afraid of being humiliated even further if she were to file a lawsuit against her powerful superiors. Her plight should be a lesson to all of us, to recognize bullying, to never simply tolerate it, and to never hesitate from taking action against it.
Recognizing a Bully
To think that a bully can only be your superior is a mistake. I came across a story by an anonymous worker on the internet, where she narrates her ongoing ordeal with a subordinate. This subordinate never did any work, and acted in a manner that was obnoxious and passive-aggressive when asked to work. To the rest of the office, the subordinate made it look like the superior was the one being aggressive, putting the superior’s job on the line. Workplace bullying, as this incident displays, can often be a complicated situation to deal with, and the bully isn’t always necessarily someone with a higher rank than the victim.
Additionally, it would be helpful to keep in mind that bullying is often found to be a prolonged behavior rather than an isolated incident, might often be triggered by a personal agenda and can be sexual, racial, physical, mental or emotional.
Bullying often starts with baseless criticism, ridiculing, name-calling, unjustified accusations, hurtful rumors, humiliating behavior and fearful threats. Eventually, it escalates into a group of people ganging up against an individual and actively working towards harming his/her professional standing or career. This often takes the form of stealing, sending out negative emails about the victim, refusing to obey or listen to the victim, failing to invite him/her to a meeting, denying the victim access to resources or opportunities, setting unrealistic deadlines for the victim and threatening him/her with a demotion or loss of job.
The above is just a limited description of what bullying can constitute. There are limitless forms and behaviors that a bully can adopt and it is really up to you – the victim or the observer – to recognize a bully and stand up to him/her before it’s too late.
Protecting Yourself From Workplace Bullying
Gaire Namie, the founder of WBI, admits that dealing with workplace bullying can be a sticky situation and the manner in which one deals with it can depend a lot on workplace culture and the situation.
The most basic advise however, is to never let a bully see your vulnerabilities. Don’t give your bullies any information about you or your family, keep your personal life as distant from your workplace as you can, and don’t let your bully see that his/her behavior makes you uncomfortable. As hard as it may sometimes be, try to show yourself as a strong and confident individual at all times. Bullying can often be nipped in the bud, simply by being assertive and taking a strong stand.
If you are unable to deal with the situation by yourself, seeking out a superior or an HR rep may be your only option, though Namie again admits that this is often unhelpful, unless you office has a strict no-bullying policy. “The goal is to try and convince the employer that the bully is too expensive to keep” Namie suggests, “because he reduces productivity of his victims and causes high turnover.” Remember to be strategic, instead of overtly emotional, when you go to your superiors or HR.
If neither of these work in your favor, your last ditch effort, and sometimes the only one that works, is to hire a lawyer and also take yourself to a doctor so that you don’t find yourself emotionally and mentally scarred for life.
Dealing with bullying at the workplace is always an ordeal, and especially to at a workplace. Make sure that you have a strong group of friends and supporters- inside the office or outside it- to back you up and to help you through it.