Workplace bullying is harmful, targeted behaviour that occurs regularly over time and often forms a pattern that can be identified – as opposed to harassment which tends to be a once-off incident. It can be very obvious and blunt, or it can be subtle and difficult to identify.
Although South African statistics are scarce, it is estimated that 1 in 4 Americans are victims to workplace bullying, and we can assume that South Africa might be similar.
Workplace bullying can affect your mental, emotional and even physical health and it can certainly affect your ability to perform your job well.
Examples of Workplace Bullying
Bullying can present itself in many different ways, but here are some typical examples to look out for1:
Spreading malicious rumours, gossip, or innuendo.
Excluding or isolating someone socially.
Intimidating a person.
Undermining or deliberately impeding a person’s work.
Physically abusing or threatening abuse.
Removing areas of responsibilities without cause.
Establishing impossible deadlines that will set up the individual to fail.
Withholding necessary information or purposefully giving the wrong information.
Making jokes that are ‘obviously offensive’ by spoken word or e-mail.
Intruding on a person’s privacy by pestering, spying or stalking.
Yelling or using profanity.
Criticizing a person persistently or constantly.
Belittling a person’s opinions.
Unwarranted (or undeserved) punishment.
Blocking applications for training, leave or promotion.
Tampering with a person’s personal belongings or work equipment.
Effects of Workplace Bullying on the Victim
If you are the victim of workplace bullying, you may experience physical or psychological effects such as2:
feel sick or anxious before work or when thinking about work
have physical symptoms, such as digestive issues or high blood pressure
have trouble waking up or getting quality sleep
have somatic symptoms, such as headaches and decreased appetite
thinking and worrying about work constantly, even during time off
If you’re experiencing bullying, understand that it is never your fault regardless of what triggered it. It is common to feel powerless in this situation, and it’s important to note that bullying is about power and control for the bully, not about your work ability or anything else about you.
Remember, it is not just the type of incidents that occur, but the intent of the behaviour and the number, frequency, and especially the pattern that can reveal the bullying or harassment. You can begin to take action against bullying with these steps:
Document the bullying. Record all bullying actions in writing. Note the date, the time, where the bullying took place, and other people who were in the room.
Save physical evidence. Keep any threatening notes, comments, or emails you receive, even if they’re unsigned. If there are documents that can help prove bullying keep these in a safe place.
Report the bullying. Speak to someone about what you’re experiencing, and if you’re unable to speak to your direct manager, go to Human Resources.
Confront the bully. If you know who’s bullying you, bring along a trusted witness, such as a co-worker or supervisor, and ask them to stop — but only if you feel comfortable doing so. Be calm, direct, and polite.
Reach out to others. Speak to co-workers, friends and family who may be able to offer support. Consider seeking professional help from a therapist as they may help you explore ways to cope with the effects of bullying while you take other action.