Bullying in the Workplace

Bullying in the workplace is 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.

Examples of behaviour that may constitute bullying are as follows:

  • Purposely undermining someone
  • Targeting individuals for special negative treatment
  • Manipulation of an individual‘s reputation
  • Social exclusion or isolation
  • Intimidation
  • Physical abuse or threats of abuse
  • Aggressive or obscene language
  • Jokes that are obviously offensive to one individual by spoken word or email
  • Intrusion by pestering, spying and stalking
  • Unreasonable assignments to duties which are obviously unfavourable to one individual
  • Repeated requests with impossible deadlines or impossible tasks

All employers have a responsibility, as far as is reasonably practical, to provide a workplace where accident, disease and impairment of physical and mental health are prevented. The (2005) Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act states that the employer’s duty includes in particular the provision of systems of work that are planned, organised, performed and maintained so as to be, as far as is reasonably practicable, safe and without risk to health.

Where a bullying culture has been identified, employers must take reasonable measures to prevent incidents of bullying occurring and also when and if they do occur, prevent the risk of injury to the health of employees worsening by providing and implementing transparent and just anti bullying policies and procedures. Employees have a responsibility to ensure that they are not contributing to abullying culture and it is the duty of every employee to take reasonable care for his own safety, health and welfare and that of any other person who may be affected by his acts or omissions while at work.

Managers and supervisors have a particular responsibility to promote dignity in the workplace for all. They should be alert to the possibility of bullying behaviour and be familiar with the policies and procedures for dealing with allegations of bullying, as bullying has been identified as a workplace hazard.

Effects on the organisation

The tell tale signs of workplace bullying in any organised setting include:

  • Reduced efficiency
  • Reduced quality and quality control
  • Low morale among staff
  • Atmosphere of tension
  • High rates of absenteeism
  • Drop in productivity and profits
  • Depression
  • Increase in cases taken to court

There are now many studies quantifying the effects of workplace bullying on those people who experience workplace bullying (often-labeled victims). Researchers in workplace bullying generally describe many different health effects caused by workplace bullying. They include:

Psychological effects

  • Severe stress symptoms or anxiety
  • Panic attacks
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Concentration difficulties
  • Mistakes and accidents at work
  • Smoking
  • Excessive drinking and overeating

Physiological effects

  • Raised blood pressure and heart disease
  • Reduced resistance to infection
  • Stomach and bowel problems
  • Skin problems
  • Fear or anxiety or depression leading to suicide, and severe loss of confidence and selfesteem.

Behavioural Changes

  • Becoming aggressive
  • Becoming irritable
  • Becoming vengeful
  • Becoming withdrawn
  • Obsessive dwelling on the aggressor
  • Becoming hypersensitive to criticism
  • Becoming emotionally drained

The impact of bullying is not confined to the person who is on the receiving end. Other workers are also affected. In international research, co-workers witnessing workplace bullying also experience bullying related consequences even though they were not themselves directly subjected to bullying actions.

People also report that their relationship with their partner or family worsened because of the bullying. Victims of bullying often report feelings of intense anxiety, shame and guilt. These feelings were in part due to their professional status and subsequent failure to deal with what was happening to them. Unfortunately, the symptoms of bullying tend to persist over long periods. Individuals who are bullied may develop Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (P.T.S.D) and/or Prolonged Duress Stress Disorder (P.D.S.D). The growing recognition that bullying at work is a cause of illhealth, absenteeism and even death makes it a Health & Safety issue.

Bullying and harassment cases are not often clear cut and sometimes people are unsure whether or not the way they are being treated is acceptable. If you are sure you are being bullied or harassed, then there are a number of options to consider, and these are set out below. You should take any action you decide upon as quickly as possible.

  • Let your union or staff representative know of the problem.
  • Try to talk to colleagues to find out if anyone else is suffering, or if anyone has witnessed what has happened to you – avoid being alone with the bully.
  • If you are reluctant to make a complaint, go to see someone with whom you feel comfortable to discuss the problem. This may be your manager, or someone in personnel (particularly if there is someone who specifically deals with equality issues), your trade union representative, or your Employee Assistance Service.
  • Keep a diary of all incidents – records of dates, times, any witnesses, your feelings, etc. Keep copies of anything that is relevant, for instance annual reports, letters, memos, notes of any meetings that relate to your ability to do your job. Bullying and harassment often reveal themselves through patterns of behaviour and frequency of incidents. Keep records and inform your employer of any medical help you seek.
  • Tell the person to stop whatever it is they are doing that is causing youdistress, otherwise they may be unaware of the effect of their actions. If you find it difficult to tell the person yourself, you may wish to get someone else – a colleague, or a trade union official – to act on your behalf.
  • If you cannot confront the bully, consider writing a memo to them to make it clear what it is you object to in their behaviour. Keep copies of this and any reply.
  • Be firm, not aggressive. Be positive and calm. Stick to the facts. Describe what happened.
  • If you do decide to make a formal complaint, follow your employer’s procedures, which should give you information about whom to complain to and how your complaint will be dealt with.
  • Writing the complaint will seem a daunting task, especially if you are afraid of confrontation, or suffering from depression, anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder. Keep the following in mind when drafting your complaint:

– keep it factual; do not try to guess the bully’s motives or ascribe intentto any actions
(that is up to the investigators);
– don’t use insulting language
– don’t generalise
– don’t use absolutes (e.g. “he always” or “he never”) because one exception breaks
the rule; use rarely or often instead
– include as much as you can about your feelings (e.g. “I felt excluded /rejected” is
more effective than “he excluded / rejected me”).
– Ask someone you trust (a colleague, union rep, solicitor, friend,doctor, therapist) to
read your complaint – you are far too involved a) to read it with calm detachment; b)
be sure that it is complete and understandable by someone outside the workplace
situation; c) not too specific about trivialities.

  • Disciplinary procedures may also be used for disciplinary action against someone who makes an unfounded allegation of bullying or harassment.

Source: Vhi Healthcare

1 comment
  1. Hey there! This is my first comment here so I just wanted
    to give a quick shout out and say I really enjoy reading through your articles.
    Can you recommend any other blogs/websites/forums that cover the same topics?


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