Bullying in the Workplace


Over the weekend I was thinking about Bullying in the Workplace – I’d  been reading the ban bullying at work website maintained by the Andrea Adams Trust and, of course, November 7th was the Ban Bullying National Day in the UK.   If you want to have a look then the link is: 


What is it about bullying that attracts a surprising number of older adults?  During the process of growing up many of us will have bad memories of bully classmates in primary and secondary schools.   Fortunately people separate and move on, and on reflection and with increased knowledge gained as adults, we have some understanding of why children behave like that.  And then it happens again, in our workplace, but now the bully is an adult and so are we.  This time there should be no room for the common excuse of having had ‘a difficult childhood’.   Sadly, large numbers of people have had ‘difficult childhoods’ – but don’t go on to bully or abuse others, so re-creating their own suffering.  

Over the past few months I’ve been spoken to on several occasions by adults who are clearly being bullied in their workplace, and who are being seriously emotionally destabilised by the experience.   Surprisingly, they don’t always realise that they are victims of bullying, and sometimes excuse their tormentors by suggesting that ‘I probably deserved a roasting’, or that the bully is ‘probably having a difficult day too’.   This practise of self blame and unjustified ‘understanding’ simply feeds the trauma, (because if allowed to continue unchecked it will become a trauma), and goes on to negatively affect the victim’s relationships with partners, children, close friends, their social interaction with others, and particularly their self esteem and confidence.   Depression and loss of interest in their job will follow and there will be negative changes in the family interaction as tension and irritability and the sense of worthlessness increase.   The victim and their close relatives are not the only ones to suffer; the victim’s employer will lose working hours through loss of motivation, sickness and absence, and may well end up losing a previously valuable employee.   Uncontrolled workplace bullying will quickly become a mental health issue.

So, back to the question ‘What is it about bullying that attracts a surprising number of older adults’?  There is more than one answer to this question, but I believe that misuse of a power relationship appears to be the root cause of the situations explained to me.   Some individuals love power; they feed on it and will even create difficulties in the workplace so that they can exercise it and feel good.  It’s not difficult to do this.   Power, negative power, can be achieved through inappropriate use of an appraisal process and/or  supervision; through breaching confidentiality; by ‘discovering’ a previously ignored working practise and identifying it as poor or unacceptable, and by making use of rumour and  casual innuendo – often to senior and influential people. This can affect the likelihood of the victim being recommended for promotion or re-grading.   It also happens through open criticism of an individual and their work in front of colleagues, and public correction in front of staff for whom the individual is responsible.   Sometimes it is justified as being ‘firm management’ and necessary for the development of the employee; or ‘tightening up on working practise’ – but only in relation to a particular employee.   In fact, its’ usually bullying, harassment and ridicule.   Often there are witnesses to what takes place – so why is it so hard for the victim to deal with?  Well, just how does the victim deal with a bully who may also be their line manager, or a director of their organisation, or a senior colleague who has responsibility for monitoring and reporting on their progress?   If the bully is the line manager, then it may be possible to go to that person’s manager – but then that may show up deficiencies in the supervision and observations of the manager’s manager!   The senior manager is not going to want to highlight that.   If you work in a small organisation, then you would have to go to the Management Board, or Trustees.   Now, that’s difficult.   And if the bullying experience has caused you stress and depression and to be absent from work, then your efforts to put an end to it will be seriously weakened.   It’s the story of the chicken and the egg.    What you claim to be a bullying experience leading to stress and anxiety may be explained away as ‘the firm management’of an employee whose work was deteriorating and inadequate.   Your increased use of sick leave because of stress or depression may well be used to justify your manager’s description of you as inadequate, and lead to ‘concerned’ questions (and innuendo) in front of your colleagues as to your current state of health.   If your absence had been caused by a physical injury or illness then your return to work would probably attract a welcome and hopes that you have not returned to work too quickly.   If caused by depression or stress it would probably attract – well, what might it attract??   Don’t despair – there is help available.   Have a look at the following links.   Also, join a Union – like today.


http://www.workplacebullying.co.uk/aethesis.html   Said to be the world’s largest resource on workplace bullying – the Field Foundation.

http://www.direct.gov.uk/Employment/Employees/DiscriminationAtWork/DiscriminationAtWorkArticles/fs/en?CONTENT_ID=10026670&chk=/iw29T   UK Government resource – sensible and sound.

http://jfo.org.uk/   Just Fight On.   Loads of resources.

http://www.andreaadamstrust.org/  Good support and advice.

http://www.supportline.org.uk/problems/bullyingWork.php  and this offers good support too.

So, this is my view on workplace bullying.   Use the links above, and remember that there are many more sources of support and advice on the internet.   If you feel powerless and not inclined to do anything about your situation, then think that these feelings are likely to be a result of the bullying process.   Become active on your own behalf and find out what you can do to end the misery.    Then, write –anonymously if you want – to SpeakEasy in Mons with your own story, comments and advice.   Address your e-mail to caradoc.who2@ntlworld.com and let SpeakEasy in
share your thinking with others. 


6 Responses to “Bullying in the Workplace”

  1. dodo Says:

    Well, that puts it where its at! My experience was working in a small organisation with seven staff, and being bullied and harrassed by the Director. Like you say there was no where else to go except to the managers, and everyone knew they would support the Director. After all, the Director had chosen them personally. In the end I decided that my mental health was more important than my pride, and left. Of course, that wasn’t the end of it – my ex employer did all possible to let other people know how useless I was, and yes, there were winks and nods too. Still, I am working again and much happier. If you are being seriously bullied, I suggest you leave.

  2. jerseytjej Says:

    Bullying is one of the most prevalent problems in the school system here in Sweden. Teens are harrassing by text message, email and chat rooms…These are the future bullies in the making and some attention needs to be paid to this up and comming group!
    Kudos on a well written article and the informative links. My information is limited here due to my limited mastery of the language…I was surfing for something exactly like this!

  3. oberon Says:

    Thanks for this comment and your interest, Yes, the origin of the bully nature is something to be worked on. At the same time I have come to feel that some adult bullies were not necessarily child bullies. Noticeable aspects of child bullying include anger, humiliation, & assault (and more of course) while noteable aspects of adult bullying include denigration, ridicule, inference and false allegations (and more of course). I am hoping that more people who have experienced bullying will write in with their experiences and opinions and maybe help out the process of analysis.

  4. Brat Prince Says:

    It’s strange that there is very little on bullying at work on the Healthy Minds at Work website (www.healthymindsatwork.org.uk). This is a new initiative aiming to support people who are experiencing mental ill health and difficulties in the workplace. It is definately worth a look though, and aims to educate employers into sensitivity around these issues.

    The trouble, as many people have mentioned, is around the perception of what is considered bullying in the first place. Small organisations can be nice places to work, with informal staff relations. Too often though, there is no trade union in the workplace and less support than larger organisations.

    Personally I would suggest keeping a diary of experiences at work which you consider bullying. Should things get to a workplace tribunal, then actual recorded incidences of this can be invaluable.

  5. Pierre-Joseph Proudhon Says:

    Collaborators come in many forms. The common denominator is that they are aware of workplace bullying but keep their mouths shut, and thus implicitly or explicitly condone the actions of bullies.

    * It can be your trusted academic colleagues who for years drunk bears with you, played cricket with you and had BBQs with your family, played with your children but now are distancing themselves.

    * It can be senior academics afraid that if they speak out and break out from groupthink they will miss out on the next round of promotions, so they join the lynch mob.

    * It can be governors who know or suspect that senior academic staff are engaged in bullying of junior staff but do not confront those who appointed them, and do not insist on the fair and transparent application of regulations – this is while they are active members of the church.

    * It can be the union rep who does not question the entrenched culture of workplace bullying, and from his/her protected position often sleeps in the same bed with the managers.

    * It can be your neighbour who asks you to close the door and move on in life; is prepared to justify and explain what happened to you.

    * It can be the local media that is afraid to question a local public institution for fear that it will loose advertising and burn bridges.

    A collaborator is anybody who – for whatever reason – fails to speak out and speak up while watching the victim of workplace bullying suffer mentally and professionally. We all know what happened to the Vichy collaborators… All collaborators are eventually exposed. Await for your future…

  6. Louise Michel Says:

    Expose and Resist Bullying of Academics in Higher Education:


    The bullying of academics follows a pattern of horrendous, Orwellian elimination rituals, often hidden from the public. Despite the anti-bullying policies (often token), bullying is rife across campuses, and the victims (targets) often pay a heavy price. “Nothing strengthens authority as much as silence.” Leonardo da Vinci – “All that is necessary for evil to succeed is that good men [or good women] do nothing.” Winston Churchill.

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