A study completed by Andrea Adams titled ‘Bullying at work: How to confront and overcome it’suggests that being bullied in the workplace is more stressful than all other workplace stressors and job demands combined. Her research shows that workplace bullying is life consuming and can affect victims long into their futures.
A recent study on 500 employees over a 12 month period uncovered 22 distinct experiences or acts of bullying in the workplace, ranging from withholding information to threats of violence/abuse. It is important to remember that bullying can affect employees who witness it, as well as those who experience it directly. As a witness, there is usually a conflict between wanting to help the victim and wanting to avoid becoming a victim themselves, especially in scenarios where the perpetrator is in a management role. Employees who witness bullying behaviours may feel unhappy or stressed about the work culture, or guilty because they know that the behaviour is wrong but feel unable or afraid to stop it.
If you are unsure if the behaviour would be consistuted as workplace bullying, it is defined as occurring when “a person or group of people repeatedly act unreasonably towards a worker or group of workers and the behaviour creates a risk to health and safety.” The term “unreasonable” describes the behaviour that a reasonable person having regard for the circumstances, would see as victimizing, humiliating, undermining or threatening. It is worth mentioning that a single incident generally does not constitute bullying.
If you feel that you may have witnessed or are witnessing workplace bullying, I have compiled a number of tips you can all take into consideration:
The first thing you should do if you feel you can see a pattern of bullying occurring is approach a manager or HR straight away. Victims of bullying typically do not speak up and feel as though their complaints will be disregarded. A witness to bullying has the ability to speak up as an unbiased third party. Speaking up about something that you do not feel right about should never be feared or dismissed by management, even if the incident does not turn out to be a case of bullying.
Document everything! If you see something that you feel is unacceptable, write it down and be sure to include dates and names. This could include ill intended jokes or snide comments. If there are inappropriate emails with demeaning or mean spirited commentary, save them.
While documenting one off incidents may feel useless at the time, if a case of bullying arises you will be armed with evidence and the ability to accurately recall events. This is particularly helpful if you are required to recall things from months or years into the past.
It is important to recognise and respond to early warning signs of employees who have been affected by bullying and support them to seek help. Whether it be checking in on them or acting as a sounding board when they need it, the more support you can offer, the better. It is common for victims of workplace bullying to feel isolated and trapped. You can help victims to feel like they are not alone and that there is an end to the bullying. This can also assist in giving potential victims of bullying the confidence to speak up about their treatment in the workplace.
Remember, all members of a workplace play a role in preventing and managing bullying at work!