The impact of workplace bullying The impact of workplace bullying

The impact of workplace bullying
30 Nov 2014

As an HR consultant I have worked in a number of different workplaces with various cultures and the one thing that never fails to surprise me is how often I witness or am informed of behaviour which constitute bullying.

I have started to discuss this epidemic with professional contacts and friends and virtually everyone I speak to has had some experience of bullying and I am shocked at how strong, competent and successful individuals end up leaving companies and questioning their own capabilities. Perhaps more surprisingly and worryingly is the fact that two of these individuals were senior HR executives, experienced and capable but the victims of socially unacceptable behaviour still undefined in law.

One of the reasons that these bullies seem to get away with it is because by the time that someone leaves an organisation following months or even years of torment, they often have signed an agreement which means that they won’t speak to anyone else about it. Senior management and the board tend not to like the idea that the word ‘bullying’ could creep into their company history and so are happy to offer some ‘compensation’ to the victim in order that they leave quietly.

By this time the bullied individual has often been so weakened and traumatised that all they want to do is leave without a fuss. The bully has the ability to make them question everything and has usually chipped away at every last vestige of self-confidence which leaves them unlikely to have the psychological strength or the belief in themselves to fight back.

Legislation

Shockingly there is no legislation that specifically applies to bullying - perhaps this is partly because it can be so difficult to pinpoint. Bullies can be clever and manipulative and their behaviour can often be justified quickly if required.

In many working environments people will keep quiet in order to make sure they don’t become the next victim and a sufferer often stays silence and in isolation.

According to ACAS, examples of bullying behaviour include but are certainly not restricted to:

• Exclusion or victimisation
• Deliberately undermining a competent worker by overloading them with work and constantly criticising their ability to manage
• Intentionally blocking promotions
• Unfair treatment including ridiculing or demeaning them in front of others
• Spreading malicious rumours or opinions about someone.

Bullying can come under a number of different pieces of legislation including the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 or the Employment Rights Act 1996, but even in these cases it would be up to the individual to prove how the treatment they have endured fits in.

The Health and Safety at Work Act states that bullying can often lead to extreme stress for an individual. It is an employer’s responsibility to provide an employee with ‘a safe system of work’.

Extreme stress caused by behaviour within the workplace puts the responsibility on the employer who is not fulfilling his duty to the above. Furthermore the employer may also be in breach of contract - an implied term of contract being a safe and protected working environment for the employer.

The effects of bullying

Bullying has such phenomenal impact on the victim that they can become overwhelmed by the stress and anxiety that they feel on a daily basis. It becomes hard to think about anything other than the daily torment that they might receive and many spend hours away from the office trying to find ways to appease their tormenter or ‘get it right next time’ in the hope that the bullying will stop.

Danielle (names changed for the purpose of this article) described how she would try to pre-empt what would upset her boss in the hope that she would be spared his aggression.

She said: “I would take the work home with me if I didn’t get it finished on time and sometimes spend all weekend making sure it was up to date and finished ready for him on the Monday as requested (usually late on the Friday). The problem was if I got it all done and ready he would often turn round and tell me he didn’t need it after all. I literally couldn’t win.”

And that is so often the point of the bully, they make it so that their victims can never win, that it doesn’t matter what they do the work will never be good enough. It can be a game for the bully, they are very rarely interested in the quality of the work produced - much more interested in the game of cat and mouse they continuously play.

Impact on health

The impact of stress on an individual reduces their ability to fight back and can contribute to a reduced immune system and ill health. Symptoms such as sleeplessness, fatigue and anxiety are all common examples of effects of stress and these in turn lead to increased susceptibility to colds and other common viruses. It has also been suggested that over time this kind of impact on the immune system can make people susceptible to more serious illnesses.

It is important to note that if we let others take our control away from us in ways such as bullying and victimisation, we lose control internally. We are more likely to develop illnesses and become victims of anxiety and depression.

It is imperative that in situations such as these we remind ourselves that this sort of behaviour is not only real (the bully has an amazing ability to make us feel as though we are losing our mind) but also that we have the power to do something about it.

What should you do?

In the first instance review your company’s policy on bullying and harassment in the workplace as well as the Health and Safety Policy. Make relevant, detailed notes on where you see that someone is in contravention of this policy.

Then speak to HR (if you have an HR representative) or raise it with the person most relevant to deal with the situation. It might be that there is no one you feel you can approach, in which case take advice externally.

Speak to an HR consultant or employment lawyer to see what your options are in this matter. It may be extremely difficult to be the one to say ‘no more’ but until someone does this sort of behaviour will continue to go on unchecked.

By Claudia Ackenson

As an HR consultant I have worked in a number of different workplaces with various cultures and the one thing that never fails to surprise me is how often I witness or am informed of behaviour which constitute bullying.

I have started to discuss this epidemic with professional contacts and friends and virtually everyone I speak to has had some experience of bullying and I am shocked at how strong, competent and successful individuals end up leaving companies and questioning their own capabilities. Perhaps more surprisingly and worryingly is the fact that two of these individuals were senior HR executives, experienced and capable but the victims of socially unacceptable behaviour still undefined in law.

One of the reasons that these bullies seem to get away with it is because by the time that someone leaves an organisation following months or even years of torment, they often have signed an agreement which means that they won’t speak to anyone else about it. Senior management and the board tend not to like the idea that the word ‘bullying’ could creep into their company history and so are happy to offer some ‘compensation’ to the victim in order that they leave quietly.

By this time the bullied individual has often been so weakened and traumatised that all they want to do is leave without a fuss. The bully has the ability to make them question everything and has usually chipped away at every last vestige of self-confidence which leaves them unlikely to have the psychological strength or the belief in themselves to fight back.

Legislation

Shockingly there is no legislation that specifically applies to bullying - perhaps this is partly because it can be so difficult to pinpoint. Bullies can be clever and manipulative and their behaviour can often be justified quickly if required.

In many working environments people will keep quiet in order to make sure they don’t become the next victim and a sufferer often stays silence and in isolation.

According to ACAS, examples of bullying behaviour include but are certainly not restricted to:

• Exclusion or victimisation
• Deliberately undermining a competent worker by overloading them with work and constantly criticising their ability to manage
• Intentionally blocking promotions
• Unfair treatment including ridiculing or demeaning them in front of others
• Spreading malicious rumours or opinions about someone.

Bullying can come under a number of different pieces of legislation including the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 or the Employment Rights Act 1996, but even in these cases it would be up to the individual to prove how the treatment they have endured fits in.

The Health and Safety at Work Act states that bullying can often lead to extreme stress for an individual. It is an employer’s responsibility to provide an employee with ‘a safe system of work’.

Extreme stress caused by behaviour within the workplace puts the responsibility on the employer who is not fulfilling his duty to the above. Furthermore the employer may also be in breach of contract - an implied term of contract being a safe and protected working environment for the employer.

The effects of bullying

Bullying has such phenomenal impact on the victim that they can become overwhelmed by the stress and anxiety that they feel on a daily basis. It becomes hard to think about anything other than the daily torment that they might receive and many spend hours away from the office trying to find ways to appease their tormenter or ‘get it right next time’ in the hope that the bullying will stop.

Danielle (names changed for the purpose of this article) described how she would try to pre-empt what would upset her boss in the hope that she would be spared his aggression.

She said: “I would take the work home with me if I didn’t get it finished on time and sometimes spend all weekend making sure it was up to date and finished ready for him on the Monday as requested (usually late on the Friday). The problem was if I got it all done and ready he would often turn round and tell me he didn’t need it after all. I literally couldn’t win.”

And that is so often the point of the bully, they make it so that their victims can never win, that it doesn’t matter what they do the work will never be good enough. It can be a game for the bully, they are very rarely interested in the quality of the work produced - much more interested in the game of cat and mouse they continuously play.

Impact on health

The impact of stress on an individual reduces their ability to fight back and can contribute to a reduced immune system and ill health. Symptoms such as sleeplessness, fatigue and anxiety are all common examples of effects of stress and these in turn lead to increased susceptibility to colds and other common viruses. It has also been suggested that over time this kind of impact on the immune system can make people susceptible to more serious illnesses.

It is important to note that if we let others take our control away from us in ways such as bullying and victimisation, we lose control internally. We are more likely to develop illnesses and become victims of anxiety and depression.

It is imperative that in situations such as these we remind ourselves that this sort of behaviour is not only real (the bully has an amazing ability to make us feel as though we are losing our mind) but also that we have the power to do something about it.

What should you do?

In the first instance review your company’s policy on bullying and harassment in the workplace as well as the Health and Safety Policy. Make relevant, detailed notes on where you see that someone is in contravention of this policy.

Then speak to HR (if you have an HR representative) or raise it with the person most relevant to deal with the situation. It might be that there is no one you feel you can approach, in which case take advice externally.

Speak to an HR consultant or employment lawyer to see what your options are in this matter. It may be extremely difficult to be the one to say ‘no more’ but until someone does this sort of behaviour will continue to go on unchecked.

By Claudia Ackenson