Workplace Bullying - By Pranati

Definition of workplace bullying:

Bullying in the workplace can be defined as 'all those repeated unreasonable and inappropriate actions and practices that are directed to one or more workers, which are unwanted by the victim, which may be done deliberately or unconsciously, but do cause humiliation, offence and distress, and that may interfere with job performance, and/or cause an unpleasant working environment.' (Based on Stale Einarson and Paul McCarthy)


"The repeated less favorable treatment of a person by another or others in the workplace, which may be considered unreasonable and inappropriate workplace practice. It includes behavior that intimidates, offends, degrades or humiliates a worker". (Source ACTUQ/QCCI/Old Govt Dept of Workplace Health & Safety)


"Persistent, offensive, abusive, intimidating or insulting behavior, abuse of power or unfair penal sanctions which makes the recipient feel upset, threatened, humiliated or vulnerable, which undermines their self-confidence and which may cause them to suffer stress" (MSF Union, 1994)

Comments that are objective and are intended to provide constructive feedback are not usually considered bullying but strong management.

What qualifies as bullying behavior?

The bullying behavior could range from verbal abuse, blame, humiliation, personal and professional denigration, manipulation of job specifications, unrealistic workload, aggressive e-mails or notes, overt threats, harassment, sabotage of career and financial status, spreading malicious rumors, gossip, or innuendo that is not true withholding necessary information or purposefully giving the wrong information intruding on a person's privacy by pestering, spying or stalking under work - creating a feeling of uselessness 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 overt aggression / violence etc.

Profile of a workplace bully

The serial bully:

• Is a convincing, practiced liar

• Is vile, vicious and vindictive in private, but innocent and charming in front of witnesses; no-one can (or wants to) believe this individual has a vindictive nature - only the current target of the serial bully's aggression sees both sides

• Uses excessive charm and is always plausible and convincing when peers, superiors or others are present (charm can be used to deceive as well as to cover for lack of empathy)

• Is unusually skilled in being able to anticipate what people want to hear and then saying it plausibly

• Is self-opinionated and displays arrogance, audacity, a superior sense of entitlement and sense of invulnerability

• Is a control freak and has a compulsive need to control everyone and everything displays a compulsive need to criticize whilst simultaneously refusing to value, praise and acknowledge others, their achievements, or their existence

• Undermines and destroys anyone who the bully perceives to be an adversary, a potential threat, or who can see through the bully's mask

• Is adept at creating conflict between those who would otherwise collate incriminating information about them

• May pursue a vindictive vendetta against anyone who dares to held them accountable, perhaps using others' resources and contemptuous of the damage caused to other people and organizations in pursuance of the vendetta

• Is also quick to belittle, undermine, denigrate and discredit anyone who calls, attempts to call, or might call the bully to account

• Gains gratification from denying people what they are entitled to

• When called upon to share or address the needs and concerns of others, responds with impatience, irritability and aggression

• Is mean, stingy, and financially untrustworthy

• Is convinced of their superiority and has an overbearing belief in their qualities of leadership but cannot distinguish between leadership (maturity, decisiveness, assertiveness, co-operation, trust, integrity) and bullying (immaturity, impulsiveness, aggression, manipulation, distrust, deceitfulness)

Types of a Bully Manager

Bullying Managers can be put into four types:

1. The Bulldog Bully

This is a manager who resorts to raised voices and aggressive body language to get their way and refuses to allow you to state your case often with a torrent of verbose. Other techniques include getting red in the face, using abusive language, slamming doors and banging the table a great deal. They operate under a cloud of fear and employees are petrified of making any slips or mistakes in case they incur the boss's substantial wrath, this leads to a lack of desire to take any responsibility for tasks outside the employee's job specification and any creativity is stifled.

2. The Silver Tongued Tempter

This type is most skillful and cunning, not for them the crudities of the active bully their style is wholly more covert but no less devastating. They happily promise great rewards and watch with glee at the extra activity their falsehoods generate. When the unfortunate victim realizes the full extent of the STB's empty promises and complains the STB then accuses them of negativity, because they dare to take them at their word. Often the STB will blame the withheld reward on 'situations beyond my control', 'other departments' or change the goal posts. For example an employee in a local financing firm was promised a promotion to team-leader with the associated pay rise, when the date arrived for her promotion the manager explained that the company wouldn't pay her a supervisor' s wage until she had 'proven herself'! This results in apathetic de-motivated and disengaged staff.

3. Messrs Reasonable & Co

This one somehow manages to make all your requests seem not only ridiculous but outrageous too and convince you that their interpretation of the situation is perfectly acceptable and even normal, when, in fact, the reverse is true. The outcome is staff adopting a work to rule style and rejecting any attempt to take any initiative, as the perception is that there will be no back-up or assistance.

4. The Trapper

Perhaps the trapper is the worst of the lot, if there is a 'worst'. These managers will actively work to set-up the unfortunate victim by setting vague or difficult work tasks or engineering an altercation so that they can paint the employee into or corner or use the event as an excuse for trumped up charges or even verbal/written warnings. This style results in massive turnover as staff get wise to the scammer and look for more ethical managers elsewhere.

How bullying affects an individual?

People who are the targets of bullying may experience a range of effects. These reactions include:

• Shock

• Anger

• Feelings of frustration and/or helplessness

• Increased sense of vulnerability

• Loss of confidence

• Physical symptoms such as

• Inability to sleep

• Loss of appetite

• Psychosomatic symptoms such as

• Stomach pains

• Headaches

• Panic or anxiety, especially about going to work

• Family tension and stress

• Inability to concentrate, and

• Low morale and productivity

How bullying affects the workplace?

Bullying affects the overall "health" of an organization. “Unhealthy” workplaces can have many effects. In general these include:

• Increased absenteeism

• Increased turnover

• Increased stress

• Increased costs for employee assistance programs (EAPs), recruitment, etc.

• Increased risk for accidents / incidents

• Decreased productivity and motivation

• Decreased morale

• Reduced corporate image and customer confidence, and

• Poorer customer service.

Law and Bullying

Law in Canada

The Canadian Province of Quebec introduced legislation addressing workplace bullying on 1 June 2004. In its Act representing Labor Standards "psychological harassment" is prohibited. The Commission des normes du travail is the organization responsible for the application of this act.

Under the Ontario Occupational Health and Safety Act 1979, "all employers must take every precautions reasonable in the circumstances to protect the health and safety of their workers in the workplace. This includes protecting them against the risk of workplace violence "The Act requires establishment of Joint Occupational Health and Safety Committees for larger employers.

Under the act, workplace violence is defined as "...the attempted or actual exercise of any intentional physical force that causes or may cause physical injury to a worker. It also includes any threats which give a worker reasonable grounds to believe he or she is at risk of physical injury"

Law in United Kingdom

In the United Kingdom, although bullying is not specifically mentioned in workplace legislation, there are means to obtain legal redress for bullying. The Protection from Harassment Act 1997 is a recent addition to the more traditional approaches using employment-only legislation. Notable cases include Majrowski v Guy's & St Thomas' NHS Trust wherein it was held that an employer is vicariously liable for one employee's harassment of another, and Green v DB Group Services (UK) Ltd, where a bullied worker was awarded over £800,000 in damages.

In the latter case, at paragraph 99, the judge Mr Justice Owen said:

"...I am satisfied that the behavior amounted to a deliberate and concerted campaign of bullying within the ordinary meaning of that term."

Where a person is bullied on grounds of sex, race or disability et al, it is outlawed under anti-Discrimination laws.

Law in Sweden

Workplace bullying in Sweden is covered by the Ordinance of the Swedish National Board of Occupational Safety and Health containing Provisions on measures against Victimization at Work, which defines victimization as "...recurrent reprehensible or distinctly negative actions which are directed against individual employees in an offensive manner and can result in those employees being placed outside the workplace community."

The act places the onus on employers to plan and organize work so as to prevent victimization and to make it clear to employees that victimization is not acceptable. The employer is also responsible for the early detection of signs of victimisation, prompt counter measures to deal with victimization and making support available to employees who have been targeted.

Situation in India

Currently there is no legislation in India that specifically deals with bullying in the workplace. Some countries have legislation on workplace violence in which bullying is included. But employers have a general duty to protect employees from risks at work and many employers choose to address the issue of bullying as both physical and mental harm can "cost" an organization.

In general, there will be differences in opinion and sometimes conflicts at work. However, behavior that is unreasonable and offends or harms any person should not be tolerated.

What can you do to improve the situation?

If you are in HR

• Define bullying in precise, concrete language with clear examples of unacceptable behavior and working conditions

• Establish proper systems for investigating, recording and dealing with bullying

• Investigate complaints quickly, while maintaining discretion and confidentiality and protecting the rights of all individuals involved

• Take action swiftly

• Create an environment in organization in which dignity and fairness for all is the norm

If you are being bullied

• Keep a track of all incidences with date, time, witnesses , emails , memos , telephone calls – if need be do voice recording

• Find out as much as you can about your organizations policy on harassment and bullying.

• Write to the bully following any and each incidents, denying or correcting their false claims if necessary. Keep copies of any correspondence as evidence.

• If the behavior doesn’t stop , present your case (as factually as possible) to bully’s boss and HR and ask them to take action

• If no appropriate action is taken approach top-management with your case, proofs, responses from the bully/your boss/bull’s boss/HR

• If no action is still taken start looking at other options as it doesn’t make to stick to an organization which doesn’t care about its employees

• Do be a part of self help groups as bullying can lower morale

From India, Mumbai
Very relevant issue. I read a book "Managing your boss" by Rashmi Datt where some Indian examples are given. There are plenty of American examples.
In extreme cases, it can be described as a mental and emotional rape of a human being but Indians are used to taking such things in their stride like poor governance, customer indifference or even our atrocious credit system.
Where bullying specifically is concerned, it the top guy himself is a bully or turns a blind eye to bullying by someone else, I don't think there is much you can do about it. Better to leave.

From India, New Delhi

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