Information about this article
Author: Katherine Graham
Source: ClubCard Magazine Issue 3 2010
Date added: 2011/04/20
Is your boss too bossy?
Feeling bullied at work is a common syndrome. Katherine Graham takes a look at how to stop bullying in its tracks, seek help or move on to another job
Lillian* is a 30-year-old microbiologist who was humiliated during her annual performance review. 'A group of bullies went out of their way to demean my work, to the point where they redefined the previously agreed upon criteria. It was confusing because prior to that, the same people would approve and occasionally praise my work.
Whether it was financially motivated or otherwise, the bullying took the form of undermining and demoralisation.'
It's a familiar scenario, especially if you’re young, female and black like Lillian. A recent study by the UK charity Samaritans found that one out of four British and Irish employees are stressed because of workplace bullying. And not all cases involve the boss picking on you. Many employees are bullied by their peers or more senior colleagues.Why am I being hurt by the office bully?
If you've ever been on the receiving end of rude, disrespectful comments from your boss or colleague, you know what it feels like to be bullied. And you're also likely to blame yourself. 'Often employees do not realise that their manager is a bully. They believe that this type of behaviour goes with the territory and that they are the problem themselves,' comments Durban-based executive coach Anne Heslop.
'Successful, popular, willing, new employees are usually the target of bullying,' she continues. 'The bully's insecurities and low self-confidence are heightened by these qualities. The bully hates to be shown up around his or her superiors, so a scapegoat is sought.'
Cape Town-based counselling psychologist Anthony Costandius believes that workplace bullying represents a power play: 'The perpetrator wants to achieve and maintain a position of power through tactics of intimidation. He or she attempts to create fear in the victim so that he or she can obtain compliance and will frequently make unreasonable demands.'What options do I have?
'Bullying is a serious and vindictive practice which is very damaging and should not be overlooked,' says Heslop. She recommends jotting down how and when the bullying takes place in order to build up a record of evidence. Threatening emails or notes are particularly convincing as they are a written form of evidence. 'If bullied, you should approach your line manager, Human Resources or an employee forum to which you have access,' advises Heslop. Costandius agrees that you need to get help. 'Like any abuser, the bully will want to intimidate you into a pact of silence,' he says.
'You need to approach HR and even managers that are in authority over the bully. You need to show that you are willing to act to let the bully face the consequences of his or her deeds.’
Once you've taken the matter up through the correct channels, expect a backlash from the bully. 'The bully will attempt to deny, blame and justify - as well as victimise - so it can take tremendous courage to bring about improvement,' comments Heslop. 'Support from colleagues, friends and family during this time is really important for morale.'Should I quit my job?
'Quitting should only become an option if your support structures at work do not want to take action to protect you,' says Costandius.
Even then, the battle is not over until you've approached external support bodies like the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA). You and your employer can receive helpful advice from the CCMA and your dispute can be handled by an experienced professional.
'Don't resign on an emotional whim,' he advises. 'You need to negotiate an appropriate severance and ensure that your own professional record is in no way tainted by the actions of the bully.'Don't put up with it
'It is really important to understand that bullies cannot function without victims,' states Costandius. ‘If I choose to play the victim role, I am enabling the bully to abuse me. Often the first step in stopping the bully is to alter your own approach to life.' Fortunately Lillian's story has a happy ending. She put on her boxing gloves, spoke up about how unhappy she was at the way the review was handled and arranged another meeting. 'Now there'll be more quantifiable objectives for the next evaluation period,' she says. 'At least they know I will not take a beating lying down!'
*Not her real name
WHAT SHOULD I DO IF I'M THE BULLY?
It is a giant step to recognise that one is a bully,' says Heslop. 'This desire to change is an indication that more than half the battle is won. Such a person would have to realise how poorly they value themselves and others and the impact this has on people around them. It would be advisable to seek therapy to address the root causes of prolonged bullying behaviour.'
Working with a qualified coach can also help a bully change his or her managerial style. 'A more democratic and inclusive style is ideal,' says Costandius. 'The good manager needs to provide airtime for opinions and views, but also needs to be courageous to make the final decision about issues.' Heslop recommends working with a coach to set goals which challenge your thinking and behaviour. 'This can result in improved self-confidence, respect for others, effective communication and better teamwork.'