Name-calling, nasty text messages, gossip or just sheer physical abuse… bullying is so childish we like to think even children should be above it. However, bullying is common among adults, too. Especially at work.
Psychology Today magazine is blunt about the problem: “No one likes a bully, but no one likes a victim either.” Just like the common schoolyard variety, workplace bullying encapsulates the same dynamics and plays out for the same reasons of power and insecurity.
It’s never ‘harmless fun’
Bullying is repellent on all sides but if you suspect it’s going on (or have faced complaints personally), you owe it to your business, bottom line and staff to sort it out.
You also owe it legally. Under Queensland’s Work Health and Safety Act, employers – including PCBUs, or people in control of a business or undertaking – are responsible for the psychological as well as physical health of their staff. Fail to do so and you may fail to stay out of jail: that’s the harshest penalty possible under the Act for workplace injuries that happen on your watch.
Most bullying won’t get that far but it still has far-reaching consequences, affecting productivity, morale, confidence and staff turnover. Stressed staff also have higher absenteeism and sick leave costs.
The Fair Work Ombudsman gives a short list of examples of how the intent is expressed:
- practical jokes
- peer pressure
- exclusionary behaviour
- unreasonable work demands.
Occasional examples will happen within business – but it’s the consistent application of these behaviours to empower some over others that defines bullying actions.
Competitive workplace cultures can inadvertently foster bullying. Psychology Today says it’s because power is the “chief perk in most companies, especially those with tight hierarchies, (so) offices can bring out the bully in people”.
Meanwhile David Yamada, writing for the New Workplace Institute, a US-based employment psychology and law think tank, says bullying is too often “encouraged or enabled – directly or indirectly – by those at the top”. He doesn’t argue against healthy, enriching competition within teams, but says competitiveness has a dark side where one player wins by undermining others.
It might give the same result on first glance, but that’s because bullies make the pond – such as the rest of your team – feel smaller to make their successes look bigger.
Can you afford that?