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Workplace Bullying

What is workplace bullying?

Bullying is usually seen as acts or verbal comments that could 'mentally' hurt or isolate a person in the workplace. Sometimes, bullying can involve negative physical contact as well. Bullying usually involves repeated incidents or a pattern of behavior that is intended to intimidate, offend, degrade or humiliate a particular person or group of people. It has also been described as the assertion of power through aggression.

Is bullying a workplace issue?

Yes, bullying is a workplace issue. However, it is sometimes hard to know if bullying is happening at the workplace. Many studies acknowledge that there is a "fine line" between strong management and bullying. Comments that are objective and are intended to provide constructive feedback are not usually considered bullying, but rather are intended to assist the employee with their work.

Bullying and harassing behavior does not include:

  • Expressing differences of opinion.

  • Offering constructive feedback, guidance, or advice about work‑related behavior.

  • Reasonable action taken by an employer or supervisor relating to the management and direction of workers or the place of employment (e.g., managing a worker's performance, taking reasonable disciplinary actions, assigning work).

What are examples of bullying?

While bullying is a form of aggression, the actions can be both obvious and subtle. It is important to note that the following is not a checklist, nor does it mention all forms of bullying. This list is included as a way of showing some of the ways bullying may happen in a workplace. Also remember that bullying is usually considered to be a pattern of behavior where one or more incidents will help show that bullying is taking place.

Examples include:

  • Spreading malicious rumors, gossip, or innuendo.

  • Excluding or isolating someone socially.

  • Intimidating a person.

  • Undermining or deliberately impeding a person's work.

  • Physically abusing or threatening abuse.

  • Removing areas of responsibilities without cause.

  • Constantly changing work guidelines.

  • Establishing impossible deadlines that will set up the individual to fail.

  • Withholding necessary information or purposefully giving the wrong information.

  • Making jokes that are 'obviously offensive' by spoken word or e-mail.

  • Intruding on a person's privacy by pestering, spying or stalking.

  • Assigning unreasonable duties or workload which are unfavourable to one person (in a way that creates unnecessary pressure).

  • Underwork - creating a feeling of uselessness.

  • Yelling or using profanity.

  • Criticising 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.

If you are not sure an action or statement could be considered bullying, you can use the "reasonable person" test. Would most people consider the action unacceptable?

How can bullying affect 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.

  • Low morale and productivity.

How can bullying affect the workplace?

Bullying affects the overall "health" of an organization. An "unhealthy" workplace 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.

  • Poor customer service.

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