The Stress of Bullying in the Workplace

Workplace bullying, whether real or perceived, is always a stressful experience. It’s a topic that frequently comes up in discussions about workplace dynamics.  A recent study by Fox and Partners showed that the number of UK Employment Tribunal claims containing allegations of bullying had increased 44% from 581 to a record high of 835 in the 12 months that ended 2022.

Understanding Workplace Bullying

Throughout my extensive career, I’ve encountered bullying from line managers, colleagues, and even customers. I’ve seen allegations of bullying, some justified and others not. It’s important to note that assertive behaviour can sometimes be misconstrued as bullying. When an assertive manager takes over a team, they must be mindful of their impact. Bullying has a unique dynamic, and it’s not always easy to distinguish it from other behaviours. This ambiguity often leads to inadequate responses to bullying in the workplace.

Power Dynamics in Bullying

Bullying behaviour is essentially an assertion of power over someone else. It’s a way of saying, “I am more important than you, and I know better.” This superiority trap stems from a fear of inner powerlessness. On the other hand, being bullied involves surrendering one’s power. No one can bully you without your consent, even though it doesn’t feel like that when it’s happening.   Often if you have self-belief and understand your worth, no one can shake your foundation. Bullying behaviour can affect and intimidate the most resilient of people.  Subconsciously when that happens you are giving up your power.  This is often why bullying can feel like such a devastating experience.

Bullying: Often Unintentional and Surprising

People who engage in bullying behaviour can be genuinely upset and shocked when they realise the impact of their actions. When you see such a reaction, you can be confident that the behaviour will cease. Denial and astonishment that their actions could be perceived as bullying are common. These individuals need to work on their self-awareness and understand the effects of their behaviour on others.

On the other hand, those on the receiving end of bullying behaviour often find themselves surprised at their vulnerability. The behaviour can be deeply upsetting, leading to strong condemnation of the bully. It’s understandable that they would be horrified at the thought of one human being treating another so poorly.

Fear of Inadequacy: A Common Factor in Bullying

Bullying behaviour often stems from a fear of not being good enough. Bullies exert force on others because they fear their ability to negotiate, influence, or gain cooperation, understanding, approval, or help from others. Similarly, those who feel bullied often feel disempowered to deal with the behaviour and may harbour an unconscious fear of not being good enough.

Bullying and the Denial of Care

Our natural state is to care for each other. When we stop caring about others, we deny our true nature. Bullying and being bullied are opposite dynamics of our natural inner urge to care about each other. Often, a bullying dynamic occurs because both the “perpetrator” and the “victim” don’t believe in the possibility of the other caring enough about them to listen.

The Blame Game in Bullying

Bullying behaviour often arises from an inability to take personal responsibility. The perpetrator, consciously or unconsciously, tries to change or intimidate the victim. The person on the receiving end often sees the behaviour as an attack on them, rather than recognising the fear or lack of awareness in the person displaying the behaviour.

Whether real or alleged, bullying behaviour is always unacceptable and has a significant impact. Sometimes, claims of bullying can arise from experiencing assertive behaviour. In these situations, engaging in a “who is right and who is wrong” debate is futile.

There should always be zero tolerance for workplace bullying.  Bullying behaviour should never be ignored. Addressing bullying should be an integral part of all leadership and management learning programmes.

The Impact of Bullying on Workplace Productivity

Workplace bullying has a significant impact on productivity. According to a study by the Workplace Bullying Institute, victims of bullying often lose work time avoiding the bully, thinking about the situation, or recovering from the stress. This leads to decreased productivity, which can have a significant impact on the company’s bottom line.

The Role of Leadership in Preventing Workplace Bullying

Leaders play a crucial role in preventing workplace bullying. They set the tone for the workplace culture and have the power to enforce a zero-tolerance policy towards bullying. By promoting a culture of respect and empathy, leaders can help to prevent bullying before it starts.

The Legal Implications of Workplace Bullying

While in many countries, bullying in itself isn’t a legal matter, In many jurisdictions, workplace bullying or the issues arising can be considered a legal issue. Employers have a duty of care to provide a safe working environment, and this includes preventing and addressing bullying. Failure to do so can lead to legal consequences, including lawsuits and fines.

The Psychological Impact of Workplace Bullying

Workplace bullying can have severe psychological effects on victims. These can include stress, anxiety, depression, and even post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It’s essential for workplaces to provide support for victims, including counselling and mental health resources.

The Importance of Reporting and Addressing Bullying

Reporting and addressing bullying is crucial. Many victims of bullying feel powerless and may be afraid to speak up. Encouraging a culture where employees feel safe to report bullying without fear of retaliation is key to addressing this issue.

Promote a culture of respect

Workplace bullying is a serious issue that affects many people and businesses. It’s crucial for everyone in the workplace, from leadership to employees, to understand what constitutes bullying and how to prevent it. By promoting a culture of respect and empathy, we can create a safer and more productive work environment for everyone.

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I help leaders develop self- mastery, helping them to become confident in their own inner guidance.

I collaborate with leadership experts, managers and HR professionals to help them get their own message and unique services and products to a wide audience.