Workplace violence, physical
and emotional, is the single biggest threat
to the workplace of the new millennium according
to the International Labor Organization (ILO).
A whopping 78% of employees in South Africa
confirmed that they had been bullied or victimized
at least once in their careers.
Work is hell
everywhere. Gone are the days when work was
wholesome for body and soul, and the workplace
the centre of one's social empowerment. It is
survival ground. A Bedlam.
yell, scream and throw tantrums. Colleagues
backstab, spread malicious gossip, give you
the silent treatment or ridicule. The downfall
of a competitor is planned and career executions
are common place. This hostile and aggressive
behavior is called bullying, mobbing, victimization,
workplace aggression, work rage or hostilities.
By whatever name, workplace bullying is an alarming
are evident in the press - people do not always
like the reference to "bullying",
but consider that the International Labor Organization
(ILO) calls it "violence" - there
are no scars, but in essence this behavior leaves
the victim with invisible scars and is nothing
less than violence.
whether physical or emotional crossed international
borders according to a report released by the
International Labor Organization (ILO).
rife in the corporate corridors of this country.
Jobs are few and far between and people cling
to what they have. The human carnage and character
assassinations in corporate SA are largely ignored.
This silent epidemic is eating away profits,
careers and human potential.
identify so strongly with their jobs that their
whole self-esteem derives from the position
they hold. You are your position and nothing
more. A dangerous self-assessment! That is why
the effects of workplace bullying is so far-reaching
and likely to trigger Post Traumatic Stress
Disorder when a person is subject to Work Trauma.
Has this always
been the case or are we dealing with a new phenomenon?
Not totally new, because it is also a by-product
of the major and profound restructuring of the
workplace and globalization as companies lay
off works to increase profits and overload the
remaining staff to the extent that stress is
commonplace in the corporate world.
This has led to an increase in negative survival
behavior like workplace bullying. Everybody
is vulnerable and employees could find themselves
cleaned in the corridors if they are not alert.
of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is directly linked
to work stress and is endemic throughout the
industrialized world, according to the World
Health Organization Employers continue to create
hostile environments and apply aggressive management
styles to control and exploit employees, amidst
face of Work Trauma
There is no
consensus on a definition for bullying in the
international arena yet. However, most researchers
agree that these hostilities are:
and prolonged in nature;
out by one or more persons against one or more
behavior with the intention to harm the target;
the targets or victims detrimentally and has
a devastating influence on the emotional well-being
of this group.
The most frequently
reported incidents of workplace bullying, according
to all researchers are the various forms of
verbal aggression like insults, shouting, Billingsgate
vocabularies, name-calling, threats, talking
about someone behind his/her back, interrupting
talk or work, humiliating an employee in the
presence of others, ridicule, teasing, sarcasm
and false accusations. Also flaunting status,
mood swings, ignoring a person, aggressive posturing,
undermining someone and spreading stories, trumping
up charges against co-workers, innuendoes, setting
a person up for failure and colleagues ganging
up against a co-workers, are further examples.
and abusing staff, racial discrimination and
any unfair practice are hostile to the well-being
of the employee and fall within this category.
Equally serious but more dramatic than bullying
is physical violence and homicide in the workplace.
The irony is
that, while workplace violence and hostilities
flourish in corporate South Africa, we can hardly
afford the time, energy and talent wasted by
this crippling phenomenon. Add to this sabotage
like petty theft, industrial espionage and the
planting of viruses by frustrated employees,
and we are talking billions of Rands wasted.
are the perpetrators?
The good news
is that not all perpetrators are sociopath.
Normal over-ambitious and opportunistic people
bully too. Everybody can be guilty of bullying
at times though. The sociopath bully is the
worst, but the other perpetrators' behavior
can be just as predatory as the 2-4% sociopaths
of society. In 92% of cases the bosses are the
perpetrators, simply because they have the power.
one only need to read a book like Wakeman's
"Stab your way to the top" to understand
why bosses are the biggest perpetrators. It
is a "how-to-bully-and-abuse subordinates"
book for corporate climbers. This cold-blooded
book's advice reminds me of the sociopaths most
outstanding characteristic; they don't care
what distress their action cause, as long as
they reach their goals.
would be driven by a lust for power the reason
for others' behavior could be want of approval
through competition, ambition, greed, incompetence,
feelings of entitlement, inferiority, fear,
anger, sheer opportunism, etc. Sociopath bullies
are fascinating and charming, and notorious
for their mimicry and callous behavior Whether
some bosses just follow Wakeman's advice or
are indeed sociopaths on a troll, is not the
issue. It must be realized that this behavior
is very harmful and unproductive and must be
stopped, if necessary through legislation.
and when do colleagues and bosses bully?
their positions or authority are threatened
percentage of bullies are sociopath (2-4%) while
others are mildly antisocial and they bully
for various reasons ranging from power play
and their obsession to control the environment
to being threatened by a competency, popularity,
good looks etc. while some bullies are just
opportunistic and would bully those who are
down on their luck or vulnerable to improve
their own positions.
the corporate culture of an Organization permits
hostile behavior, some colleagues will follow
the leadership and their managerial style mindlessly.
But even if the corporate culture is co-operative,
workplace hostilities go "underground"
and would become very sophisticated.
circumstances encourage hostile work environments.
These are managerial factors like ineffective
job descriptions, inappropriate and/or inadequate
communication, low moral standards, lack of
stimulating and challenging tasks and poor supervisors
and conflicts relating to rights, obligations,
position and poor interpersonal relationships
for a scapegoat.
of professional bullies or Serial Corporate
Killers to get rid of excessive staff so that
companies need not pay large severance packages
like restructuring, looming retrenchments and
mergers can spark off workplace wars in a normally
is a little bit of a hyena in every one of us!
effects on victims
has a devastating effect on the victims' productivity,
emotional and physical health. The victims waste,
according to research, between 10 and 52 per
cent of their time at work defending themselves
and networking for support, thinking about the
situation, being demotivated and stressed, let
alone absences due to stress-related illnesses.
More often than
not, victims blame themselves and doubt their
own self-worth. They feel shame and guilt and
replay incidents over and over in their minds,
wondering if they could have done anything differently.
They are anxious and troubled. In the severe
cases, victims suffer from Post Traumatic Stress
As one victim
so eloquently described it on e-mail: "There
is a huge difference in the pre-bullied me and
the post-bullied me. At present I jump at the
sight of my own shadow, am terrified of meeting
people, am unable to make eye-contact with people,
get extremely agitated if people raise their
voices etc. At first glance someone might easily
think, no wonder she was bullied, she got no
self-confidence or anything! Yes, these things
are not the "real" me. It is just
the way my trauma manifests itself".
and the public are often misled by the vulnerability
of the post-bullied person. Generally, the trauma
of the experience leaves the victim feeling
powerless, disorientated, confused, helpless
and paralyzed. It tends to be sudden and overwhelming
- as if it owns the person. In the above case,
the victim suffers from PTSD and the prognosis
is that it may take her years to recover.
There is nothing
"wrong" with victims. In fact, most
people believe that if they do things right,
work hard etc. they will not become victims
and they distance themselves emotionally from
victims. This is just a way of coping with our
fear of being at the mercy of another person.
But the closer we get to the victims, the closer
we get to dealing with our own fears. Targets
or victims are by no means wimps who deserve
to be treated less than dignified. Victims are
often selected for unfair treatment because
of their abilities and competence and for the
perceived threat they pose to the perpetrator's
career ambitions. Statistics show that women
are more vulnerable and likely targets than
It has not yet
reached the hearts and minds of the public that
work trauma is a gross violation of human rights.
Victims need understanding and care during and
after such a shattering experience.
effect on witnesses and co-workers
of Dr. Charlotte Rayner of the UK indicates
that 20% of co-workers witnessing workplace
bullying decide to look for another job. As
little as 2% felt that it was justified, while
the rest were distressed by it.
sadly do not support the victim/target. They
are scared that they may be in line next, should
they show any compassion. For the perpetrator
to be able to bully he or she needs secrecy,
shame and silent witnesses, according to the
Drs. Namie of the USA: Most victims discover
that, when the odds are stacked against you,
collegial relationships are short-lived. Co-workers
either participate in the witch-hunt or make
themselves guilty of GroupThink. Psychologists
borrowed this Orwellian phrase to describe a
group unable to take responsibility for their
decisions. They are easily conned into following
a strong charismatic leader and occupy themselves
with falling in line, sucking up to the perpetrator
and staying in his/her good books. It is a mindless
club, a clique whose sole purpose is to squash
any dissent and to stay in denial. Their silence
is what the perpetrators really need. Others
would identify with the aggressor and make themselves
guilty of ganging up against the target.
It has been
found that, when witnesses support the victim,
the negative emotional and physical effects
of workplace trauma are reduced considerably.
Victims receiving support from colleagues are
also more enduring and able to move on with
their lives afterwards. But most witnesses play
into the hands of the perpetrator. Even though
they may be affected and demotivated by these
incidents, they will not support colleagues
to protect yourself against Work Trauma
1.Be alert and
know that you too can be the target in a hostile
your position and status define you. Realize
that you are more than your job or any professional
you be treated with dignity and respect at all
and confront the perpetrator; you cannot afford
to be meek.
5.Make use of
the grievance procedures at your Organization
incidents of hostile behavior in your diary.
7.Take the matter
to the perpetrator's boss or a senior person
in the Organization Be specific and open about
the actions you would like them to take.
make an appointment with a Labor law consultant.
and understanding for targets or victims.
empowering "theme song" (like Ally
McBeal did) and sing it when you are under attack
(at least in your mind)
11.You are entitled
to happiness at the workplace - campaign for
a Code of Conduct that would effectively prohibit
any uncivilized behavior at work.
12.Be sure to
read and download Dr Susan's survival guide
for victims/targets of workplace bullying.
The drive for
dignity and respect at the workplace is high
on the agenda in the UK and Europe and gaining
momentum in places like the USA, Australia and
South Africa. We have given rise to a society
where crime, road rage and violence are commonplace.
Now our workplaces have become violent and hostile
too. Society's support systems are eroded and
victims suffer. This is reason for alarm. Interventions
must be directed at eliminating hostile behavior,
reducing anger and establishing caring corporate
cultures. It is time to heal. Human dignity
is at stake.