BULLYING does not only happen among children but also grown-ups.
In adults, it can be detrimental to their career, create animosity among family members and, in the long term, cause mental anguish and depression.
If the pervasiveness of “work environment bullying” is stark, so, too, are the results. Constantly having to cope with taunts can cause anxiety, loss of confidence and suicidal tendencies.
Being excluded from on-the-job social events, co-workers excusing themselves from the work area when you come in, receiving the “silent treatment” or having your presentations ignored are examples of adult bullying.
The bully will attempt to slander his victim by turning his associates against him. He will spread rumours of the victim’s inability to perform simple tasks. A tormenting supervisor may set the victim up for a fall, by giving him assignments that he knows the victim won’t be able to do and then pounce on his failure.
Bullying can sometimes be so subtle that the victim won’t even realise that he is being bullied, and neither will his colleagues.
It is possible to identify certain conditions in which bullying can flourish. A school makeover or the appointment of a new manager or head teacher are common triggers of an episode. Bullying among staff is also closely linked to an “unhappy” environment.
The adult bully is often charming, with a Jekyll and Hyde nature. He is adept at making his actions believable. But there are signs that behind the sweet talk, all may not be well. These include random and impulsive decision-making, obsession with conformity and procedures, the inability to distinguish between important and trivial matters, and pettiness.
Many bullies are emotionally or professionally insecure, but this rarely shows. What will come across are arrogance and a constant denial of any wrongdoing.
Bullying is a deep-rooted psychological problem and those who are bullied are likely to bully others.
But, bullies often target people they consider a threat. A typical target is the conscientious and competent worker who is well-liked by his colleagues.
In contrast, bullies are usually disliked by all except, perhaps, their superiors, and jealous of the attention given to others.
Bullying is about power. Bullies want control of their victim and their environment. Their main instrument of control is criticism. A colleague may focus on alleged under-performance. A manager may criticise everything from professional conduct to appearance. To correct the alleged failing, the victim jumps through more hoops, but the harder the victim works, and the more he or she achieves, the greater the bully’s insecurity.
This damaging cycle often ends in the victim facing disciplinary action or a nervous breakdown, or both.
Isolating victims from their friends and colleagues is another tactic. The effects can be emotionally and psychologically damaging. In a bullying workplace, colleagues are often afraid to stand up for the victim in case they become targets themselves.
Don’t take bullying lightly. It can last for years, with victims continuing to do their job under increasingly stressful circumstances. There is no legislation that addresses bullying. That doesn’t mean legal action can’t be taken — it just makes proving your case difficult. Different types of exploitation require alternative methodologies.
Another possibility is to bring a case for constructive dismissal, where the emphasis is on proving that there has been a significant breach of working relations. The downside here is that you have to quit your job first.
The other alternative is to respond expeditiously to any form of bullying. Inform your union or superiors, or approach a counsellor. The counsellor will probably urge you to keep a journal and jot down episodes of bullying and possible witnesses.
Confide in friends or trusted associates. You may be astonished at how many of them may have encountered instances of bullying. There have been instances of head teachers being uprooted by the powers that be after the whole staff-room of teachers file complaints.
On the off chance that you’re backed against the wall, decide whether to ask for a transfer or quit and move on.
Moving on may appear that the bully has won and you are running away. However, if you are relocated or get a new job and you are contented, you win. Besides, courts can be a costly affair.
AZIZI AHMAD, Kuala Lumpur