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Workplace bullying an epidemic spreading across the business community

25 April 2013

Bullying is usually associated with schoolyard bullies who spend their time poking fun at the lives of fellow learners, students or classmates. Workplace bullying is a burning issue and more workers today are being bullied, virtually harassed in their places of employment. Many employees are bullied at some stage of their careers.

Bullying at work comes in many forms and disguises - verbal, psychological or physical, spreading rumors, taunting and sabotage, abuse, teasing or practical jibes which are beyond the bound of humour. Unjustified criticisms can be made about them, their responsibilities are gradually taken away and they are then given menial and pointless tasks. The perpetrators can be a person or a group against another one person or a number of people and even a manager.

The bullied can suffer from various stress-related illnesses, such as headaches, sweating, shaking, stomach and bowel problems, loss of energy and appetite and high blood pressure.

The psychological symptoms for a victim of bullying include anger, anxiety, panic attacks, depression, loss of confidence, tearfulness, lack of motivation and a general loss of concentration. Victims can also become uncharacteristically aggressive, irritable, withdrawn and perhaps start smoking, drinking alcohol and taking drugs to cope with the situation at work.

Even competent employees can be bullied possibly because their expertise attracts some form of jealousy by a peer or the boss. It can be an attempt by the bully to assert themselves over that person. The bullied can also be persistently picked on and shouted at in private or public, excluded or refused requests and blocked from promotion.

Sometimes the bully can be the manager who just dislikes a member of staff and bullies them for that reason. Bullying causes fear, anxiety and depression and low self-esteem and leads to poor performance by even competent employees.

Bullying in the workplace is detrimental to a business as it can cause low morale, high rates of absenteeism and a general lack of initiative and creativity.There are many reasons why some people become bullies. A cutthroat business environment can give birth to bullies willing to exploit others to advance their own careers.

Bullying is a big problem in the workplace, has a detrimental effect on the organisation and requires an organisational response.

Failure to protect employees' health, safety and welfare can be a breach of contract, giving employees the right to claim unfair constructive dismissal at an employment tribunal. Workers who have been harassed because of their gender, race or disability are also protected by anti-discrimination legislation.

Employers need to have a policy in place to make it clear what is unacceptable behaviour in the workplace and promote a climate where bullying is not tolerated.

Work with managers, human resource representatives to create a climate that promotes a zero tolerance for bullying. This should be part of a comprehensive workplace policy that covers all types of behavioural issues.

Liza van Wyk is CEO of AstroTech Training who offer leadership development training. Visit or call 0861 AstroTech

landline: 011 582 3200
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