Victims of this kind of bullying should not resign themselves to their fate, as there are several steps they can take to put an end to the bully’s reign of terror, an expert says.
“Workplace bullying is the consistent and repeated mistreatment of one employee by another, and international estimates suggest that at least 1 in 6 people will at some stage fall victim to an office bully,” says Dr Gillian Mooney, Teaching and Learning Manager at The Independent Institute of Education, South Africa’s largest private higher education provider.
She says workplace bullying takes a huge toll not only on the person on the receiving end, but also on teams, divisions and even the company as a whole.
“Workplace bullying affects the target both mentally and physically, and will almost certainly impact on motivation and productivity. Psychologically, bullying causes heightened stress levels and often leads to depression, breakdowns, poor concentration, compromised memory, insecurity, irritability, and even post-traumatic stress syndrome.
“Physically, those on the receiving end of bullying may suffer from chronic fatigue syndrome, lowered resistance to colds and flu, high blood pressure, migraines, hormonal disturbances, thyroid problems, skin irritations, stomach ulcers and substance abuse.”
Mooney says that toxic team members cause a drop in productivity and organisational health, due to increased absenteeism and staff turnover, more accidents, bad customer service, higher costs for employee assistance programmes, and decreased motivation and morale.
“It is essential to remember that workplace bullying affects both the target and those who witness the bullying. For example, a researcher in the United Kingdom, Dr Charlotte Rayner, found that almost a quarter of people who witness workplace bullying will search for new employment,” she says.
While legitimate and constructive criticism should be considered as positive and par for the course in the workplace, companies and individuals should not allow bullies to continue down their path of destruction, she says.
“Legitimate criticism occurs in a positive, non-threatening manner, and typically includes helpful methods for you to improve your work. In contrast, bullying occurs in a negative manner and is abusive – either overtly or subtly.
“A workplace bully may make unreasonable demands, use techniques such as verbal abuse which includes cursing, shouting, gossiping and constant undermining of the target, or tactics such as intimidation, degradation, isolation, and humiliation,” says Mooney.