The office bully
Today’s economic climate seems to be contributing to a rise in workplace bullying, writes JUNE SHANNON
“I still have a lot of problems . . . very low self-esteem, dread of meeting people or dealing with people . . . unable to sleep . . . it really does affect you . . . you feel kind of broken. You are damaged now and feel that people will detect that in you.”
THIS IS one person’s experience of workplace bullying and the extremely damaging effect it has had on their mental and emotional health.
While we are all aware of how destructive bullying among children in the schoolyard can be, adult bullying – which can also have a detrimental and long-lasting impact on victims – is a more hidden problem.
A 2007 ESRI survey on workplace bullying defines it as “repeated inappropriate behaviour, direct or indirect, whether verbal, physical or otherwise, conducted by one or more persons against another or others, at the place of work and/or in the course of employment, which could reasonably be regarded as undermining the individual’s right to dignity at work”.
According to the Health and Safety Authority, examples of behaviour that may constitute workplace bullying include: purposely undermining someone, targeting someone for special negative treatment, social exclusion or isolation, intimidation, aggressive or obscene language and repeated requests for the completion of tasks with impossible deadlines or the completion of impossible tasks.
The ESRI survey recorded the experiences of more than 3,500 adults. Of those, 7.9 per cent said they had experienced bullying at work in the previous six months. The report also found that more than 15 per cent of people had been forced to leave their job as a direct result of bullying.
Of those who reported being bullied, approximately one in five had taken sick leave as a direct result and one in 10 said it had had “a very significant detrimental effect on their lives”.
According to the ESRI, “victims of bullying may suffer detrimental health effects, for example, stress, depression and anxiety. Organisations may experience higher staff turnover and absenteeism as consequences of bullying, as well as possibly facing legal costs.”
The survey suggested that workers are at greater risk of being bullied in organisations that are undergoing change.
With the pressures of today’s economic environment resulting in rising unemployment, and staff cutbacks forcing decreasing numbers of employees to take on increasing workloads, it is a time of huge change and stress for employers and employees alike. There is anecdotal evidence to suggest that incidents of bullying in the workplace are increasing as a result.
Prof Jim Lucey, medical director of St Patrick’s University Hospital in Dublin, said workplace bullying was becoming more of a feature when patients presented for treatment.