Workplace Bullying - a deep dive into the silent world

Written by Vasundra S, Content Producer of Full Circle - Art Therapy Centre

If you think this article is about putting up pictures of your loved ones at your work desk or placing a succulent on your desk for positive energy. Please move on. We’re here to talk about a problem faced by possibly 75% of people in your office without any legal recourse. 

Here’s Vanessa’s story.

Vanessa was one of the top performers for her team. She was happy and engaged at work until she started facing workplace bullying as a result of an office romance gone sour. 

Her colleague and former lover unleashed microaggressive behaviors and social bullying tactics leaving her feeling confused and isolated. Her friends asked her to speak with HR - but could she? An open conversation with the bully led to her being labelled “over sensitive” at work. She started experiencing intense anxiety and was forced to take time off. Eventually, she had no option but to move on from the job. 

What is workplace bullying?

“Workplace Bullying is repeated, health-harming mistreatment of one or more persons (the targets) by one or more perpetrators. It is abusive conduct that is: threatening, humiliating, or intimidating, or work-interference, i.e. sabotage, which prevents work from getting done,” -Workplace Bullying Institute.

Workplace bullying is tricky to define, it’s often silent in nature and often takes place in smaller and private circles at work and is close to impossible to gather evidence for. 

What happened with Vanessa?

Victims of office bullying usually find themselves in an isolated place where any confrontation with the bully often worsens the situation. 

Studies have shown that bullying in the workplace will cause stress, damage self-esteem, impair cognitive functioning, and threaten mental and physical health. There are cases of bullying induced post-traumatic stress and even suicide. 

Is workplace bullying that big a problem?

1. Research from Dr. Judy Blando (University of Phoenix) has proven that almost 75% of employees surveyed had been affected by workplace bullying, whether as a target or a witness.

2. According to the Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI), bullying is four times more common than either sexual harassment or racial discrimination on the job. 

What is this costing your company?

Poor performance, low productivity and attrition apart from the cost of hiring and training a replacement. 

What can your company do?

One of the most proven successful ways of ending bullying in both offices and schools is rewarding positive behaviors and creating awareness about harmful behaviors. 

Workplace bullying differs from schoolyard bullying in the sense that it is more emotional and nuanced in nature. Any kind of bullying cannot take place without some sort of social approval and encouragement. Usually the office is bully is also the life of the party or a hit with clients. Terrifying right? 

In Vanessa’s  story it wasn’t just her colleague and her in this situation, it was the entire team. While microaggressions were being dealt out to her, the team would approve these behaviors in some way. Even silence counts as participation. 

Vanessa’s company created a safe space for sharing feedback and a year round wellness program to boost workplace productivity. However, addressing uncomfortable emotions was a blind spot for their initiatives. 

Modern workplaces need to consider reimagining training and engagement programs as an opportunity to connect people with their emotions. This calls for going beyond hard skills and soft skills to unlock performance potential.