Bullies at work

Research done by TNO shows some alarming facts on bullies at work in the Netherlands. 8% of all employees have dealt with bullying at work. These employees miss seven days per year more from work than employees who are not victimized. Many of those people deal with serious health issues. At the beginning of my career, I have been there.

Seldom defend appropriately

Bullying means sustainable and structured negative behavior. When bullying happens, the person who gets bullied can seldom defend himself or herself appropriately. There is always some form of inequality at hand, as the bully finds himself or herself in a superior position. Often managers are bullies themselves, which was the case in my situation as well. Those bullies find allies, oftentimes a whole web of people, to bring the person down. They do it through physical, psychological or digital harassment. They break your reputation, follow everything that you do, steal your ideas and work and downplay your worth. Some of these bullies are truly the scum of the earth. Yes – at The Integrity Talks, we say exactly what needs to be said.

Impact of bullying on me

The research of TNO talks about excluding, cutting dead, ignoring, belittling, aping, making fun of, scolding, threatening, intimidating, physical threats, unwanted touching, using force, assigning too much work, or work that is too heavy or too difficult, assigning trivial tasks, keeping someone working below their level, hiding, breaking and throwing away someone’s things.

I remember the impact of bullying on me, not just in the situation, but how it affected me for almost ten years straight. I was completely innocent. The only responsibility I had in the situation was that I was aware of many unethical matters and I once spoke the truth about what I saw in that ecosystem. The consequences of bullying are thus horrific and oftentimes affect the rest of someone’s life. Consequences include a lack of self-confidence, uncertainty, feelings of inferiority, nervousness, jumpiness, lack of concentration, loss of memory, lack of motivation, anxiety, depression and even suicidal tendencies, as TNO points out.

Signs within the ecosystem, thus the organization, can be that employees fail to join in social activities, keep aloof or show avoidance behavior. Their quality of the work may decrease, the team may also perform worse, cliques are forming as some employees are sticking together against others and there is a lot of gossip, exclusion and ignoring. TNO also underlines that victims of bullying are twice as likely to burn out than employees who just feel pressured too much at work. In short, this bullying epidemic needs to stop.

Zero-tolerance policy

Stopping this kind of toxic behavior starts with a clear code of conduct, an ethical culture and with leading by example, not just in the top of the ecosystems, but in all parts of the organization. The more employees support a zero-tolerance policy, the better the safety will become. Preventive actions should also be formalized, including inspiring trainings and workshops on what proper attitude and behavior looks like. Open discussions should be supported.

As soon as something small starts to happen, a bully needs to be held accountable immediately. Managers should act consistently against these behaviors. This means that boundaries will not be crossed and that people will ask for help much sooner. Note that it is your responsibility as an organization to have an anti-bullying protocol in place, even when it is not relevant for the moment. Happy to work with organizations on that indeed, as well as solid code of conducts and other policies.