• Edwin and George

2021 – This is What Workplace Bullying Looks Like Now

Last week Josie Hastings released a new book on bullying at work: ‘It Stops Now – Everything Managers need to know to deal with bullying in their team or workplace.’


The fact that the book has to be written is a modern day disgrace.


When will we break through the silence surrounding bullying?


Workplace bullying is repeated and unreasonable behaviour towards a worker that creates a risk to their general well-being. It can be psychological, physical or indirect.


It breads fear. It leads to negative self-esteem. It kills engagement, innovation, creativity and productivity. It works like termites in a house. Its hidden in the dark, behind the walls – it’s constantly eating away, until one day the stairs suddenly crumble. Only then do we realize it’s a matter of time before the walls come tumbling down. (‘Daring Greatly: Brene Brown).


Sadly younger workers, hired for insecure or casual work, are more vulnerable to bullying: ‘It makes it harder for them to stand up without fear of losing shifts or even their job.’ (abc.net)


Characteristics of bullying include:

  • There might be a power imbalance: bullying by senior staff or those who have ‘informal’ power (such as being in charge of rostering and giving the same person the worst shifts)

  • It might show up in ‘every day’ ways: name calling or talking about the victim ‘behind their backs’

  • It could involve exclusion: excluding the victim from meetings or social events

  • It could also involve setting people up to fail: giving the victim unachievable targets, deadlines or timescales for deliverables

  • It often involves micro-management or unfair allocation of menial and repetitive tasks.

The recent increase in the number of people working from home has had dramatic impacts – there’s a danger that the trend will lead to even more disrespectful work environments.

‘The danger is it’s easier for some people to bully others if they are behind a computer screen and key board.’ (‘Personnel Today:’29th October 2020)


Here’s a case study of bullying in a remote work environment:


Joyce now works from home. The pandemic has changed things. Her team are also working remotely - it’s been difficult at times. Joyce doesn’t like the isolation - she keeps in touch with colleagues and they support each other.


Joyce works as an underwriter at a finance company – assessing loan applications. The culture is driven by sales and commission – Joyce knows that targets encourage the ‘wrong behaviour.’ It was never like this when she joined. Joyce wishes she could turn the clock back to the ‘good old days.’


Joyce sticks to the rules. Her colleagues respect her for that. Joyce is dependable - someone they go to for advice. Joyce listens and is first in the queue to help out. Joyce is proud of her 15-year service. If you get her confidence, Joyce will admit she doesn’t like some of the things she sees – she thinks the rules are being bent too often and problems stored up for the future. Joyce is a decent person. She works hard and does her best.


Joyce spoke out at a team meeting. She got frustrated at the standards of work in the department. She’d had a bad day and events took their toll. Although David, her manager, knew Joyce was right, he didn’t like the truth being discussed in this way.


Later that week, Joyce turned down a loan application. The application was introduced by an agent of the finance company. It didn’t meet the criteria – although others may have put it through. The agent wasn’t pleased and placed business with a competitor. Sales targets were missed and commission payments reduced.


Joyce thought she had a good relationship with David. Things changed quickly.


David called Joyce and said he was disappointed she’d spoken out at the meeting and hadn’t taken the ‘initiative’ to put the loan application through. He was aggressive, lost his temper and ended the call abruptly.


David stopped inviting Joyce to meetings she had always attended. The meetings were important to her role. Monthly 1-2-1 sessions with David ceased. On the weekly team call, David praised other members of the department, but Joyce’s name was never mentioned. Joyce didn’t receive invitations to social events (the virtual quiz night and Friday drinks). She heard that David was blaming her for problems she hadn’t been aware of or had no control over. David overturned decisions made by Joyce without telling her or giving feedback. He had never done that before.


During the lockdown, David checked-in with each member of the team on a regular basis – Joyce never received a call. Following the half-yearly pay review, Joyce heard nothing at all from David; one way or the other.


Joyce was devastated and didn’t understand why these things were happening – she was unable to think about anything but work. She became anxious and her health suffered. She spoke to a colleague who joked ‘Joyce, your problem is you speak the truth.’


Joyce gained the courage to call David. He immediately went on the offensive saying she should look to what she had done and reflect on her own behaviour. He had to make cuts to the team and Joyce’s job was under review. The call ended within a few minutes. Joyce hardly spoke.


In September, Joyce found a new job. She resigned from the finance company and left the toxic culture behind. At her exit interview Joyce said she was leaving due to ‘career progression.’ Joyce never thought she would leave in this way. She felt ashamed that she hadn’t been able to resolve the situation.


Blaming, gossiping, favouritism, name-calling, harassment – all signs that bullying has penetrated the culture – and, sadly, thousands of Australian workers are bullied at work (see for example, abc.net.au 7 November 2019) .


And, according to ‘Personnel Today.’


Employees must understand that the firm’s zero-tolerance bullying policy applies with equal force to employees working from home. To help employees understand their rights – and to provide guidance to whistle-blowers – the policies should specifically address ways in which remote bullying might happen. Some examples include:

  • Threats and humiliation via email or instant messaging tools

  • Texts excessively criticizing a colleague’s work

  • Emails and other messages containing racist, sexist or otherwise offensive material

  • Disparaging social media posts about a colleague

  • Demeaning or belittling during video calls

  • Spreading damaging rumours about a colleague.

Workplace bullying has to stop – now.


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