“Bullying is a compulsive need to displace aggression and is achieved by the expression of inadequacy (social, personal, interpersonal, behavioural, professional) by projection of that inadequacy onto others through control and subjugation (criticism, exclusion, isolation etc). Bullying is sustained by abdication of responsibility (denial, counter-accusation, pretence of victimhood) and perpetuated by a climate of fear, ignorance, indifference, silence, denial, disbelief, deception, evasion of accountability, tolerance and reward (e.g. promotion) for the bully.” (Tim Field, 1999, Understanding the Situation and Theoretical Insights)

Workplace Harassment and bullying in the workplace reflect issues and problems that have been occurring in the broader society for a long period of time. It has taken many years and many court cases to get to the stage where peoples’ human rights are protected to the extent that workplaces in Australia for example are required to have special policies in place to prevent harassment (General and sex-based), to provide grievance procedures and processes for dealing with this issue, and to protect the interests of special groups including women and people with various cultural needs.

Harassment in itself is difficult to define, because there are so many different ways in which this sort of behaviour can occur and the effects this may have on the victim. Tim Field outlined some differences between bullying and harassment. This is recited from his online Web page titled ‘Bully Online’ — the official web page for The UK National Workplace Bullying Advice Line as follows:

“How do you know if you’re being bullied? Bullying differs from harassment and assault in that the latter can result from a single incident or small number of incidents — which everybody recognises as harassment or assault — whereas bullying tends to be an accumulation of many small incidents over a long period of time. Each incident tends to be trivial, and on its own and out of context does not constitute an offence or grounds for disciplinary or grievance action.”

Other definitions suggest that workplace harassment is a series of prolonged events or situations so there are some definitional debates in the literature. Whatever the definition may be, it is clear that the victim of bullying or workplace harassment is being threatened, intimidated and belittled and the perpetrator is gaining power and pleasure from the experience.

Witheridge (2001:2) outlines the often insidious nature of bullying in the workplace (a bit like a slow cancer growing), where it is often difficult to measure and to provide specific instances. Not only does harassment and bullying impact on workers ability to be productive and to enjoy their work, but is also has significant impacts on mental and physical health. Witheridge (2001: 3) states:

“Put simply, workplace bullying means abusing his or her power or position. It is offensive discrimination through persistent vindictive, cruel or humiliating attempts to hurt, criticise and condemn an individual or group of employees.

It’s an abuse of power or position to:

  1. Undermine an individual’s ability, causing them to lose their self-confidence and self-esteem
  2. Intimidate someone in a way that makes him or her feel very vulnerable, alone, angry and powerless.

It is typical for these attacks on someone’s performance to be unpredictable, unreasonable and often unseen; the behaviour can cause constant stress and anxiety and gradually make the employee lose faith in themselves. Ill health and mental distress can be a direct result.”

The following series of posts will discuss workplace harassment. We hope many individuals that are or have been directly or indirectly affected by this issue can benefit from this discussion.

Follow-Up Posts:

  1. What is Bullying Then?
  2. Why Do People Harass and Bully?
  3. Bullying Behaviours
  4. Bullying and Your Health
  5. Workplace Harassment: Ineffective Resposes
  6. Workplace Harassment: Leanne’s Case Study
  7. Workplace Harassment: Effective Resposes
  8. Workplace Harassment: Jack’s Case Study
  9. Workplace Harassment: Tanya’s Case Study