What is Bullying Then?
- “Constant nit-picking, fault-finding and criticism of a trivial nature — the triviality, regularity and frequency betray bullying; often there is a grain of truth (but only a grain) in the criticism to fool you into believing the criticism has validity, which it does not; often, the criticism is based on distortion, misrepresentation or fabrication.
- Simultaneous with the criticism, a constant refusal to acknowledge you and your contributions and achievements or to recognise your existence and value.
- Constant attempts to undermine you and your position, status, worth, value and potential.
- Where you are in a group (eg at work), being singled out and treated differently; for instance, everyone else can get away with murder but the moment you put a foot wrong — however trivial — action is taken against you.
- Being isolated and separated from colleagues, excluded from what’s going on, marginalized, overruled, ignored, sidelined, frozen out, sent to Coventry.
- Being belittled, demeaned and patronised, especially in front of others.
- Being humiliated, shouted at and threatened, often in front of others.
- Being overloaded with work, or having all your work taken away and replaced with either menial tasks (filing, photocopying, minute taking) or with no work at all.
- Finding that your work — and the credit for it — is stolen and plagiarised.
- Having your responsibility increased but your authority taken away.
- Having annual leave, sickness leave, and — especially — compassionate leave refused.
- Being denied training necessary for you to fulfil your duties.
- Having unrealistic goals set, which change as you approach them.
- Ditto deadlines which are changed at short notice — or no notice — and without you being informed until it’s too late.
- Finding that everything you say and do is twisted, distorted and misrepresented.
- Being subjected to disciplinary procedures with verbal or written warnings imposed for trivial or fabricated reasons and without proper investigation.
- Being coerced into leaving through no fault of your own, constructive dismissal, early or ill-health retirement, etc.”
Recent literature indicates that workplace bullying may also be perpetrated by work peers and not necessarily someone in a position of direct power or influence. They may be seeking to repetitively undermine or belittle a workmate in order to gain promotion or advancement, or to look good in comparison in their supervisor’s eyes.
The bullying person may control some facet of work that makes them look more efficient or superior to the person being victimised. The bully may also have a domineering and convincing personality and may use this to persuade other workers to belittle and undermine their victim, who they may perceive and portray as being disorganised, weak or incompetent.
The problem with most bullying and harassment is that it is difficult for the victim to prove or demonstrate that another person or a group have really bullied them. The victim may not be believed that anyone could do this and that they are paranoid in their behaviour. They may be seen as mentally ill or not up to the tasks required in their job. It is extremely difficult, especially if the bully has been careful to be underhand rather than openly harassing, for a victim whose self-esteem, confidence and self-worth have been shattered over a period of time.
According to Witheridge (2001: 3):
“Most bullying at work is not blatant physical violence but psychological violence — a hidden and yet repetitive process, typified by small events and persistent harassment.”
Perhaps hidden or clever disguise are the key words in psychological bullying. The intentional bully will target a particular person, look for their weaknesses and bit by bit portray the victim as the sum of their weaknesses and not their strengths. There are other serious types of harassment or bullying, just as difficult to prove such as sexual harassment.