EXPERT ADVICE: On Boss’s Day, here’s how to identify and deal with workplace bullying

Posted on October 16, 2020

Boss’s Day is observed every October to encourage colleagues to strengthen their relationship in the workplace. Fostering a professional environment that is free of intimidating behaviour is one way to do this, and recognising workplace bullying is where it needs to begin.

Workplace bullying results in high levels of dissatisfaction among employees, increased levels of labour turnover, absenteeism, stress, physical and mental ailments, and decreased productivity. In many instances, employees are not even aware that they are being bullied because such behaviour takes place in a subtle manner that is difficult to detect.

It is equally challenging to identify potential bullies during the hiring process. In many cases, they are good-looking, charismatic, intelligent and seductive, when in fact they possess a desire to control and terrorise others by using their personal power. They also tend to be indifferent, self-centred, insecure and inadequate.

Most bullies are manipulative and will pretend to be the victim, or even make their target feel guilty for exposing them. Sadly, in many instances, the targets of bullying are perceived to be paranoid when they try to explain their situation to co-workers or managers.

But not all bullies scream or shout at their targets, nor do they cause them physical harm. Mostly, they use emotional and psychological tactics to render someone powerless and cause them to lose confidence in their abilities.

What to look out for

Bullies employ various tactics to exert power over their colleagues. Here are a few traits to look out for – recognising them might help you to determine whether you are indeed being bullied at work.

The attention-seeker: Have you ever come across a colleague who constantly argues during meetings and wants their voice heard? This person tends to oppose opinions because they want to be seen as the expert in the room, and are likely to bend over backwards to provide an alternative viewpoint, even if it doesn’t make sense.  

The interrupter, of course, doesn’t allow you to fully express your point. Even when they interrupt you, they’re totally off-topic and it’s as if they haven’t heard a word you’ve said. 

The fault-finder could come in the form of a manager who constantly takes issue with your work. This is the kind of person who would make so many changes on a document that you’ve drafted, that you hardly recognise a single piece of information that was yours to begin with.

The perfectionist: Every organisation has one. This is someone who constantly complains when the work isn’t done according to their expectations. Managers tend to applaud their dedication because they are able to make their staff work hard and be productive. This is a person who you probably dread giving your work to for approval, and makes you doubt your ability to do your job.

The hypocrite blows hot and cold: one minute you feel you can trust them; the next minute, they’re lying to you and behaving aggressively. The hypocrite will pretend to be your friend, but will also sabotage you. 

The sweet-and-sour associate: Have you ever encountered a colleague who is sweet towards all your colleagues except one, who they needle constantly? No matter how much that person might complain, nobody believes them because others don’t experience this type of bully’s divergent behaviour.

The commander could come in the form of a mentor who wants to control your career in such a way that even when you’re eligible for promotion, you aren’t allowed to get ahead in your career. When you decide to oppose this person, they get upset and do not mentor you any longer.

What to do about it

You can start by being vigilant and understanding the subtle ways in which you can become the victim of workplace bullying. Companies should be aware of the tactics used by bullies and should take complaints seriously, and all employees should be made aware of the types of behaviours that constitute workplace bullying. Organisations must have zero tolerance for bullies, and should have a channel for complaints against mistreatment.

If you are experiencing mistreatment, seek the counsel of the human resources department, or engage your manager or employee wellness teams to help you to navigate this challenge.

Professor Nasima MH Carrim is an industrial psychologist in the Human Resource Management Department at the University of Pretoria and Chair for the Diversity and Inclusion Interest Group at the Society for Industrial and Organisational Psychology of SA. Boss’s Day is commemorated annually on 16 October.  

- Author Professor Nasima MH Carrim

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