“I have never experienced workplace bullying and I don’t know anyone who has…” Yeah Right !!


When the topic of bullying comes up what springs to mind is  schoolyard bullying, a bigger built child bullying the smaller children, heterosexual teenagers bullying a gay teenager, ethnic minorities being bullied by the more dominant cultural group in that particular society …..the list is endless.

Most people do not realise that they are or have been victims of workplace bullying or harassment. Workplace bullying cuts across all working environments and can take place between management and subordinates, board members and management and among co-workers who are on the same level. According to Manufacturers’ Monthly (September 2005), Harassment in the workplace can cause major stress, anxiety or physical injury to those targeted while exposing employers to severe and costly legal repercussions.

The more common examples of workplace bullying/harassment are:

  • unfair and excessive criticism
  • publicly insulting victims
  • ignoring a worker’s point of view
  • Exclusion or isolation
  • constantly changing or setting unrealistic work targets
  • undervaluing an employee’s efforts and work

Unfortunately, workplace harassment is often ignored by management and victims do not always come forward for fear of  further victimisation or losing their jobs. After going through the list of examples of workplace bullying, I had, what Oprah Winfrey would call, an AHA! moment. I could not help think about my late friend whom I shall refer to as Ms M. From what I know now about workplace bullying, Ms M was indeed  a victim.

Ms M had risen to the level of General Manager at the age of 33. She was single and had no children. Ms M was an expatriate. All her family members lived in her home country and she had very few friends. Her work was her life. Being a female and a foreigner did not help her much in her work environment. Ms M would call and tell me about the very long board meetings she was always stuck in and how most of them were personal attacks on her. Both Ms M and I put it down to male chauvinism and xenophobia.

As time went on Ms M began to lose her spark. She started calling in sick and began taking leave even during the company’s busy periods where her input was greatly needed. Ms M was then “transferred” to another town. It was a smaller branch and Ms M did not take the demotion kindly. She searched high and low for another job with no luck. During that period she started complaining about  of all sorts of ailments ranging from migraine headaches, heart palpitations to allergies. No one can say whether this was connected to the stresses she was going through. Her health deteriorated and eventually she resigned due to ill health. Several months later, she died in her sleep.

It would be incorrect to say that Ms M died as a result of workplace bullying. She was a victim of bullying. Her quality of life deteriorated as a result of being bullied at work. She never got any help because of the culture of not speaking out. She was the General Manager, how could she confront the company Chairman? If there were anti bullying policies in place, Ms M would not have encountered such a problem.

NBI has a moral obligation to help the victims of bullying to face the fact that they are being bullied and provide counselling and therapy where needed.

One unknown fact is that an employer is responsible for the actions of an employee. If an act of bullying has been reported, an employer will be deemed responsible for any bullying carried out within the workplace and potentially liable. This can cost the company a lot of money and it can cause irreparable damage to the company’s reputation.

It is therefore prudent for companies to “bully proof” their businesses. At NBI we work with and support employers to “Be a Good Employer” by providing training, coaching and ensuring that there are anti bullying policies in place.

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