2 min read

Beating the office bully

People think workplace bullying is about blue-collar workers. Yet surveys show office bullying is common too.

A 2002 report by Australia’s APESMA professional women’s network said one-third of survey respondents have been bullied at work.

In 2000, Australia’s Office of the Employee Ombudsman said it received more than 500 workplace bullying complaints a year. That number increases every year.

In its January 1999 Australian Jobs Index Survey, Morgan and Banks reported 10.4 percent of employers believe bullying is increasing at work.

Taunts, intimidation

According to England’s The Daily Telegraph, an online poll of 10,000 people found that 92 per cent believe they are the victims of workplace taunts and intimidation, with 56 per cent believing it is a serious problem in their office, shop or factory.

International research and anecdotal evidence from Australia and New Zealand suggests the worst industries for bullying are education, healthcare, social services and voluntary work.

The Morgan and Banks survey identified tourism as a problem industry. There’s also evidence  bullying is more widespread in the government than in private industry. Although this may reflect the willingness of government workers to report bullying.

Until recently there wasn’t much formal awareness of bullying as a problem. The increasing number of reported cases reflects the fact that employees are only just becoming used to being able to report bullying.

Outsourcing, cost-cutting trigger bullying

White-collar unions say outsourced operations and understaffed workplaces are ideal breeding grounds for middle management bullies. There’s evidence bosses, who are themselves under undue pressure, turn into workplace bullies as a misguided coping strategy.

Bullying takes a number of forms. At one end of the spectrum are malicious rumours, over critical work evaluation and physical or verbal isolation. At the more extreme end there are direct verbal threats and physical violence.

Deaths as a result of workplace bullying are thankfully rare, but they happen.

Bullying has been a feature of the workplace for most of human history. No doubt when the senior public works managers of Ancient Egypt floated down the Nile on their annual off-site management brainstorming session some bright spark figured whipping might incentivise pyramid-building.

Office bullying kills productivity

Today’s more enlightened managers recognise a happy workforce is productive. They know bullying has a direct negative impact on productivity. There are estimates of the potential costs of workplace bullying, but ultimately it’s impossible to measure the economic cost.

Other facts about workplace bullying.

  • Most research says that men and women face bullying in roughly equal numbers. Both men and women bully others in roughly equal numbers. Women are more likely to report a bullying incident – men are less willing to admit to being intimidated.
  • Same sex bullying is far more common that intra-sex bullying.
  • Victims can lose self-esteem and blame themselves for the problem.
  • About one victim in 100 either attempts or succeeds to commit suicide.
  • 90% of calls to Britain’s workplace bullying hotline came from white-collar workers – only 5% involved manual workers.
  • About 10% of all reported cases result in legal action – this proportion is increasing.
  • Two-thirds of the members of Unison (the UK civil service union) say they have witnessed workplace bullying.
  • Most bullied people report damage to their health
  • The overwhelming majority of bullies are repeat offenders.
  • In most cases more senior managers say they are aware that the bullying took place.
  • Bullying is responsible for around one resignation in four.