As I write this, I wonder how many people were surprised that this opinion piece was worth writing. Not many, I hazard to guess. Why is bullying in the workplace such a normalised, unchallenged thing? Perhaps it is challenged in your experience… but is it challenged enough? How is it still affecting so many people? Why was this behavior allowed grow beyond the school yard? This isn’t something we can blame upon teachers and parents alone. If you’re reading this, you’re adult enough to know right from wrong, decentness from dickheadedness (am I allowed say that?!).
From the people I have been surrounded by growing up, the majority have been affected by bullying. These are strong, wonderful people of all ages and backgrounds, in a variety of working spheres, yet many have been victim to bullying. Not simply petty-biscuit-stealing-bullying, proper anxiety-building-bullying. I am blessed to have worked with some of the most wonderful staff in my career already, and am thankful the positive energy from these delightful experiences has outweighed that of negative experiences, even though there are quantitatively more negative experiences.
Is it society’s way of demonstrating struggle as it has shifted from very conservative to liberal existence, or with the introduction of social media and technologies normalising certain attitudes which progress to negative behaviours and apparently acceptable actions?
What is the reason behind its existence? Was work-place bullying equally as prevalent in the ‘50s, ‘70s or ‘90s as it is in the ‘10s? Maybe it is just my coming of age and experience in such vast global and professional spheres. Yet, reflecting on the stories of others too, I know bullying is rampant in nursing, policing, teaching, media, retail- you name it.
Having worked in a wonderful school, with an excellent media company and in a great little family run bar that I felt fully comfortable, confident and competent in, I ponder why in other schools, media companies and bars I have earned my pennies in left me feeling awkward, inadequate and incapable. Who gained from this?
The toughest experience I have had personally, relating to bullying in the workplace was when working in a large international school with teacher numbers over 100 and student numbers over 1800. Of course bigger establishments are harder to run and can be more stressful. In my mind, this doesn’t excuse ignorance. The school; a British Curriculum school in the UAE, the entire staff were new, heightening the pressure of the situation.
The bullying came from top-down. The CEO/ Principal, while sometimes compassionate, was not always understanding. Although I sympathised with the pressures he was under, the condescending tone in which the staff as a whole body were chided on a regular basis by himself and his vice, led to a negative atmosphere and a knee-jerk reaction of intolerance. It also resulted in other leadership holders the understanding that ruling by fear or in an arrogant, patronizing manner was acceptable.
I don’t think that it was the individuals who conducted themselves in this way’s intention to behave as so, but did they stop and think about how their behavior upset and annoyed the vast majority of staff?
No matter your role in the workplace, people must learn to consider how their behaviour may affect others. Many of the managers in this work environment were lacking in experience in what they were managing. Now, as far as I am aware, this isn’t all too common in Ireland, but if for some reason you do end up in a leadership role and you have limited experiences, please, please, develop your skill of empathy. If you have experience, don’t let yourself forget what it is to be a ground worker. Be understanding, be empathetic, be a good listener.
Appropriate Behaviour at Work
Say a friendly Hello to people;
Offer support, and follow through on it;
Complete the expectations of your role;
If you need help, ask;
Be nice to everyone;
Apologise if you make a mistake;
Go out on a limb, karma will get you back;
Inappropriate Behaviour at Work
Ignoring or grunting a returning greeting to people;
Dirty looks or glowering;
Not fulfilling the expectations of your role;
Delegating your work to everyone else until you have literally nothing to do even though you’re the responsible party with the bigger pay-cheque;
Not being supportive;
Rude tone of voice, even when frustrated;
Don’t use your physicality to your advantage, especially against women if you are a man;
Don’t manipulate others or act as a puppeteer;
Not owning up to or apologising for your errors;
For the victims, remember who you are. Be strong. Talk. Tell somebody how you feel, without being accusative. I have always tried to see things from the other peoples’ perspective; if not in the moment, then after. Trust me, I know it is not easy. When you are being shouted at in front of clients/customers and being demeaned, you either envisage the ground swallowing you whole or some form of vicious attack on your oppressor. Neither can or should happen. Talk to friends and family, toy about what decision is best for you. You are number one. If you have to report, do. Use your union, go to Citizen’s Information and know your rights. Make informed and educated choices.
The position I was in, where I became a shadow of myself as a result was unnecessary, one I wish never happened, but one I have accepted and moved on from. I am using my negative experiences in a way that I hope will help give others courage. I left my position, perhaps the most daunting decision I had to make, the most labored decision I have ever made, and the decision truest to me, my needs and my growth. Breaking my contract was liberating, but holding out until the time I did, for months in an awful work environment was empowering. It empowered me because I knew I was completing my responsibilities to a high standard and in an efficient and assertive manner. This cannot be taken from me. I can never thank those who helped and supported me through listening and distraction for those months enough. Surround yourself with positive vibes – it will all work out!
Above all, be decent. Don’t be a dick.
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Article by: Rebecca Egan
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