Workplace bullying: the politics of the playground hurt as much when you’re an adult

By | 1 November, 2012 | | Edit

Bullying and suicide are receiving a lot of coverage in the news at the moment. I think we’re all aware of the dangers of school bullying but I was really struck by the forcefulness of some tweets that mentioned workplace bullying during the screening of Tuesday night’s Bullyproof.

As adults we’re often too ashamed to admit we can’t cope with the hurtful behaviour of a colleague. Just this week in the UK the police are investigating claims that BBC reporter Russell Joslin committed suicide following harassment and bullying by a female colleague.

I know only too well that sense of shame and humiliation that bullying can evoke. I was bullied out of my first job. It was a small company and one of the guys who had recently undergone a very messy marriage breakup decided to take his anger out on me ­ the only female working there. Overnight he froze me out, stopped talking to me, slammed doors in my face, made comments as I went past.

It was awful, and I didn’t know what to do, I was only 18. What made it worse was everyone knew he was doing it and no one made any effort to stop him. Eventually I broke down and told my boss I was leaving, he persuaded me to stay a few more weeks because he knew of a job opportunity for me in another company that was starting up.

In legal terms things have improved hugely since then as finally employers have a duty of care towards their employees, but that doesn’t completely prevent bullying from happening in the workplace. The subtle things are often the hardest to challenge: ­ leaving one person out of a lunch date, “forgetting”  to tell someone that everyone’s going for after work drinks, the personal comments that are defended as “only slagging”.

What you can do
If you are on the receiving end of bullying, please don’t stay quiet, don’t tolerate it. Talk to someone and then tackle it. Complain to your boss, and if it’s your boss who’s bullying you, go up the chain of command. Keep going until something is done about it. And if you are in a workplace where it’s happening don’t stand by in silence. Saying nothing, isn’t the same as doing nothing, if you say nothing you tell the person bullying that their behaviour is acceptable, and you tell the person being bullied that they’re worthless. We can’t expect children to behave with care towards their classmates if we the adults aren’t doing it ourselves.

I work with children in schools to address bullying and part of our success is getting the “silent majority” to see that they hold the power. It’s rare for anyone in school to bully alone, and it rarely happens in secret; getting the children providing the “back-up” or “audience” to change their behaviour has a positive impact on the bullying.

Bullying is a serious problem that we have to address properly. If we fail to tackle bullying behaviour at an early developmental stage we ensure that the next generation grow up believing that this behaviour is acceptable, and we increase the likelihood of it reappearing later in the workplace, in our communities, and in our homes.

Patricia runs Sticks & Stones and she’s too modest to tell you all that she recently won an European award and that¹s on top of an award she already won in Dublin! I was shocked when she told me they don’t receive any government funding at all. If you want to support a great anti-bullying initiative in schools you can buy one of the fab Pride watches
that Dragon Den winner Jason O¹Reilly has created for Sticks & Stones. They’ll make great stocking fillers and support a really important cause.

Workplace bullying: the politics of the playground hurt as much when you’re an adult

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