November 19, 2011 Leave a comment
“Bullying is a conscious, willful, deliberate, hostile and repeated behaviour by one or more people, which is intended to harm others” – www.bullying.org
In the case of Helen Green versus Deutsche Bank the employee was awarded £800,000 damages, as the court agreed with her that she had been bullied at work. The bank was also ordered to pay more than £350,000 in legal costs. These large sums are exceptional but illustrate one way that an unchecked workplace stressor can lead to litigation that might have wrecked a smaller business.
Sometimes we will witness and recognise bullying at work and our duty is obviously to point out that it is unacceptable. Doing so will save a lot of pain and might even save you or your company ending up in court. At Deutsche Bank it seems hardly anyone knew about any bullying and perhaps predictably the alleged bullies and their managers said they were not aware of the bullying.
We probably all recognised bullying while we were at school, but in the workplace it is rarely so obvious. There rarely seem to be witnesses, while employees who are terrorised, stressed and traumatised feel there is no point in speaking up. This can go on for years until the employee starts to suffer mental illness and may like Helen Green no longer feel able to work.
To eliminate (or perhaps more realistically minimise) bullying requires us first to be able to see it happening and to do this we have to be able to see the world from the victim’s point of view. The chance is that the victim will have been picked partly because they are stressed or suffering variable moods and the bullying will be making this worse. When stressed or suffering variable moods we are more likely to misjudge the motives of others. This means that the victim who is getting more and more stressed is likely to be seeing more bullying activity than anyone else. It also brings into question the definition at the top of this page. If you believe like me that there are very few truly evil people in the world then it is likely most “bullies” believe they are just ‘messing about’ and ‘having a laugh’ without realising the pain they are causing. Even the worst bullies probably did not start out with “conscious, willful, deliberate, hostile” attacks.
For many people it takes a paradigm shift to see workplace bullying as starting out from seemingly harmless leg-pulling, jokes, name-calling and so on, but only by realising behaviours most people tolerate can be intolerable for the very stressed employees, can we avoid more court cases and people struggling to ever get back to work.
Next time: The assertive bully