Bullying at Work – The Unspoken Trauma

“My boss always criticized everything I did. Nothing was ever good enough for him. There were some days when I was left alone and others when he commented every time I took a break.  He was totally unpredictable especially in the evenings and on the weekends, when I never knew when he was going to call and demand an urgent task. When I asked other staff and managers all they could say was “that is just the way he is”.  In the end my family was suffering from my nervous state and agitation. Luckily I found a new job where I am appreciated.”


“I had been working at the company for five years and was appreciated by all. When a new boss took over the department and set completely different methods for providing service, our work and relationships with our clients became much more complicated. When I approached the boss with my concerns, she sternly rejected everything I suggested. From that moment everything changed. I was given less and less work. Slowly my responsibilities were given to other staff. I was often left off important e-mails and my boss basically stopped communicating with me. Other staff understood my new status and kept their distance from me. I felt isolated and frustrated.”


Work is not just a place where we earn our livelihoods.  It is a big part of our identity in society and often defines ourselves and shapes our self-esteem. It is where just about everyone can make some kind of difference.


But what if going to work is full of fear and anxiety? What if our bosses, colleagues or even clients behave in a nasty manner, demean and humiliate us in front of others, and call unnecessarily after hours? What if the norm is being shouted at and praise is seldom or never awarded?


These phenomena are familiar behaviors at various volumes and frequency, but only in the past few years has the issue become openly spoken about. Some famous public cases in Israel have aired in the media and the courts. Similar to sexual harassment, bullying has finally been taken out if the shadows.


Not everyone recognizes and understands the signs of bullying. How can you tell when behaviors deviate from the norm and real damage can occur?


Here are some takeaways from a recent conference at the Kinneret College run in conjunction with the Israeli Association for Preventing Workplace Bullying and the Israeli Psychological Association:


  1. Bullying is the existence of a persistent, ongoing, hostile environment in the workplace.
  2. Bullying often begins at higher level of management but can also be instigated by colleagues, subordinates or even clients.
  3. Bullying presents itself in many ways: outbursts of rage, insults, constant or exaggerated criticism, extreme workload, removal of authority or tasks, constant monitoring, being completely ignored, isolation, credit taking, humiliation, out of hours calls and messages and more.
  4. Bullying can often stem from a conflict but often is the result of a hostile or unethical organizational climate. There are also organizational star talents who bully and often their damaging behavior is ignored as they bring results.
  5. Personal damage can be enormous and may include resignation, expensive psychological treatment, family life disruption, chronic absence and in extreme cases temporary or permanent withdrawal from the labor market.
  6. Organizational damage is also significant and includes the flight of productive workers, fear of speaking up, difficulty in acquiring good workers, mediocrity and at the end of the line, costly legal procedures to the detriment of the organization’s image.
  7. Organizations can implement a wide range of tools that can reduce the chances of bullying developing. Many of them are well known and may include: devising an ethical code, fostering the manager – worker relationship, regular feedback cycles and organizational climate measurement and development.
  8. Bullying prevention is much less costlier and resource-effective than treating it after it has taken root.
  9. If a case is detected, it should be dealt with as soon as possible to lower the personal and organizational damage.
  10. Courts cannot fix the problem. They can only give compensation.
  11. Victims should not cope alone and rather get assistance and advice in weighing alternatives for action, for example from a highly regarded manager, consultant, work committee, union official or from the Israeli Association for Preventing Workplace Bullying.
  12. Finally, company boards and senior management must take responsibility, initiate action and deal with the issue when it arises, preferably beforehand.


My conclusion: anyone who deals in the organizational sphere – managers and consultants – must become familiar with the issue, learn the terminology and know what to do when confronted with destructive behaviors.


Richard Milecki








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