The Impact of Bullying in the Workplace
Written by listed counsellor/psychotherapist: Michael Betts MSc, MBACP (Accred), MBPsS
11th July, 2013
Bullying in the workplace can have a huge impact on the individual on the receiving end. There can be a detrimental psychological impact if the problem continues, and the impact can pervade the life of the person who is experiencing bullying.
Bullying can occur in many different forms; some examples are listed below, though this list is not exhaustive:
- Gossiping about or spreading malicious rumours about someone behind their back.
- Putting excessive and unreasonable pressure on an individual.
- Physical intimidation – e.g. standing over someone aggressively.
- Sexual intimidation – e.g. inappropriate comments, purposefully brushing up against someone.
- Belittling or talking down to an individual.
- Purposefully ignoring an individual.
- Purposefully undermining competent work.
Bullying in itself is not illegal, but harassment is and there are many situations in which bullying could be interpreted as harassment.
There are actions an individual can take if they are experiencing bullying; for example, speaking to their manager or directly to human resources. Also, they can seek support from their trade union representative.
If matters are still not resolved, legal action can be taken via an employment tribunal or advice can be sought by contacting ACAS (Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service). It is always worth remembering that employers have a responsibility to take action to prevent bullying and harassment in the workplace.
However, at times it can still be difficult for an individual to acknowledge that they are being bullied. Sometimes the environment itself may normalise the bullying behaviour of an individual to the point that there are feelings of shame or embarrassment in coming forward.
How could therapy work with the experience of being bullied?
Therapy could help to unpack what is happening and to think through what the options are. Therapy can also provide support and encouragement, especially if an individual is feeling isolated by their experience. Therapy may support an individual to confront the behaviour, or to seek help via formal processes if there are feelings of embarrassment or shame.
It is also possible that bullying could feed into an individual’s pre-existing insecurities. This can also be explored in the therapeutic process. This may lead to looking at assertiveness skills with a view to changing the dynamics at work.
It is also important to acknowledge in therapy when an individual is feeling stuck, or feeling that they can’t escape the situation, that they could leave and work in a different environment. Sometimes it can be the fear of not being able to find other work that exacerbates the problem. Even if an individual resolves the issue of bullying, it can be empowering to know that there are other options. Low confidence can impact these beliefs and this in turn could be explored in therapy.
The role of the therapeutic process is to facilitate the individual to find healthier outcomes, and this also applies to the experience of bullying. By working through exactly what is happening and the impact on the individual, alternative healthier options are explored.
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