There is a responsibility on employers and employees alike to confront workplace abuse. Targets should confront it in the early stages before they fall prey to these pernicious consequences. A plan for confronting and surviving workplace bullies includes replacing negative self-talk with positive affirmations, and accessing the network of support provided by friends, family, therapists, doctors, lawyers, trade unions, newspaper reporters, and internet organisations that target bullying. Even with anti-bullying policies and structures, which should always be used, it is not easy to confront the cunning and arrogant abusive personality type. Bullies are not amenable to persuasion. They often have a support network of their own. Sometimes, the abuse gets worse when it is reported, but it is still vital to confront it. As with domestic violence, it will get worse anyway. When confronting the abuser, endeavour to always remain calm, conceal fear, stick to the facts, and use non-aggressive language. State your feelings about such maltreatment, but try not to allow the abuser to see your vulnerability, or he/she will exploit it.
If you are unable to face the abuser, put your complaint in writing, and use a friend or therapist for feedback to ensure that your memo is effective. Mediation is also an option. There are professional mediators and consultants, who specialise in resolving bullying. Brendan Schutte’s blog, Fixing the fighting. A guide to Using Mediation in Settling Disputes and Resolving Conflict in the Workplace, elaborates on this process. Generally, it is better to confront the abuse from within rather than going public. Whistleblowers must be prepared for ‘dirty’ counter measures by the organisation
Keeping an anecdotal record of the abusive encounters is essential. Since emotional and psychological abuse is difficult to define and prove, they may appear trivial unless written down. Useful anecdotal records show a pattern of bullying. Isolated incidents are not considered bullying. The diary should record the date, time, and place of each episode. It should describe the effect the event had on the victim, whether medical help was sought, and how it affected the victim’s ability to do her job. It should also include incidents where the abuser has not followed company rules or procedures. However, be prepared for a response, which may blame your symptoms on something else. Organisations are reluctant to accept responsibility for the psychological complaints of a worker, which is why so many do not complain about workplace bullying. If you decide to go for counselling, this can be turned against you. You are then the one with the problem! You are the one who is mentally unstable, and needs help. On the other hand, it can bring employers to heel if they feel that an accusation of causing stress, necessitating therapy, might be made against them.
If the organisation is unionised, alert the union, which may provide a sufficient buffer to persuade the bully to back off. The union will also help you understand the company’s complaints procedure. If there is no union, Human Resources will help. In some countries, there is also an external source of appeal, such as the Rights Commissioner in Ireland.
Adapted from Jim O’Shea’s book Abuse. Domestic Violence, Workplace and School Bullying published by Cork University Press
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