Workplace bullying has been defined by Gary and Ruth Namie as “repeated, health-harming mistreatment, verbal abuse, or conduct which is threatening, humiliating, intimidating, or sabotage that interferes with work or some combination of the three.”
This definition may be extended from the workplace to that of the organization. There are times when the actions of individuals who claim to be acting in the interest of the organization to which they belong, undermine legitimate business interests when their personal agendas take precedence over that of the organization. Many in the trade union movement who tend to engage in this practice resort to hiding behind the curtain of customs, practices and antecedents.
Whether at the workplace or within an organization the act of bulling is a serious one. The impact of workplace bullying can be severe, as it not only sours the relationship between the parties involved, but heightens tensions at the enterprise. Resulting in low productivity, increased absenteeism, poor morale amongst staff members on the one hand, and staff members and management on the other, are obvious shortcomings.
According to the findings published in The Wall Street Journal on research completed by a professor and a doctoral candidate at the Columbia University Business School, those who are guilty of using bullying at the workplace “possess scant empathy when it comes to understanding how their behavior is perceived by others. For instance, people generally underestimate their own aggressiveness. They’re inclined to view themselves in a positive light (a protective sense of self-esteem) and expect others to share their perception.”
This behaviour is characteristic of what happens within all organizations, including trade unions. This manifests itself where egos tend to take root, with leaders and individuals beginning to assume self-importance and the belief that they are power brokers. The challenge facing trade unions and organizations is the resistance of some leaders to change. Archaic thinking along with holding onto traditions can help to cloud both their judgments and reasoning.
It appears that the problem of bullying would escalate if there is not a concerted attempt by the leadership and management of workplaces and organizations to stamp it out. A policy of zero-tolerance should be established and enforced. These will only be effective if actively promoted by senior leaders in an organization. Holding bullies accountable for their behaviour with disciplinary consequences must start at the top of organizations, be modelled by senior leaders, and become part of the organization’s cultural values and norms.
In accepting that prevention is key for any organization, preventative action is paramount. Leaders must be fixed on promoting mutual respect in the workplace and send a clear message that bullying and similar behaviours will not be tolerated. Organizations should educate their employees about workplace bullying and create a policy and procedures for addressing reports of bullying, both fairly and promptly.
Those who bully are communicating that they have no respect for the individual or the process. This is a form of abuse which shows a lack of care, understanding, appreciation and tolerance. In both the case of the individual and the organization, bullying can be frustrating, particularly when the actor(s) is expected to know better and can do better. It is a burning shame when the individual who is performing the act is a person held in high esteem by their colleagues and peers.
Taking a closer inside look at bullying in the organization, it is obvious that it is tantamount to not showing respect for the democratic process. There can be no defence for such reprehensible behaviour. While there is nothing wrong with mounting a challenge, it all boils down to how it is done. It must not appear that a robust challenge or presentation of a case should mean calling the integrity of individuals, the process and/or the organization into question. Neither should the hurling of insults and abuse across the table be entertained.
The training of staff at the workplace and the enforcement of standards can help to eliminate incidences of bullying. Leaders of organizations who recognize the importance of exposing future leaders to training, ought to be conscious that they should practice what they preach and refrain from setting poor examples for others to follow. The question is left to be answered… Is it a case of do as I say and not as I do?
DENNIS DE PEIZA
Labour Management Consultant
Regional Management Services Inc.
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