When we hear of bullying most of us may associate that with children or school playground. Because it is where it predominantly occurs. I can vividly remember being in primary school and being teased constantly for the meaning attached to my surname when pronounced with the click sound. Most of us will legitimise this and say “teasing is what kids do”. Of course it was not physical bullying so such thinking can be okayed by some. I can’t remember making a conscious decision at the time, but going into high school the click sound automatically disappeared from my surname. Because I no longer wanted to be associated with the shame and embarrassment I perceived was attached to my surname. On retrospect, perhaps losing the click sound was a subconscious protective measure that I put in place to guard my emotions. However, as an adult, I can say that I have grown through the process and has better understanding and awareness also because of my current field which is psychology, that perhaps my primary school experience as I understand it now, may have been a form of bullying. Over the years I have regained my confidence and have proudly reclaimed my surname with clicks and the meaning attached to it, because it’s part of who I am and my identity and I can never run away from myself. To be authentic self it was imperative that I embrace myself completely.
To my surprise I was disturbed when I learned that bullying can also happen to you as an adult in a workplace. No one is immune, anyone can be bullied. Some of us enter work spaces thinking innocently that adults are emotionally healthy people because some are parents, spouses, friends, employers or employees in senior or leadership positions. However, this is sadly not the case because we encounter different people from diverse backgrounds with different personalities, each one bringing their unresolved issues and personal challenges into the work space. And so among our colleagues there are bullies- an emotionally wounded child bully that have grown up to be an adult bully. Someone with false consciousness about the self and others, plagued by insecurities and would do anything at all cost to make the work environment toxic, unbearable, unpleasant and demotivating for others. The bully can demonstrate his/her ongoing bullying tactics through spreading gossip or rumours, shouting or blaming targeted individuals, ignoring views and opinions of others, constantly picking on others, humiliating and devaluing colleagues in front of others, overlooking individuals for training opportunities or promotions, giving unmanageable workloads or unrealistic deadlines and threatening peoples’ job security.
In the meanwhile, the person subjected to bullying becomes emotionally distress and are likely to suffer from self-doubt and feelings of not being good enough which is low self-esteem. Additionally, the person may experience lack of confidence, anxiety, panic attacks, depression and sometimes suicidal ideation. In the work space this individual may show high absenteeism, lack of motivation, unproductiveness, incompetence and in extreme cases may even leave the job which has subsequent psychological problems for the individual. The behaviour displayed by the bullied individual which is as a result of bullying, would then be legitimise by the bully to fit his/her false narrative they hold of the individual- that the individual is incompetent for the job.
Bullies have various reasons for their actions. For some bullies it is a mere power dynamic- the need to exert their power and to demean the next person while for some they themselves suffer from low self-esteem and perceive a competent person as a threat. Especially, when there is a difference in age or credentials. Often times, organisational culture also perpetuates bullying especially, when the bully is hold in high regard by the organisation in getting things done at all cost. Imperative to note is that being employed in a senior position or leadership or having “getting things done” trait doesn’t equate an emotionally sound leader. Rather, emotional intelligence- the ability to have self-awareness of own thoughts and feelings and to know how to regulate them, as well as the ability to be aware of others thoughts and feelings and how that relates to you in order to foster healthy relationships is the instrument in having an emotionally safe, productive and pleasant work space. Leaders are organisation brands therefore, reflects the culture and the characteristics of an entity, thus it is critical to be cognizant of the intricacies and complexities of human beings in work spaces.
What you tolerate will repeat itself; say no to work space bullying! Speak up to protect your emotions and report any mistreatment to appropriate parties. Professional help is available to both the bully and the individual subjected to bullying.