Bullying among adults is an increasing issue on European workplaces. A study made by e.g.the National Institute of Occupational Health demonstrates that up to one out of ten adults experience outright bullying at their workplace.
Bullying is defined by negative behaviour on a regular basis that the victim can’t defend himself against. Adult bullying can be divided into the kind that has no explanation and the kind that is triggered by a conflict between the bully and the victim. In addition you may also distinguish between explicit and implicit bullying. The latter involves exclusion from social interactions, lack of job assignments, ignorance, lack of plan for commissioning etc.
A very tragical effect of bullying is that the victim rather quickly starts to blame himself for the causes of the harassments. This means that even very serious and obvious unfair accusations are turned inwards.
What happens is that our psychological defence system does not accept that we – in an uncontrolled manner – are anxious. Therefore our natural understanding of right and wrong are displaced. We begin to place the responsibility of the bullying on ourselves and in that way our natural sense of justice changes. Thus we don’t need to be afraid of the bully anymore. But this is very wrong and the result is often a posttraumatic stress reaction. This is called “Stockholm Syndrome”.
The above mentioned conditioned is similar to post traumatic stress disorder and occurs for example also with victims of violence, torture and rape. It may involve anxiety attacks, physical illness, lack of self-esteem, crying attacks, insomnia and possibly severe depression in the long term.
The reason why colleagues become bullies is most often because the workplace is under pressure. Widespread stress, overloading and approaching organizational changes are all contributes in creating a thriving “bullying culture”. Most often the bully himself is very anxious for his future and sees bullying as an opportunity to remove the focus from himself, right here right now.
This must definitely not exonerate or excuse the bully – but it is important to include the explanation; because there is an overall organizational explanation.
A part of the treatment is collective education about bullying and signals of poor job satisfaction. In this way everybody can deal with the issue and the energy can be directed to the real problem: the insecurity and the anxiety about the future or the real obstacles.
In addition, large group meetings with external consultancy from a professional and continuous conversations with the manager may also be helpful in eliminating and dis-tabooing the problem.
It is known that managers can bully employees, and colleagues can bully colleagues, but employees bullying the manager is actually also a growing problem. Typically in these cases the manager is younger and less experienced and has to lead a team of more experienced and older employees. This situation is difficult in a double sense because the less experienced manager might have very high expectations for himself and therefore does not dare to open up about the problem.