Bullying comes in many forms

Twitter is an excellent forum for bullies. It allows them to vent their impotent fury onto others they don’t agree with. In many ways it is a democratic leveller. Unlike the typical hierarchy at work.

How would you feel if your boss told you to; “Slit your throat”, or; “Jump out the window”? Not too happy I’d imagine; but that’s what Gavin Williamson, former minister of HMR’s government shouted at one of his officials. 

Williamson has quit, vowing to clear his name of all allegations.

Deputy prime minister, Dominic Raab, has also been accused by multiple civil servants of bullying behaviour across several government departments.

Within government, this sort of intimidation is sadly and predictably, all too common. Or perhaps the word is endemic. People in power often abuse that power and those caught up in the abuse find themselves being bullied.

One trait that is typical among bullies, is cowardice, and this is where we return to Twitter, and other tech companies.

Amazon and Facebook both have 10,000 redundancies planned, while Twitter’s new owner, Elon Musk, brutally axed 3,700 employees via email, and then tried to rehire some of them, saying it had been a mistake. 

The way these cuts in the IT sector are being handled could infect the sector for years to come, as it did previously in the banking sector. Short-termism is a consequence of cyclical hiring and firing, that kills any sense of company loyalty. In banking, the banks staffed up in good times, then indiscriminately swung the axe in bad ones, often in unpleasant ways. 

1,000 London-based employees of Swiss bank, UBS, learned they had lost their jobs when they got to the entry turnstiles and found their access had been turned off. 

The current version, as used by the tech companies, is to deactivate someone’s work and email accounts before telling them they are being sacked. This is heartless, bullying behaviour.

Companies that show some basic decency can reap the benefits. Airlines, like Delta, managed staff numbers during the pandemic with mostly voluntary lay-offs and unpaid leave, whereas, American and United just announced mass lay-offs. When air travel returned, it was Delta who was able to staff back up quickest, resulting in fewer cancelled flights.    

Bullying happens everywhere, from school staff rooms to factory floors, football dressing rooms to hospitals and being bullied at work is just as soul-destroying as being bullied at school, with the same doom-laden, pit of the stomach sickness on Sunday evenings, before a new week of physical or verbal abuse. Being picked on in the workplace can reduce the most confident of people to a vapour of self-doubt and loathing. 

If you tell someone they’re useless often enough, they can start to believe it, or at least to worry that complaining will probably be interpreted as weakness. Reporting an MP for rudeness, one anonymous senior clerk said; ‘can only end up with you being seen as in some way inadequate’.

Bullying flourishes in badly run institutions, under managers who don’t know any other way to manage, and where people have been browbeaten into believing that this is somehow normal. But it isn’t normal to shout and swear and throw things; it isn’t normal to wake up every day feeling sick at the thought of going into work. 

Careers advisor, Soma Ghosh, says: “It’s estimated that 94% of us have experienced some kind of workplace bullying at work. The more I talk to people about it, the more I realise how many people have suffered with it in silence and alone.”

Bullying in the workplace can take many forms.

Ghosh defines workplace bullying as ‘any type of behaviour at work where you are humiliated, deliberately excluded or made to feel like your work and behaviour aren’t good enough. Essentially it’s any kind of unfair treatment at work that affects you personally.’

‘It can feel isolating confusing and often something we are ashamed to talk about because when we are in the workplace bullying can seem like an alien concept – something that happens in school not at work.’

Bullying might come in the form of unwanted physical contact and unwelcome remarks or gestures, isolation, pressure to participate in non-work activities and even shouting.

It ranges from one major incident such as physical assault, or it can be smaller things like an unwanted nickname or impossible deadlines and targets.

Business psychologist, Dannielle Haig, says that workplace bullying can be hard to prove, given the subjectivity of its definition. This subjectivity also means the bullied party can easily end up doubting themselves.

Danielle explains: ‘Workplace bullying is defined by the UK Government as, ‘behaviour that makes someone feel intimidated or offended’. This definition is rather broad and problematic as it’s highly subjective; after all what offends me may not offend you and vice versa.

‘This is one reason why workplace bullying is quite difficult to define in businesses and why employees who do indeed feel bullied may not be able to explain why what was done to them was “bullying”. The government also gives us examples of workplace bullying being:

The spreading of malicious rumours

Unfair treatment

Picking on or regularly undermining someone

Denying someone’s training or promotion opportunities

You can see how these examples could be quite difficult to prove.

Bullying doesn’t just happen in person these days either;  it can also occur via email, telephone, text or through social media.

People who are being bullied at work need help. Bullying needs to be called out, a bully’s behaviour should be pointed out to them and their manager informed. Sometimes bullying episodes will escalate to an HR department, whose job is to resolve these issues.   

In some companies, however, it seems their whole business strategy is based on bullying and wearing down the workforce with non-stop microaggressions and unrealistic targets.

Currently attracting unwanted headlines, is the fashion retailer, Boohoo. 

Following an undercover report, it is reported their staff, at a warehouse in Lancashire, had to work in temperatures of up to 32C degrees, over 12-hour shifts, and expected to collect 130 items an hour. 

The internet retailer has revenues of £2bn a year and employees of its suppliers earn as little as £3.50 an hour.

Employees can walk over 8 miles per shift and are monitored on their limited toilet breaks. It seems that technology in the workplace has led to Victorian-factory type conditions, with claims of racism, sexual assault and overt aggression. 

Some retailers, such as Next and Asos have dropped Boohoo clothing from their websites, and the company has hired top lawyer Alison Levitt KC to look into the allegations. 

Everyone knows a bully at work. Perhaps they are a bully at work because they were bullied themselves at school. And when bullies take over business, be it big or small, their DNA will enable a culture of bullying to flourish. And then it all depends on what piece of advice you chose to follow at school. You either tell teacher and take the fallout or just smack the bully in the mouth. 


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Our Cause

We will fight for a world where everyone feels safe, valued, able to grow, and be inspired by their role and the organisation that they work for. And that starts with us…