Most people associate bullying as a problem that occurs only in the playground at school, but unfortunately this is not the case.
One of the most prevalent and demoralising problems in the workforce around the world is bullying. To show its prevalence, one must reflect on the information that research has revealed:
- Approximately 2.5 to 5 million Australians have reportedly been affected by bullying during their time in employment (Hanley & O’Rourke, 2016);
- On average, one in three adults will be impacted by workplace bullying (Faure-Brad, 2012);
- In terms of monetary figures, it costs the Australian economy approximately $36 billion per year (Ahmad & Sheehan, 2017).
Workplace bullying refers to ongoing interpersonal misbehaviours that are considered unethical, harassing and unwanted in nature.
Unlike school bullying, which can be both psychological and physical in nature, workplace bullying tends to be more psychological. This can imipact on work performance, work productivity, and job turnover in the workplace itself, as well as negative personal implications, affecting physical and mental health, family, and interpersonal relationships.
The Effects of Workplace Bullying
Psychologically speaking, workplace bullying has a detrimental effect on the individual’s overall mental wellbeing, as they often suffer a severe loss of self-esteem and self-confidence. This in turn impacts on their ability to perform both at work and outside of work, and may cause problems such as:
- Post Traumatic Stress Disorder;
- anxiety, stress and worry;
- difficulties with concentration;
- and in severe cases, suicide may be considered.
Death may ultimately occur not only from suicide, but from physical illness associated with bullying, eg high blood pressure and heart conditions.
Unfortunately, bullying continues to occur as organisations do not take the required protective action, often protecting the bully and marginalising the victim. As a nation, Australia is working towards creating a society that says no to bullying, no matter where or when it occurs. In fact workplace bullying is now listed as a workplace health and safety issue, that is required to be addressed when disclosed.
Support for Victims of Workplace Bullying
This however, does not always prevent or support a victim of bullying in their experience, or stop unhelpful comments such as “you just need to toughen up”. One must simply reflect on this statement to consider what they have already been through in their bullying experience, or simply the training and education they’ve been through to get to the job they’re already in, to realise the personal strength they already have.
Although a significant amount of management of workplace bullying is in the hands of the organisation, there is still a lot that psychologists can assist with as this is indeed a stressful time for victims with a significant mental impact.
One therapeutic intervention that is of particular benefit is Interpersonal Psychotherapy (IPT). The focus of IPT is the interpersonal relationships of the client. It is believed that by treating and improving communication patterns, how one relates to others, identification and expression of emotion, mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety and stress can be managed.
In one study of two working mothers who were victims of workplace bullying, they were treated using IPT. Both women experienced significant positive outcomes and were able to return to work with positive support, and both believing that they had a right to be treated with respect and not to be bullied as they were “somebody”. Essentially, both learnt skills in being assertive in their relationships.
Author: Sharyn Jones, B Psych (Hons).
Sharyn Jones is a Brisbane psychologist with 10 years of experience working with adults, adolescents and children and their parents. Using a combination of cognitive behavioural and solution focused therapies, she aims to facilitate positive changes in client’s lives so that they can achieve and obtain their desired goals.
To make an appointment try Online Booking. Alternatively, you can call Vision Psychology Brisbane on (07) 3088 5422.
- Ahmad, S. & Sheehan, M.J. (2017). Understanding the lived experience of bullying in Australian workplaces: An interpretative phenomenological analysis. Journal of Workplace Behavioural Health, 32 (2), 74-98.
- Carbo, J.A. (2017) Understanding, defining and elimination workplace bullying: Assuring ignition at work. Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group: London and New York.
- Dennis, M. (2012). Finding a Voice: A journey towards being assertive. CLincial Psychology and Psychotherapy (19), 179-185.
- Einarsen, S., Hoel, H., Zapf, D., & Cooper, C. (2011). The concept of bullying and harassment at work: The European tradition. In S. Einarsen, H. Hoel, D. Zapf & C. Cooper (Eds), Bullying and harassment in the workplace: Developments in theory, research and practice (2nd ed., pp. 3-40). London, England: Taylor & Francis.
- Hanley, G.M., & O’Rourke, A. (2016). The race without a finishing line: Legislative means for confronting bullying in the Australian workplace. Asia Pacific Journal of Human Resources, 54 (3), 352-368.