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Bully at Workplace: Hey! You don’t have a clear policy

These past couple of weeks, the news all over the country are talking about bullying that seems to happen only yesterday. It is a fact that bullying has existed for such a long time and it is not confined to only amongst teenagers or young adults but bullying started as early as when we are a toddler, until the workplace, and up to our golden age.

“’He’s not a bully. He’s my friend. And he’s just joking”. Looking at the statement in the newspaper makes my heart pounds and I wonder, “why do some people do not acknowledge the bullies bad attitude towards other people?” and “what causes that to happen?”

People were not born to be bullies. There are many different issues that motivate bullies in abusing their victims. Most of the bullies share common psychological characteristics as they learn from the people around them, their family background, their environment etc. Like parents, like children; they most likely learn from their parents that treating other people in disrespectful manners are acceptable or they are a witness or the one experiencing the abuse in their family circle and may try to gain back the power by bullying others at school. Weak family institutions can also cause children who feels invisible at home or the one that is given everything; thinks that they have right to bully others at school, university or even workplace.

The death of a young Navy Cadet Officer from the National Defense University of Malaysia (UPNM) and a teenager, T. Nhaveen, both who were bullied and attacked mercilessly by university mates and former schoolmates respectively, proof that bullying is only recognised in Malaysia when it becomes physical and causes deaths, until then, it is still considered to be harmless. Some commented that, “bullying or ‘ragging’ happened in the past but are not that harmful like recent cases” without noticing that the culture that they built or helped to build, of seniors bullying juniors, have grown overtime and that society have created monsters to be our future leaders.


Bully at workplace. What motivates them?

Unlike children and teenage bullies, bullies at workplace are harder to be seen due to several factors. Many of these bullies basically felt threatened due to personal or professional insecurities by highly competent colleagues and to prevent their own inadequacies from being revealed to outsiders, particularly their bosses, they turn to be ‘toxic’ in the organisation and choose their target group based on some of the characteristics below: –

  • The professionally competent colleagues;
  • The work focused colleagues – the one unwilling to gossip or engage in malicious discussion about the incompetence of others;
  • The well-known and rewarded for trustworthiness and integrity (perhaps by having increased responsibility) colleagues;
  • The likeable colleagues, perhaps with bubbly and cheerful personality;
  • The helpful and trustworthy amongst colleagues; and many more


How bullying happened at workplace?

Silent treatment, cold storage, and abusive languages are some common forms of bullying that are happening in the workplace. Take Mark (not his real name), for instance. He excels during his studies, was on a career fast track and trusted by his colleagues and bosses until he was assigned to a new department. His work etiquette being teased by the new team members, they gossip behind his back and finally the gossiping reached his superior ears. Things get worse several months later when he was asked to do administration work and spend most time doing other colleagues’ work. He was then excluded from any company’s activities. After a year, he couldn’t take it anymore and leaves the company.

Workplace bullies will often try to transfer responsibility and place fault on their victims. They use their victims as scapegoats for their incompetence by playing office politics particularly at the management level.

Technology and social media also lead the victims to be abused electronically and in private. Some of the acts that indicate bullying are happening at workplace are: –

  • The person who was bullied is excluded from important meetings, conversations, or company’s gatherings, denied access to information or company resources;
  • The bullies will set unreasonable timelines or keep changing the project’s deadlines or work arrangement just to create trouble;
  • The tasks were set to be unreasonably lower or higher than the person’s skill level;
  • There are many overruling of processes happening in the organisation;
  • There are malicious rumours about them either about work or personal issues;
  • There are sudden reductions in their duties or level of responsibilities (cold storage);
  • Their promotion or development is withheld and indirectly forcing them to leave their employment;
  • They are subjected to unjustifiable disciplinary procedures or formal warnings for minor or fabricated reasons; and
  • They receive verbal harassment, email and other electronic means that are offensive or intimidating.


What are the Management roles in overcoming this issue?

Bullying is a serious issue that needs to be tackled and by ignoring or participating in the toxic behavior, the management are condoning such behaviour and practically suggesting to their employees that the mental and physical abuse practices are acceptable in their organisation and it will soon spread to become a toxic organisational culture.

To overcome this, start with embracing healthy or positive organisational culture that respect other races, believes and religions by:

  • Setting a clear vision and bring people to move towards the same direction. Understand that not only all employees of the company need to row in the same direction, but the executive teams must be engaged and lead at the forefront in steering the boat;
  • Promote and actively foster collaboration sufficient enough to keep businesses healthy and competitive by structuring it into their workflow and Standard Operating Procedures (SOP).
  • Engage people to stop people working in silos by moving past behavioral issues and address the contextual issues that are present in the organisation. Remove the inter-departmental or personal competition activities.
  • The management and its people must acknowledge that people are different and everyone is special in their own way.
  • By giving multi-discipline projects that consist of several departments, the teams will learn exactly how their colleagues contribute to the success of the business.
  • Set a standard organisational culture and consistently engage and lead the people towards that positive culture.
  • Walk the talk – the management must set a good standard of behaviour and encourages others to do the same by not overruling policies & procedures or condoning such act.
  • Have a very clear Grievances Procedures, train the people and treat complaints of bullying seriously and objectively.
  • Deal with bullying cases quickly and with strict confidence.
  • Build a loving work environment by communicating and implementing strong engagement programs that includes anti-bullying policy in employee handbook, code of conducts, mass bulletin and other employee engagement activities.


How to deal with a bully?

The bully will not go away, they will continue to make you feel uncomfortable, pressure you up to the extent that you give-up and leave or the bosses bought on to their ideas and side line you and will only stop if they feel bored and found other victims to be targeted on. If you make yourself an easy target, you will only encourage the bully. Here’s how you deal with your office bully: –

  1. Don’t get emotional and fall into their trap.  Bullies take pleasure in emotionally manipulating people.
  2. This is not about you, it’s about the bully. Don’t blame yourself for being targeted. Don’t lose your confidence, or think you are incapable or incompetent because they feel threatened due to personal or professional insecurities.
  3. Keep doing what you do best. Keep fighting and doing your best at work.
  4. Do not start to do misconduct like coming late to work, taking long lunches, going for excessive leaves, emergency or medical etc.
  5. Build a support network within your organisation or reach outside the industry. Build good relationships and gain the necessary support from your co-workers so that, if you are excluded from meetings or social gathering, they will be your information feeders.
  6. Document everything. Keep a journal, email & notes of any incidents and who witnessed it (either they agree to be a witness or not) so that if you need to escalate this problem to Human Resources through Grievances Procedure, you have the information you need to make your case.
  7. Seek help. If the situation keeps getting worse, it’s time to start talking to others who can assist you to manage this situation. Follow the Grievances Procedure. Be prepared for the worst-case scenario.
  8. Stay healthy, stay focus. Maintain a healthy and balanced lifestyle outside of work to help you cope with the madness at work. Workout, get a good night sleep and eat a healthy diet. Consider the positive side of the things you do such as passion for your work.
  9. Educate yourself, be prepared. Learn everything you can about bullying, your company’s policies on inappropriate behaviour and the Labour Law regarding this kind of experiences. The more you know, the better your chances of successfully dealing with this situation in the future. Maintain a professional relationship.
  10. Don’t expect to change the bully. Bullies behaviour do not start overnight. Some bullies were raised in that environment and you may not be the first victim at the workplace. Furthermore, you have no control over a bully’s behaviour. You can do your best to manage the situation, but it’s really the organisation’s responsibility to be observant and responsive to the needs of their employees and organisational culture. Worst-case scenario, the employer sided with the bullies.
  11. Fight for your right. In the worst-case scenario, you may be terminated from your position or forced to leave your job. Industrial Relations Act 1967 states if any employee feel that they have been unfairly dismissed by the employer, they­ can file their case under the Act for the reinstatement as follow:

(1) Where a workman, irrespective of whether he is a member of a trade union of workmen or otherwise, considers that he has been dismissed without just cause or excuse by his employer, he may make representations in writing to the Director General to be reinstated in his former employment; the representations may be filed at the office of the Director General nearest to the place of employment from which the workman was dismissed.

Section 20, Industrial Relations Act 1967

To summarize, bullying and bullies are unstoppable especially when it involves mental and emotional abuse because these acts are not easy to proof and need lots of incidents journal to evidence that such negative behaviour happened or is happening in the organisation. Furthermore, a bully can be a normal employee who gets the privileges due to some connection or due to good physical appearance. The situation is worse if it involves a member of the top management or board of directors. The absence of clear policies or lack of enforcement of the policies or even overruling of decision based on personal preferences may lead the company in forming an unhealthy culture that will open to the risk of biasness, high attrition rate, incompetent workforce, internal sabotage etc. that can cause legal action to be taken against the company.

Teach our people to embrace differences among colleagues, work together, remove silo mentality and not to forget to develop the right talent especially for those who have been selected to be the Leaders. A positive organisational culture with high engagement programs do create productive people that strive toward organisation success.

Do get in touch with Q3 Management Solutions for the management & governance support, and this could be the beginning of a long-term business relationship.



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