Suggestions for Developing an Anti-Bullying Culture in the Workplace


This paper provides three significant but interrelated factors toward the development of an anti-bullying culture in a formal or bureaucratic organization. It suggests that legislative reform, via education, mediation and restoration or restorative justice, once instituted can go a long way toward reducing the occurrence of workplace bullying. However, legislative reform is central. Education, mediation and restoration are the pillars upon which reform should be based. Arguably, legislative reform requires promoting a national anti-bullying agenda that results in an anti-bullying culture in all workplaces. In addition, to examining legislative reform, education, mediation and restoration, it will define workplace bullying and identify three effects of workplace bullying, namely individual, social and economic or financial.

This paper agrees with international scholars that bullying involves an abuse of power in work relations between superior and subordinate staff. However, it recognizes that bullying can take place when coworkers or peers collaborate to intimidate, threaten or harass another whom they perceive to be different or deviant in some significant way from their group. For example, some working class men have been known to bully colleagues whom they perceive to be physically weak and unsuited to physically demanding tasks that they are expected to perform. Also, it may have to do with their perception that deviants violate masculinity norms of toughness and the possession of physical strength.

Workplace bullying can take many forms. They include verbal and physical threats, sexual harassment, ostracism or isolation, petty tyranny, public humiliation, wrongful blaming and shaming or unsubstantiated accusations of incompetent. Overworking employees by assigning tasks unrelated to their job description is another example. Bullies or higher ranking employees may be motivated by their favorable relations with persons higher up in the organization such as the chief executive officer, chairman of the board of directors or even their immediate supervisor. Bullying will take place when bullies feel insulated from adverse action if found guilty by a jury of their peers.

It is proffered that the effects of workplace bullying can be extremely severe with catastrophic consequences for the individual, family and organization or workplace. Individuals suffer whether they are victims or perpetrators. It must be stated though that victims suffer more than bullies in significant ways. They include mentally, emotionally, psychologically or physically, based on the severity of bullying. Families of victims also suffer when the bullied withdraw socially or hit out and make them scapegoats. Workplace bullying can lead to strained social relations as coworkers often take sides. Frequently, the majority take the side of the supervisor for fear of victimization. Financial effects may impact the organization negatively. It is well-known that employees who are bullied persistently take more time off from work, either sick or business leave. This puts additional pressure on their colleagues who have to fill in for them. It also means fewer man hours and lower productivity. The net effect is lower productive efficiency and capacity. The negative effects of workplace bullying make it imperative that a strong resilient anti-bullying culture should be developed in each workplace.

The state or government should take a leading role in the development of an anti-bullying culture. Cogent and effective legislation should be reformed only after the collection of empirical evidence gathered by scientific research on workplace bullying is undertaken. Decisively, there must be collaboration between organizations and the state to ensure that valid and reliable data are collected in quick time. The Ministry of Labor or its equivalent should be tasked with responsibility for collecting quantitative and qualitative data on workplace bullying. Data should include frequency, victim and offender social characteristics, management or reduction strategies and anti-bullying education for employees. The Ministry of Labor should ensure that national anti- bullying programs, policies and procedures are reformed and re-implemented in congruence with the reformed legislation. Within organizations a bottom up approach should be adopted via meaningful consultation involving all stakeholders such as management, workers and trade union representatives. They should be mandated to formulate mechanisms for implementing state policies, programs and procedures within their industry or organization and workgroups.

Education is the main catalyst for cultural change. All employees, including the newly recruited, should undergo training in bullying recognition, reporting and management, that is, established grievance procedures. The main objective of anti-bullying education is to ensure that allegations of bullying are taken seriously and that no employee who alleges victimization is subject to additional victimization as a result of his complaint. In addition, all employees should attend at least one anti-bullying seminar annually where they will become sensitized to the deleterious effects of bullying and the best ways of managing, containing, reducing or eliminating it in the workplace. Furthermore all workplaces should display clearly, literature and pictures that effectively promote anti-bullying.

Mediation should be an accepted alternative dispute resolution technique in the development of an anti-bullying culture that emphasizes fair treatment and freedom to report bullying. Mediation should be the first step. If it fails, litigation should be the next course of action. Mediators that are highly trained, skilled and independent should be recruited to assist in disputes resolution where attempts at resolution within organizations have been unsuccessful. Sessions should be well structured so that victim and perpetrator can communicate each other respectfully in an environment of trust and mutual goodwill.

Finally, based on severity of bullying, disputants should agree on an appropriate form of restorative justice. A number of options should be available. Apologizing is the primary choice. A meaningful apology can act toward mending broken relationships spoilt by workplace bullying. However, depending on the extent of victimization disputants may have the power to decide whether financial compensation or counseling is most appropriate. Financial compensation can result from settlement between disputants if it was established that the bullied suffered financially as a result of victimization. Alternatively, the victim should have the right to seek redress in an industrial court where work disputes are arbitrated. Counseling will assist perpetrator and victim. They may need self-esteem building and therapy. Cognitive, solution focused or person centered therapy may be adapted as appropriate to assist in bringing about emotional or psychological health. In cases involving family and workgroup trauma, appropriate group based therapy should be undertaken at no cost to the victim.

This paper sought to examine the development of an anti-bullying culture in the workplace. Even though anti-bullying legislation exists there is need for reform and effective enforcement consistently. All workers must be sensitized to the individual, social and economic hazards of bullying. Workplaces must become safer places for all regardless of gender, rank, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation or any other socioeconomic characteristic that leads to perception that a worker is vulnerable or disadvantaged.

It is significant that workplace bullying be reexamined in a small island developing nation state such as Trinidad and Tobago where the local culture appears to be tolerant of bullying. To some, workplace bullying is a normative behavior and experience. Victims are expected to suffer in silence. This paper allows me the opportunity to draw global attention to an issue that is capable of reducing worker productivity and impairing social relations irrevocably.

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