I dealt with work bullies... they haven’t gone away, you know

it is estimated that as many as one in three employees could be affected by bullying, says Trevor Laffan
I dealt with work bullies... they haven’t gone away, you know

There are lots of ways for a bully to intimidate or upset someone in the workplace. Picture: Posed by models

BULLYING in the workplace is a hot topic these days.

It’s not something I’m very familiar with, but I did come up against some difficult characters in my working life.

When I started out in An Garda Siochana, it wasn’t unusual to encounter a cranky supervisor who liked the sound of his own voice.

They liked to be heard, even though they would have been better off remaining silent because they were generally incompetent and exposed themselves even further every time they opened their mouths.

They weren’t called bullies because bullying wasn’t really recognised back then. They did have lots of other names though, most of which wouldn’t be suitable for print.

Coming from a self-employed background, I was used to working on my own, so when I went to Templemore, it took me some time to get used to being told what to and when to do it.

It worked out fine in the end, and the vast majority of people I dealt with in the Force were decent, but there were others who couldn’t survive in today’s environment.

Those characters would be in serious trouble by modern standards, but in those days, over-enthusiastic supervision was mostly seen as par for the course. It was accepted and we got on with it.

I did experience it in the 1970s when I had a temporary job as a teenager, working for the local authority. The boss and I had a few disagreements during my short tenure. He was an excitable man and tended to shout a lot while going red in the face.

He would have been a serious hazard during the pandemic if he was still alive. A sturdy face mask would have been essential to protect those around him from spittle. He sprayed a lot when we were together because he didn’t have much time for me. Come to think of it, he didn’t have much time for anyone.

Things came to a head one day and I had had enough. I handed him a hammer and suggested he insert it in a particular part of his anatomy. He didn’t appreciate that and performed a jig in the middle of the street while having a rant. Not surprisingly, I was fired.

I thought those days were long gone, but I was talking to a friend of mine recently, and I was amazed to hear she has been suffering at the hands of a bully in her workplace for some time. I have known her for the bones of 30 years and during that time I have never heard anybody being anything but complimentary about her.

I’ve always found her to be a very capable and efficient individual with a constant smile on her face. She is also very easy to get along with, so I was surprised to hear that she was almost driven to the point of throwing in the towel because of this other character.

Apparently, bullying in the workplace is a common problem. The actual extent of it is difficult to measure because many adults feel that to admit being bullied at work could be seen as a sign of weakness. But it is estimated that as many as one in three employees could be affected.

According to the Anti-Bullying Centre at Dublin City University (DCU), which was established to carry out research into the subject, the effects of workplace bullying on individuals are widespread and include stress, anxiety, depression, substance abuse, and even suicide.

Many victims prefer to just accept it and struggle on in the hope that the bully will move on, or it will somehow just fizzle out.

While they may discuss their circumstances with family and friends, few are prepared to make a complaint or admit openly that they are being bullied because of the fear that people may think less of them.

The Health and Safety Authority gives examples of behaviour that may constitute bullying such as purposely undermining someone, targeting someone for special negative treatment, manipulation of an individual’s reputation, social exclusion or isolation, intimidation, and aggressive or obscene language.

Other examples in include jokes that are obviously offensive to one individual by spoken word or email, intrusion by pestering, spying and stalking, unreasonable assignments to duties which are obviously unfavourable to one individual, and repeated requests with impossible deadlines or impossible tasks. That covers a multitude.

In short, there are lots of ways for a bully to intimidate or upset someone, but the fact that the subject is being discussed more openly now is a good thing for those who might be suffering.

Bullying can often be subtle and difficult to detect.

The traditional bullies are easy to spot. They like to shout at people, convinced that the louder they shout, the more important they become. They spit when agitated and the more animated, they become, the wetter you get.

These people are generally incompetent and try to mask their own lack of ability by deflecting attention onto others.

Cyberbullying is a more recent phenomenon and is probably more sinister. It can be done remotely and anonymously through mobile phones, computers and social media sites and text messages, etc. It can happen 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and can affect anyone, but at least it’s being spoken about and there is plenty of advice on how to deal with it.

I’ve always thought that the best way to deal with bullies is to confront them. This is easier said than done and for many it’s possibly a step too far, but it’s important to speak out and let them know you won’t take it.

If that’s not possible, talk to someone else. Don’t suffer in silence.

Most organisations have a bullying policy to advise you on what steps to take and who to talk to.

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