Jul 09, 2013

    Get to grips with bullying

    WHEN Jerry informed his boss Sally (not their real names) of his intention to transfer to another department in the company, he was promptly told that he was not good enough for the new position.

    During a lengthy talk with Sally, Jerry said he was told - in a "motherly tone" - that he would never make it in the job because he lacked certain skills, and would not be able to live up to the standards of the superiors there.

    "(Sally) will tell you that you are no good in your work. She crushes your confidence," said Jerry, 34.

    "I never once felt that she was trying to retain me. Instead, I felt her aim was to make me feel small about myself and my work," he added.

    What Jerry went through was office bullying, which is not uncommon in today's workplace and is often tolerated, said human-resource (HR) experts.

    Said Mr Josh Goh, assistant director of corporate services at HR consultancy The GMP Group: "Workplace bullying is the inclination of individuals or groups to use persistent hostile and unreasonable behaviour against a colleague.

    "It encompasses verbal, non-verbal, psychological and physical abuse, and humiliation tactics."

    Jerry said a similar fate befell a colleague, who had been working in the department for around three years, when she asked for a transfer.

    Sally would also make comparisons between Jerry and more junior staff, he said, and she would allege that he was not as good, and that he was a disappointment to the senior management.

    Soon enough, his boss' tactics started to take a psychological toll on him, as well as his colleagues.

    "Over time, I dreaded going to work... (Sally) would regularly nitpick our work and make us feel small and worthless because we made a minor error such as leaving out a comma," he said.

    Despite the workforce being more educated today, bullying still takes place because employees sometimes think of it as normal and choose to take it in their stride, said Ms Evelyn Kwek, director of thYnk Consulting Group.

    She said: "Other reasons could be that they fear the repercussions that may arise from reporting the workplace-bullying behaviour - either job stagnation, more bullying or, possibly, losing their job."

    Mr Goh said: "There will always be individuals who like to exert their influence on weaker staff members. They tend to be more aggressive and perceive it as indirect power."

    He said that bullying can sometimes be subtle, such as in the form of a "joke on a colleague (that) might begin as harmless banter", but is repeated and continually condescending.

    When workplace bullying rears its ugly head, HR experts recommend that it is best to nip it in the bud and not think that it will just go away.

    Mr Goh recommends speaking to the bully "objectively and cordially".

    "Know where you stand, but don't be excessively emotional," he said.

    If all else fails, the assistance of an objective third party, such as the company's HR department or another manager, should be sought, he added.

    Ms Kwek said that it is important to cite specific incidents when reporting cases of workplace bullying.

    She said: "By being factual and specific, it raises your credibility and demonstrates to your company that you are dealing with the issue at hand, and not making any personal attacks."

    In Jerry's case, although he did not report the bullying, the company approved his transfer and he left the department two years later.

    As to how he got through that rough patch, he said he drew support from his colleagues and peers.

    He said: "We felt vindicated because when we verbalised the things (Sally) said about us, or (how she) criticised us, we came to conclude that it was really not our fault."