Dr Pauline Rennie-Peyton

Integrative psychotherapist and chartered psychologist Msc. AFBPsS

Bullying in Organisations

Do not be fooled by the fact that some organizations have adopted mission statements bordering on the altruistic and Equal Opportunity policies worthy of the United Nations. Despite these advances, many people in those, and lots of other, organizations are bullied relentlessly. Do not believe that just because awareness programmes are being launched, books are being written, and media coverage is increasing, that bullying is disappearing faster than an ice-cube in the Sahara. The terrible truth is that it is still going on, maybe even in within your organization, and will end only when people stop paying lip service to finding a solution and start taking it seriously.

What kind of environment allows bullying to take hold?

Certain types of organizations create cultures of bullying, where more and more is expected of people for less and less. Sometimes these cultures are purposely fostered, other times it may be just that some bad habits have taken root and need to be mercilessly yanked out.

I have many years of experience dealing with the bullied, the bullies, and the organizations that provide the environment in which this insidious behaviour can thrive. Over the years I think I have pretty much seen it all. This was not always so; when I first started in this field I would sometimes find myself shocked beyond belief.

In organizational cultures where there is job insecurity, people are vulnerable to being bullied at work. I hear comments like "I have to keep my head down and just put up with it because I have a mortgage to pay". Job insecurity becomes a part of the culture when people witness their colleagues being made to endure unfair treatment either as a precursor, or as an alternative, to losing their jobs. For example, after a reorganization, some employees are made redundant, others are redeployed in positions of lower status (and sometimes lower pay too). Or, they have seen that job specifications are changed to make such unrealistic demands on workers that they are in effect being set up to fail. In turn, this failure is cited as the justification for letting them go. It can be even more subtle, such as when people are systematically frozen out of the corporate mainstream by being given so little to do or tasks so menial that their sheer boredom and reduced self-esteem slowly forces them to leave.

But the ranks of victims are not confined to those who are forced out. Often the hardest-hit victims are those who, because they neither complain nor question their managers, manage to keep their jobs even though they do not necessarily have the best work records. These people are victims precisely because they have remained on to be victimised by the bosses.