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Bullying in the Workplace – Why and How Does It Happen?

Workplace bullying – Schema therapy

Bullying is most commonly associated with the playground. Sadly, though, it can often persist deep into adulthood. ACAS (Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service) released a paper in 2015 which discussed how it is increasingly common for bullying to occur in the workplace. Unfortunately, bullying incidents can often go unreported. Many victims of bullying are unwilling to speak up for a variety of reasons, including fear of losing their jobs. Even once a case of bullying has been reported, many employers are unsure of how to deal with this sensitive issue effectively.

Bullying can take place in a number of forms. It can happen with intimidation through emails, spreading rumours about a colleague, gossiping behind people’s backs, or even aggressive verbal abuse during a face-to-face confrontation.

So, why does workplace bullying still take place so often? As adults, what drives people to behave in such an apparently childish way?

There could be a huge variety of psychological reasons for it. Workplace bullies tend to suffer from insecurities themselves, leading them to target others to try and boost their own self-esteem. Treatments such as schema therapy can prove highly effective in helping people deal with issues of low self-esteem.

Often people may bully those with whom they are in direct competition. They could do this to make them question their capabilities and affect their confidence, in turn making themselves look or feel better. Bullying in the workplace is also known to be committed by bosses to their staff. Such bosses can try and invoke fear in those working beneath them with thinly veiled threats, blaming or inappropriate humour.

A study by the Workplace Bullying Institute asked a sample of individuals why they felt that bullying in the workplace occurs so often. Many of the responses revolved around their employer’s lack of involvement rather than the bullies themselves. Respondents felt that employers don’t do enough to intervene, allowing bullying to persist.

What can be done to help prevent this in the future? If you suspect that bullying is taking place in your workplace, immediately take the issue to your supervisor or another senior member of the team that you trust. If the bullying is happening to you, try to keep any documentation incidents for use as evidence, should it be needed at a later time. Growing awareness of this issue will hopefully put it on more organisations’ radars, leading to better management and resolution when it does occur.

If you have faced workplace bullying yourself and are worried about going into the office, talking therapies such as cognitive behavioural therapy can be invaluable in helping you deal with any consequential anxiety. Don’t be afraid to seek professional support to help yourself understand and deal with what you have experienced.