If you think you are seeing controlling behaviour in the workplace then it's worthwhile paying attention and figuring out what is actually happening. If you are not the target, you may be a target in the future. If you are the target then you need to recognize what is happening so that you can put an end to it.
First of all, some important points. The various definitions of bullying talk about repeated behaviours. This means that a one-off upsetting instance does not constitute bullying. The important thing here is that the behaviours, the controlling behaviours, are repeated over time. It's the repetition over time where the damage is done.
The second point is that the definitions talk about the behaviours involved. They do not include the effects on the victims. This is significant because while one person may tolerate abuse for eight months without symptoms, another may start to show symptoms after two months. This means that a person can be in a situation where they are being bullied, or mobbed, even if they don't have symptoms. By definition, if the bullying behaviours are present, then that person is being bullied.
By extension, if you are being bullied and you don't think it's that bad because you have no direct symptoms, thinking you can continue is actually a mistake. There are actually three degrees of bullying or mobbing, as laid out by Noa Davenport in his book 'Mobbing: Emotional Abuse in the American Workplace'.
The first is where the victim resists, escapes quickly and moves to work someplace else. The second is where the victim cannot resist or escape easily, suffers mental and/or physical disability and has some difficulty re-entering the workforce. The 3rd is where the victim is unable to enter the workforce again unless very specialized treatment is given.
Obviously, the best situation is to get out as soon as possible and find other work. Of course, an alternative is to get rid of the bully. However, this is often a lengthy process and you really need to know what you're up against if you are going to take on the office bully, especially if that bully is your boss. The mental and emotional cost to doing this can be huge.
So let's have a look at what kind of things constitute controlling behaviour in the workplace.
Dr Heinz Leymann classified mobbing behaviours into five categories. Let's have a quick look at each.
The first category has to do with the effect on self-expression and the way communication happens. In controlling situations your boss or even your controlling colleague restricts the opportunity for you to express yourself. They may interrupt you constantly. You may be yelled at and reprimanded on a regular basis.
Your work may be constantly criticized. Even your personal life may be criticized.
There may be oral or written threats made, such as threats of being fired, threats of being moved to another department, threats of having money taken out of your pay and so on.
Many people are terrorized on the telephone.
Gestures, looks and innuendos may be used to deny you contact to your boss or to your peers.
The second category of controlling behaviours in the workplace involve your ability to communicate with others.
You may find the people who were friendly with you before no longer talk to you. You may be forbidden to talk to others. Colleagues will be forbidden to talk to you.
Some people find themselves put into a workplace that isolates them from others, for example, they are moved into an office down the corridor on their own.
You may feel that you are invisible in the way people ignore you.
The third category involves destroying you and your reputation.
You may hear people talking about you behind your back or spreading rumours about you.
You as a person are ridiculed. Those around you may imitate you as a way to ridicule you.
There may be jokes or demeaning comments about your private life, nationality, political or religious beliefs, or your race.
Some victims of mobbing are treated as if they are mentally ill and some are even forced to undergo a psychiatric evaluation.
You may be forced to do a job where your self esteem is destroyed.
Your decisions are often questioned, you work is judged in a demeaning way or you are called demeaning names.
There may be lots of sexual innuendos.
You become the butt of others jokes.
The fourth category are attacks on the quality of your professional life situation.
Your boss takes away assignments or doesn't give you any new assignments. You're not allowed to invent tasks. You may be given meaningless jobs or jobs that are way below your qualifications.
The opposite may happen where you are given so much work you can't possibly hope to get it all done. You may even be given tasks that are way beyond your qualifications in order to discredit you.
Situations are sometimes set up that cost you financially. Situations may also occur where your workplace or even your home is damaged.
The fifth category of controlling behaviour in the workplace involves direct attacks on a person's health.
You may be forced to do a physically strenuous job.
There may be threats of physical violence or actual physical violence. Remember people throwing things around your office, breaking your stuff, punching walls close to your head, banging doors against you and even "accidentally" bumping into you are all forms of physical violence.
This category also includes outright sexual harassment.
If you are, you really need to do something about it. The longer it goes on the more likelihood it will affect your work life, your personal life and your social life. You really want to put a stop to it before it begins affecting other aspects of your life outside of the workplace.
If you are having physical symptoms because of the abuse you need to take action quickly. Watch out for restlessness, unusual fatigue, heart palpitations, gastrointestinal upset, headaches, anxiety, difficulty with concentration or memory, irritability and sleep disturbances.
A good first step is to go to the human resources department and ask about their bullying procedure. Then put that procedure in place.
The difficulty is that many organisations will try and fob you off, make noise about personality clashes and often ignore your complaints. It's important that you don't go along with these delaying tactics.
If you're thinking about going out on sick leave or stress leave, do it.
If you can move sideways in the organisation away from the bully, take the opportunity.
Unfortunately in many of these situations the victim needs to move to a different workplace.
Getting professional help from an expert in this field is always a good idea. Even if you don't, at least read and educate yourself about your situation. Sometimes learning about what's going on allows you to realise how serious the situation is.
Would you like to talk to someone about your situation?
If you think you are or have been in a cult or a destructive relationship, or a friend or family member might be in a cult and you want to talk to someone, send me a message on the Contact page and we can arrange to talk. All communication will be treated in the strictest confidence.
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