In the past decade a phenomenon has arisen in workplaces across New Zealand and around the world called workplace bullying. In employment history, workers could be subject to harassment in the workplace, and these charges were handled by the bullying charges are also reviewed and handled in the MBIE along with the harassment.
|SEE ALSO: The Importance of Workplace Safety|
Definition of Bullying in the Workplace
Since bullying has only recently become a pressing issue in the workplace, it would be beneficial to examine the definition. According to MBIE, workplace bullying is repeated, harmful mistreatment of the victim, typically by one perpetrator, but it could include more. Bullying in the workplace includes threatening, intimidating and humiliating incidents, and workplace bullying can be referred to as abusive conduct.
Workplace bullying can take many forms. Here is a list of physical mannerisms of bullying.
- Shouting or swearing at an employee and all forms of verbally abusing him/her.
- One employee who is receiving unjustified criticism or blame.
- When an employee is excluded from company functions and/or has their work or other contributions purposefully ignored by management or other employees.
- Using specific language or actions that are directly meant to embarrass or humiliate.
- Repeatedly directing off color comments or practical jokes to the same person
Abusive conduct also refers to the interference with work or sabotaging someone’s work that is already accomplished. Verbal abuse is very common between management and workers, and it typically marks the beginning of bullying. This is the definition given in the 2014 WBI U.S. Workplace Bullying Survey and holds national prevalence in New Zealand.
Bullying has now joined harassment in the workplace, but there is a difference according to legal statutes. For bullying and harassment in the workplace issues, New Zealand legislation turns to the Harassment Act of 1997 for clarification. The following definition is quoted:
- For the purposes of this Act, a person harasses another person if he or she engages in a pattern of behaviour that is directed against that other person, being a pattern of behaviour that includes doing any specified act to the other person on at least 2 separate occasions within a period of 12 months.
To avoid any doubt—
- the specified acts may be the same type as the specified act on each separate occasion or may be different acts.
- the bullying acts need not be done to the same person on each separate occasion as long as the pattern of behaviour is directed towards the same person.
New Zealand government acknowledges both bullying and harassment in the workplace, but they look at them separately and penalize them differently.
Example of Bullying and Harassment
The manager at Cogent Communications in Goldstone vs. Cogent Communications was described as extremely direct, blunt, abrasive and aggressive. He dismissed a worker after he concluded that management could not trust him any longer. His behavior was charged as bullying, victimization and harassment to a number of managers who endured the abuse under his supervision.
The Authorities found that there were serious procedural flaws in the employer’s disciplinary process, but they only reduced the remedies payable to the applicant by 50 percent because he had created such an incredible of a climate of fear and mistrust among the workers.
As you can see in this case description, harassment is identified separately from the bullying acts. This is typically the way a case is presented using individual characteristics in the description.
Regardless of its source, workplace bullying can have serious negative effects on employees that can seriously affect their physical health. Complications like these will appear with short-term bullying. It is beneficial to identify them as soon as possible.
- Absenteeism and low productivity
- Lowered self-esteem and depression
- Digestive upsets
- High blood pressure
How to Deal with Bullying in the Workplace
In some companies, a company culture of workplace bullying may exist. Usually companies do not purposefully support bullying, but they may take a subtle attitude about it and not take workplace bullying seriously or they may be complacent and develop a habit of placing blame or fault finding instead of solving the problems that arise. In a company like this, employees who report a case against certain bullies may find that the bullying only gets worse. In this case, employees might choose to take it even further legally or to just leave the job and move on.
Psychological and Emotional Effects
Bullying in the workplace in New Zealand not only affects people with physical symptoms, but also affects people emotionally. These are common psychological issues:
- Debilitating anxiety occurs in those who endured bullying for long periods of time.
- Guilt for allowing the bully to control you.
- Shame, which is the result desired from the humiliating tactics of a bully.
- Panic attacks.
- An already exacerbated condition grows worse.
- Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) which results from deliberate, constant abuse.
- Overwhelming sense of injustice. For instance, feeling the unfairness of the bullying that has targeted and the inadequate response of the employer with your complaint.
Health and Safety Act 1992
The Health and Safety in Employment Act 1992 has a complete explanation for an employer in defining bullying, and every company must take all reasonable steps to ensure the safety of all of its employees both physically and psychologically. The employer must maintain and provide a safe working environment and ensure employees are not exposed to harm while they are at work.
How Is Bullying in the Workplace Like in New Zealand?
This case involved repeated verbal abuse and other name calling by one of the staff to a member of management. For a period of three months every time the employee passed his manager’s office, he would yell out threats including “idiot,” “f…ing bastard,” “you’re f…ing disgusting, dead man,” and “I’m gonna f…ing drop you, bastard.”
This abuse was tolerated by the other staff members because there was gossip that the manager was involved in internet pornography, which was never validated. The bullying behavior caused the manager a great deal of anxiety and stress, and the court found that the manager was “deeply and repeatedly humiliated in front of management and staff without any justification,” and the constant humiliation “rendered him/her powerless as a manager.” This behavior is not expected or tolerated in a workplace, and if it is distressing to an employee. The Heath and Safety Act is designed to bring it to an end.
The rights of the victim are paramount, but the bully in the workplace must be addressed also.
Bullying and Harassment in the Workplace: Are They the Same?
Some obvious similarities exist between workplace bullying and sexual and racial harassment. Both bullying and harassment in the workplace involve offensive behavior and have a detrimental effect on employment. However, there are differences. For example, harassment is unlawful under both the Human Rights Act 1993 and the ERA while bullying is not specifically mentioned as unlawful. Harassment is a one time incident while bullying identifies repeated behavior, and harassment can be focused on a race, color or gender.
Bullying in the workplace in New Zealand is not healthy for either the bully or the victim. Stressors are normally present in the work atmosphere anyway, but when you add the aggression of the bullying acts, bullies become stressors, and those who do not help contribute to the stress. Stress is real, and physiological issues are not imagined. Low-level stress may be enough to compel upset people to act and severe stress produces overwhelmingly negative consequences.
Distress is a harmful variety of stress, which triggers a response that is related to excess cortisol flooding the brain and body. Prolonged exposure to the brain tissue will cause areas of the brain to atrophy affecting the memory and the ability to sustain positive social relationships. Other stress-related health complications resulting from bullying are very easy to detect, so be aware of their development:
- Auto-immune disorders
- Hypertension, strokes and heart attacks
- Adverse neurological problems including neurotransmitter disruption and the Amygdala atrophying
- Immunological impairment: more frequent infections of greater severity
- Fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome
- Gastrointestinal issues: IBD and colitis.
- Skin disorders
Serious health issues like these begin to occur after only short periods of bullying and serious distress in the workplace. If you feel that you are being bullied or intentionally intimidated or harassed, report the incidents quickly to the proper authorities. Do not try to handle it yourself because it could get worse rapidly, and the longer it is allowed to go on, the more likely it will lead to permanent physical and psychological problems.
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