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Self-Protection In Bully-Prone Workplaces

Posted by on in Essential Anti-Bullying Tips
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If you are looking for a new job, or have just started one, it pays to read the signs of a bully-prone workplace early so that you can take adequate steps to protect yourself against bullying before it happens.

Given that, at a conservative estimate, one in three workers have experienced bullying and one in two have witnessed it, be prepared that you are likely to either be on the receiving end of bullying, or watch a colleague being bullied at some point.

The five signs are:

  1. Values Statement:  If the official vision, mission and values statement of the organisation declares accountability only to directors and shareholders and not to employees, customers and the community, then it is a competitive workplace focused only on the bottom line where politics are rife and bullying is bound to occur
  2. “Personality Conflict”:  “This is the euphemistic term used to describe what happens between a bully and the target when a workplace is in denial about bullying and doesn’t want to address the issue effectively; a common “solution” to this problem is mediation where the worker is made to encounter the bully in a meeting and accept half the responsibility for being bullied.
  3. “Zero Tolerance to Bullying”:  “This is the image-enhancement term used by workplaces where bullying is rife, but they have investigation procedures that favour the management agenda and penalise the target.
  4. Bureaucratisation:  This describes an organisation, neither truly empathic nor responsive, with lots of red tape, policies, procedures and forms that service CYA (“Cover Your Arse”); these are the most toxic workplaces because they give an illusion of safety that actually proves to be ephemeral.
  5. High turnover, absenteeism and low staff morale:  Is that why it was so easy for you to get the job?  Making discrete enquiries about workplace history and being prepared to start looking for another job fairly soon are useful precautionary measures to take.

If you have assessed your workplace as having three or more of these signs, you must take immediate action to prepare yourself to act in the earliest stages of bullying.  There are five things you must do at the outset of employment:”

  1. Know your rights and familiarise yourself with HR, policies and procedures and legislation that protects worker safety; keep forms and websites handy just in case
  2. Keep a journal for the specific purpose of recording every instance of disrespectful communication directed at either yourself or a colleague
  3. Enlist the support of a good psychologist as confidence-coach and advocate who is prepared to speak on your behalf if you have to attend a meeting where a bullying management team will gang up on you.  Also, is this psychologist able or willing to reach out to the media on your behalf when you are powerless in other ways?  Bearing in mind that if you work for the government, it is highly probable that you are not protected by the new anti-bullying legislation and your employment contract will prohibit you from talking to the media about work conditions.
  4. Make anti-bullying boundaries clear from the outset by not disclosing personal information, focusing on work and not participating in office gossip or politics and projecting a confident, assertive, “don’t-mess-with-me” attitude because bullies tend to pick on easy, not tough targets
  5. Lawyer-up:  Find a good lawyer and put him or her on standby.  Sometimes a well-placed, intimidating letter is all that’s necessary to goad a perpetrating workplace into corrective action.



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Dr Sophie has experienced bullying both personally and professionally.  As a new psychologist starting out in a government organisation that had “a zero tolerance to bullying”, she was the target of a serial bully who was never held to account.  Professionally, Dr Sophie has treated many clients suffering severe and chronic symptoms of depression and traumatic stress as a result of being bullied. She has also conducted numerous interventions in workplaces with organisational cultures vulnerable to bullying.

Dr Sophie graduated from Murdoch University in Perth, WA in 2000.  She initially worked in a variety of settings including maximum-security prisons, private hospitals and with GPs before going onto full-time private practice in 2005. 


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