Bullying at the Workplace: Do We Even Care?

‘A’ wore her favorite formal heels and watch after Eid vacation. The first two comments were- “An NGO worker is wearing a 3.5k Taka priced watch? Who gave you this money? Boyfriend?” and “Seems like A’s father is very rich, but actually he is not!”

‘B’, ‘the handsome’ nickname at the corporate office always hear- “Why aren’t you getting married? Do you have any problems? Should we find a bride for you?”

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The polite ‘C’ just after her sharing in a brainstorming session, heard from her fellow colleague (with ignoring smile) ‘If you had the minimum technical knowledge, you couldn’t share such poor idea!’ Interestingly, after shutting her up the proud colleague shares the exact same idea.

‘D’, who likes singing while working, heard bad words for her non-professional voice along with ‘Could count you if you were good-looking.’

‘E’, ‘the dark-skinned fatty’ nickname at his company, needs to do many physical movements. Once for an unproductive delivery, his “very funny” colleague said ‘I understand why you are not productive for this work and anything else (E saw the pointing towards his sexual ability). Just kidding!”

These are real experiences from an unending list of me and my friends (either experienced or seen). If you can relate with these in any way, then you are known to the fact of workplace bullying! Till the time I am writing this, in response to my question on ‘either experienced or seen workplace bullying’ at Facebook and LinkedIn polls, 66% of respondents that they experienced it directly and other 7.7% shared they have seen others’ experiences. Although we see some discussions and actions on cyberbullying or bullying at schools, everyday ‘bullying at the workplace’ is still an ignorant matter in our society.

What is workplace bullying?

From above we can see that bullying at the workplace is the communication techniques through which one person expresses their own hatred, hidden jealousy, insecurity, or simply likes to enjoy the effect of own low unethical words on victims. Through this, the perpetrators may feel like winners in the situation. Nevertheless, the victims receive the scars which may not be visible in the body-curable with medicine or operations. But it is visible with victims’ tears inside the bathroom, in sleepless nights, in fake smiles with pain, or in swallowing angers.

What happens to victims?

Let’s see the real-life effects- ‘A’ gave up wearing in her own choice so that her colleagues can treat her as a devoted activist. ‘B’ and ‘E’ smiled in response to the unbearable comments with long-term mental pain to prove their ‘rational male behavior’. ‘D’ ended up with sleepless nights in wet pillows by thinking ‘why am I not smart enough?’ ‘E’ responded firmly, but strategically forced to resign and further, she stopped singing at work. The mental health specialists can give further analysis on mental issues, but what we can see in results? Short-term- “specific person’s pain”; long-term: “the growing unethical, unbearable and horrible culture of working place”.

Who bullies?

The perpetrators are not from any specific gender, race, position, or class. Throughout 6 years of full-time job-life and 10 years of social affiliations (that needs semi-professional communication), I have seen both men and women as perpetrators. They pass the situation by saying “oh, I had no bad intention. I was JUST KIDDING!” I see these people or workplaces generally lie in two categories-

  1. The habituated one- bullying from an early age (colleges/universities/previous working place). Even if they know they are ‘bullying’, this is not abnormal to them.
  2. The others, who do not differ between ‘joke’ and ‘bullying’. Subconsciously or unconsciously they bully and take it as a quality of healthy bonding.

And you, audience?

If you think like ‘Too sensitive! Why didn’t share earlier or submit complain?’, then congratulations! You are one of those who either support the bullying or become the selfish bystander who can rape a rape victim further with blames and pinches.

Tackling or preventing?

By googling, victims find thousands of ideas like- “keep notes” “respond firmly” “don’t take personally” “search HR mandate” etc. By dumping these reactive strategies, the already traumatized victims become busier. However, fewer words are on the due diligence of employers! To prevent, reduce, or tackle workplace bullying, the responsibility lies beyond victims’ strategies- on the company’s standpoint, on the roles of bystanders. How the employer defines it? After a response or complaint, is the victim again victimized by being office gossiping about his/her ‘sensitivity’ or with comments like ‘oh, sorry, we cannot share ‘joke’ in front of you’? Then this is not any better even there the complaint mechanism exists.

So, what to do?

Rather than suggesting ways of tackling, I want to propose some comprehensive thoughts-

  • To prevent from the root, RECOGNIZE workplace bullying, DEFINE adequately, SHOW process, and AWARE in every staff induction.
  •  TAKE IT SERIOUSLY. While throwing comments, ask yourself about your intention and the aftereffects. STOP right after you realize about your bullying. Remember that it is your workstation, not a chit chat with your friends in the drawing-room!
  • DO NOT MIX IT UP WITH JOKES. If the company/people cannot differentiate between bullying and joking, then their ideology needs to be questioned. Maybe it’s filled up with sexist, racist, and unethical practices.
  • Dear victims, it’s never ever your fault. RESPOND FIRMLY, OBSERVE TREND of repeated bullying and FIND HUMAN RESOURCE POLICY to take further action. If there is no policy or it’s just a showpiece with a horrible environment, TRY TO MAKE ALLY. Your action may benefit future victims.
  • Dear employer and supervisor, pointing the policy is not the completion of your task. INITIATE AWARENESS SESSIONS frequently. Make it clear that WORKPLACE BULLYING IS NOT TOLERABLE in the company or team.
  • Dear bystander, you are not an outsider. While seeing bullying, ask yourself ‘Do I want to be the supporting criminal with my silence or smiles?’ SPEAK OUT. it’s your ethical responsibility to express that it is wrong!

Lastly, stop the bullying culture. IF YOU DO NOT, NO ONE WILL DO!


Laila Tasmia Rincky
Development Practitioner and Group Coordinator
Shokti Network

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