I’ve been asked a number of times this week for my definition of workplace bullying. The first question that always pops into mind is why. Why is someone curious or struggling to come up with a definition?
Our motives will greatly affect our definition.
This is why definitions of workplace bullying in HR Staff Handbooks are long and woolly; an attempt to cover everything. For example, here’s an extract from the Staff Handbook HOWARD and his HR pals hastily scrambled together after the office junior tried to take HOWARD to an Employment Tribunal:-
Our firm did not condone:-
“Harassment related to gender, race, ethnicity, colour, disability, age, religion, nationality, occupation, marital status, sexual orientation or other personal characteristics. There was to be no abuse through e-mail, texts or websites; no invasion of personal space, spreading malicious rumours or insulting someone. There was to be no intended isolation or exclusion, stalking or offensive sexual remarks. There was to be no public ridicule, sarcasm or humiliation; no abuse of power, position or knowledge. They did not want people to be stressed, demotivated or frightened”.
This definition was intended solely to protect HOWARD and his pals from future legal accusation. It did not stop the bullying, nor was that its primary goal. On the contrary, HOWARD was comforted that, should he be accused again, he could throw the Staff Handbook at the Tribunal and say – “Hey, we DEFINED it! We’re not bullies.” This is the dangerous thing about definitions. It implies understanding. It implies awareness. It implies some academic thought.
It is academic. The more people that discuss it, the more abstract it becomes. Experts want to be heard and naturally want to include all the various legal, ethical and social angles. This prompts more questions. A researcher thinks they have a good definition until someone says:-
“Yes, but can racial, sexual etc bullying could be defined as 'bullying' or is it more 'harassment/discrimination’?”
“Is it perhaps dependent upon how the individual themselves perceives it?”
Definitions belong in the same place as statistics and surveys. It’s the territory of the ‘expert’. It may be interesting, but it proves little assistance to a torturous employment problem.
So where do I stand?
Workplace bullying is situational. Within any firm, company or organisation every employee arrives each day with their own prejudices, problems at home, stresses at work, personal likes and dislikes, preferred ways of working etc. How they are allowed to behave toward each other and how these prejudices and problems manifest are down to the company structure and management. Therefore, it really doesn't matter much why one employee is targeted, so much that it is left unchecked and becomes a real problem.
So my definition of workplace bullying is "Where a firm, company or organisation permits one employee to torment and harass another".
I don’t claim for a minute that my definition is the best example or the unquestionable conclusion, but I’m happy that it works for its money; it implies a company is to blame.
What are your thoughts? Do let me know.
- Bullied By The Boss
- Welcome to my blog. My pen name is Eva James. I'm an aspiring writer paying the bills working as a legal secretary. Relentlessly bullied by my former boss, I looked for another job but the recession hit. Feeling trapped, I recorded everything in this blog, which serves as a revealing insight into workplace bullying. WEEK 1 starts the story and, as the weeks progress, you'll note what starts as banter soon spirals out of control. Sadly, it's all true. Whilst along the way I've found alternative employment, my passion for blogging about workplace bullying remains. Trevor Griffiths, legendary theatre, TV and film writer said at the outset, "I like the writing a lot: smart, cool, placed. If you were prepared/able to take your prick of a boss on, you'd marmelise him."