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Hostile Work Environment
Psychological Violence in the Workplace

Laws in the United Kingdom, Sweden and many other countries prohibit psychological violence in the workplace. A law was introduced in the Canadian Parliament in September 2003 to make it illegal in Canada. Additionally, California and several cities in the U.S.A. are now moving toward outlawing psychological violence in the workplace.

Many enlightened for-profit and nonprofit organizations have included in their employees’handbook prohibitions against psychological violent in the workplace, with statements like the following:


1.        Employees should be treated in a fair and just way;

2.        Employees should be treated with respect and in an open and honest way;

3.        Actions by supervisors’ and employees should promote a supportive work environment;

4.        Employees should not cause any harm to residents or other employees;

5.        Employees should be honest and forthright in things said to residents and other employees;

Psychological violent in the workplace is the persistent unwelcome behavior, mostly using unwarranted or invalid criticism, nit-picking, faultfinding, exclusion, isolation, being singled out and treated differently, being shouted at, humiliated, excessive monitoring and much more.

Psychological violent is best understood through the bully's behaviors--acts of commission(hostile verbal, nonverbal communication and interfering actions) and omissions (the withholding of resources--time, information, training, support, equipment--that guarantee failure)--which are all driven by the bully's need to control.

It involves the bully deciding who is targeted, then selectively and with premeditation when,where and how they will inflict psychological violence. It is the deliberate, repeated and mistreatment of one person (the Target) by a perpetrator (the Bully).

It is not "tough" management; it is illegitimate behavior; it interferes with an employee's work production and the employer's business interest. Experts tell us that the weakest victim is not the targeted person. It is management, with all the power and money to do something about it,but lacking the courage to make it stop. They overlook abusive behavior that is cause for immediate dismissal in a subordinate when exhibited by a "rainmaker" or "sacred cow supervisor / manager.

If the bulling is reported, and the employer responds inappropriately or inadequately, the Bully generally has enough credibility or power to convince, “higher-ups” that the complaint is unjustified, unwarranted and “sour-grapes” and has no basis in fact.

The most effective way to defeat a bully is to have 5 - 10 or more people who were Targets of the bully or witnesses to write or record a statement of the bully’s activities. Individually, if only one or two, file a complaint, the bully generally has enough credibility or power to convince, “higher-ups” that the complaint in unjustified, unwarranted and “sour-grapes” and has no basis in fact.

Once the statements are acquired, look at the organizational chart of the company and go “at least” two levels above the bully to file your complaint. Human Resources is not the place to go; their primary purpose is to protect the organization and not the employee’s rights. If you cannot identify the a higher person, send it to a member of the company’s board of directors.

Who Are Individuals Targeted by Bullies

Respondents' Gender: Women: 80% Men: 20%

Age: average (the mean): 43

Education: 84% college educated

Work experience: mean = 21.4 years in the workplace, mean = 6.7 years for the employer where bullying occurred.

Type of employer: 36% corporate; 31% government; 12% nonprofit org.; 11% small business

Targets are predominantly 40-ish, educated and veteran employees, specifically people who have experience with the employer before the bullying interfered with their careers.

Duration of the bullying: mean = 25 months (men targets endured an average of 25.6 months and women targets sustained 25.3 months of aggression). We cannot call Targets thin-skinned.They stay for a long time working under conditions rational people would consider intolerable.Bullying is done with impunity. Perpetrators face a low risk of being held accountable.Targeted individuals pay by losing their once-cherished positions.

In a recent survey respondents for whom the bullying had ended reported that:


         37% of the Targets were fired or involuntarily fired

         33% of Targets quit (typically taking some form of constructive discharge)

         17% of Targets transfer to another position with the same employer

         4% of Bullies stopped bullying after punishment or sanctions

         9% of Bullies were transferred or fired

How to Spot a Bully

A Bully will reveal themselves by his part of the organization showing excessive rates of:


         staff turnover

         sickness absence

         stress breakdowns

         early retirements

         uses of disciplinary procedures

         grievances initiated against him

         suspensions of employees

         dismissals of employees

In environments where bullying is the norm, most people will eventually either become bullies or become targets. There are few bystanders. It's about survival: they either adopt bullying tactics and thus survive by not becoming a target, or stand up against bullying and refuse to join in,in which case they are bullied, harassed, victimized and scape-goated until their mental health sufferers and finally just want to “escape “the psychological violence by quitting, transferring or reporting the bully to get it to stop.

How is Bullying Accomplished

People who are bullied find that they are:


         constantly criticized and subjected to destructive criticism (often euphemistically called constructive criticism, which is an oxymoron) - they ridicule explanations and proof of achievement, overruled, dismissed or ignored

         forever subject too nit-picking and trivial fault finding (the triviality is the giveaway)

         undermined, especially in front of others; they raise false concerns, or doubts are expressed over a person's performance or standard of work - however, the doubts lack substantive and quantifiable evidence, for they are only the bully's unreliable opinion and are for control, not performance enhancement

         overruled, ignored, sidelined, marginalised, ostracized

         isolated and excluded from what is happening (this makes people more vulnerable and easier to control and subjugate)

         singled out and treated differently (for example everyone else can have long lunch breaks but if they are one minute late it's a disciplinary offence)

         belittled, degraded, demeaned, ridiculed, patronized, subject to disparaging remarks

         threatened, shouted at and humiliated, especially in front of others

         taunted and teased where the intention is to embarrass and humiliate

         set unrealistic goals and deadlines which are unachievable or which are changed without notice or reason or whenever they get near achieving them

         denied information or knowledge necessary for undertaking work and achieving objectives

         starved of resources, sometimes while others often receive more than they need

         denied support and thus find themselves working in a management vacuum

         either overloaded with work (this keeps people busy [with no time to tackle bullying] and makes it harder to achieve targets) or has all their work taken away (which is sometimes replaced with inappropriate menial jobs, e.g., photocopying, filing, making coffee)

         have their responsibilities increased but their authority removed

         has their work plagiarized, stolen and copied - the bully then presents their target's work(e.g., to senior management) as their own

         is given the silent treatment: the bully refuses to communicate and avoids eye contact(always an indicator of an abusive relationship); often they receive instructions only via email, memos, or a succession of post-it notes

         subject to excessive monitoring, supervision, micro-management,

         forced to work long hours, often without remuneration and under threat of dismissal

         find requests for leave have unacceptable and unnecessary conditions attached,sometimes overturning previous approval. especially if the person has taken action to address bullying in the meantime

         denied annual leave, days off, etc.,

         when on leave, are harassed by calls at home or on holiday,

         receive unpleasant or threatening calls or are harassed with intimidating memos, notes or emails with no verbal communication, immediately before weekends and holidays (e.g.,4:00pm Friday or Christmas Eve - often these are hand-delivered)

         are invited to "informal" meetings which turn out to be disciplinary hearings

         are denied representation at meetings, often under threat of further disciplinary action;sometimes the bully abuses their position of power to exclude any representative who is competent to deal with bullying

         encouraged to feel guilty, and to believe they're always the one at fault

         coerced into reluctant resignation, enforced redundancy, early or ill-health retirement

 A favorite tactic of bullies which helps them evade detection is to undertake a "reorganization"at regular intervals. This has several advantages:


         they can organize anyone whose face doesn’t fit out through down sizing (redundancy) or transfer

         anyone who challenges the reorganization

         their job can be "regraded" or "redefined" to the person's disadvantage

         each reorganization is a smoke screen for the bully's dysfunctional behavior - everyone is so busy coping with the reorganization (chaos) that the bully's behavior goes unnoticed

         the bully can always claim to be reorganizing in the name of "efficiency" and therefore be perceived by those above as a strong manager

         However, there is never any cost-benefit justification to the reorganization - no figures before and no figures after to prove the reorganization has brought benefits.

How Is the Bully’s Target Chosen

There are many reasons how and why bullies target others, but the reasons are surprisingly consistent between cases. There are many myths and stereotypes such as "victims are weak."The bully selects their target using the following criteria:


         bullies are predatory and opportunistic - a person just happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time; this is always the main reason - investigation will reveal a string of predecessors, and they will have a string of successors

         being good at their job, often excelling

         being popular with people (colleagues, customers, clients, pupils, parents, patients, etc.)

         more than anything else, the bully fears exposure of his/her inadequacy and incompetence; a person’s presence, popularity and competence unknowingly and unwittingly fuel that fear

         being the expert and the person to whom others come for advice, either personal or professional

         having a well-defined set of values which they are unwilling to compromise

         having a strong sense of integrity (bullies despise integrity, for they have none, and seem compelled to destroy anyone who has integrity)

         having at least one vulnerability that can be exploited

         being too old or too expensive (usually both)

         refusing to join an established clique

         showing independence of thought or deed

         refusing to become a corporate clone and drone

         Jealousy (of relationships and perceived exclusion from it) and envy (of talents, abilities,circumstances or possessions) are strong motivators of bullying.

Events That Trigger Bullying


         the previous target leaves

         there's a reorganization

         a new manager is appointed

         thier performance unwittingly highlights, draws attention to, exposes or invites unfavorable comparison with the bully's lack of performance

         they may have unwittingly become the focus of attention whereas before the bully was the center of attention (this often occurs with female bullies) - most bullies are emotionally immature and thus crave attention

         obvious displays of affection, respect or trust from co-workers

         refusing to obey an order which violates rules, regulations, procedures, or is illegal

         standing up for a colleague who is being bullied - this ensures they will be next;sometimes the bully drops their current target and turns their attention immediately onto the person who helped defend the a Target;

         blowing the whistle on incompetence, malpractice, fraud, illegality, breaches of procedure,breaches of health & safety regulations etc.

         undertaking trade union duties

         challenging the status quo, especially unwittingly

         gaining recognition for their achievements, e.g., winning an award or being publicly recognized

         gaining promotion

Targets of Bullying Usually Have These Qualities




         intelligence and intellect

         honesty and integrity

         trustworthy, trusting, conscientious, loyal and dependable

         a well-developed integrity which they're unwilling to compromise

         always willing to go that extra mile and expect others to do the same

         successful, tenacious, determined, courageous, having fortitude

         a sense of humor, including displays of quick-wittedness

         imaginative, creative, innovative

         idealistic, optimistic, always working for improvement and betterment of self, family, the employer, and the world

         ability to master new skills

         ability to think long term and to see the bigger picture

         sensitivity (this is a constellation of values to be cherished including empathy, concern for others, respect, tolerance etc.)

         slow to anger

         helpful, always willing to share knowledge and experience

         giving and selfless

         difficulty saying no

         diligent, industrious


         strong sense of honor

         irrepressible, wanting to tackle and correct injustice wherever they see it

         an inability to value oneself while attributing greater importance and validity to other people's opinions of oneself

         low propensity to violence

         a strong forgiving streak

         a desire always to think well of others

         being incorruptible, having high moral standards which they are unwilling to compromise

         being unwilling to lower standards

         a strong well-defined set of values which they are unwilling to compromise or abandon

         high expectations of those in authority and a dislike of incompetent people in positions of power who abuse power

         a tendency to self-deprecation, indecisiveness, deference and approval seeking

         low assertiveness

         a need to feel valued

         quick to apologize when accused, even if not guilty (this is a useful technique for defusing an aggressive customer or potential road rage incident)


         higher-than-average levels of dependency, naivety and guilt

         a strong sense of fair play and a desire always to be reasonable

         high coping skills under stress, especially when the injury to health becomes apparent

         a tendency to internalize anger rather than express it

The Time line of Being Bullied


         the target is selected using the criteria above, then bullied for months, perhaps years

         eventually, the target asserts their right not to be bullied, perhaps by filing a complaint with personnel

         personnel interview the bully, who uses their Jekyll and Hyde nature, compulsive lying,and charm to tell the opposite story (charm has a motive - deception)

         it's one word against another with no witnesses and no evidence, so personnel take the word of the senior employee - serial bullies excel at deception and evasion of accountability

         the Personnel Department is hoodwinked by the bully into getting rid of the target - serial bullies are adept at encouraging conflict between people who might otherwise pool negative information about them

         once the target is gone, there is a period of between 2-14 days, then a new target is selected and the process starts again (bullying is an obsessive compulsive behavior and serial bullies seem unable to survive without a target onto whom they can project their inadequacy and incompetence while blaming them for the bully's own failings)

         even if the employer realizes that they might have sided with the wrong person in the past, they are unlikely to admit that because to do so may incur liability.

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