Live & Learn
Workplace Bullying: Your Options on How to Handle It


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The workplace is the second place we spend the most time in, apart from our homes, so it’s important that we feel safe and supported in our “second home”.

As a youth who is stepping into the workplace soon, currently under SGUnited traineeship, or a young professional one to two years into your job, you might hear horror stories regarding workplace bullying or even experience certain signs of it yourself. This article will highlight what constitutes workplace bullying and how to manage it if you ever find yourself, or someone you know, in this situation.


What is workplace bullying?

Workplace bullying is often use interchangeably with the term workplace harassment.

The Tripartite Advisory defines workplace harassment as behaviour that harasses, alarms, or distresses another person in the workplace. It can take the form of non-verbal gestures, cyberbullying, insulting, and abusive language, and can be carried out by co-workers, customers—or worse, your boss.

It can be difficult to define bullying, because it can happen subtly and go unnoticed by most people, besides the victim. Given that most of us are now working from home, it’s even tougher to discern between bullying and mere teasing.

For example, you may observe that your co-workers treat you differently and make backhanded comments online every time your boss praises you for a work well done. Or perhaps your boss gives you extra work, just as he or she notices it’s near the end of office hours.

Workplace bullying occurs in a spectrum, but if someone in the office, be it online or offline, makes you feel uncomfortable, anxious, or afraid—you may be a victim.


What are some signs of workplace bullying?


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There are many different signs of workplace bullying. Here are some common forms to watch out for:
●    Fault-finding or micro-managing
●    Name-calling
●    Physical and verbal abuse
●    Online shaming

Workplace bullying can have dire consequences on your morale and mental wellbeing and can even contribute to a toxic work environment. For instance, 25-year-old Jane (not her real name), who is working in the hospital industry, was constantly subjected to taunting comments about her appearance and weight. Her manager would point out that she has to be “thin” to get a partner and make hurtful remarks such as how obese people are more “hardworking” and tend to work longer hours because they should be thankful to have a job.  

Jane tried to gain support from her colleagues. However, instead of defending her, they would tell her to accept the comments as a “harmless joke”. One of her female colleagues attributed her reaction as a sign of depression, while another male colleague agreed that her weight problem was why her love interest rejected her.

Despite opening up on how she felt about these comments, her 59-year-old director continues to pass snide remarks about her weight. As the taunting continues, Jane suffers in silence from a lack of confidence.

Another case of extreme workplace bullying was an intern who suffered from both physical and verbal abuse from his boss. In an incident that happened back in 2013, Mr Calvin Chan Meng Hock was constantly humiliated by his boss throughout his three-year internship, and would receive physical abuse over mistakes that he made. In spite of clocking in overtime, Mr Chan only received S$500 per month with no overtime pay, and was given no annual leaves or benefits to boot.
 
Despite the continuous abuse, Mr Chan stayed on in the company as he believed that he could still receive guidance in his career from his abuser. He only decided to get out of his situation after a 17-second video of his employer repeatedly slapping him started circulating online.

The consequences of workplace bullying can range from emotional to psychological effects. It can result in loss of concentration, lower productivity, having trouble making decisions, and ending up affecting your job performance. You might also feel isolated, powerless, confused, have low self-esteem, and even end up falling into depression.  

Because the boundaries between work and personal life are so blurred, it can be even easier for bullying to occur while working from home. A manager might constantly send messages outside of working hours, or micromanage your work efforts by asking to be present at every Zoom call. You might be left out of important chats and groups.

Emma Kenny, a Psychologist and founder of the wellbeing site, Make Your Switch, mentioned that cyberbullying commonly fosters a “gang” culture in the workplace that isolates the victim. It can make victims feel almost as if someone is stalking and commenting on their lives online despite not knowing anything about them.  

When it comes to online communication, social cues such as eye contact are absent. As a result, people have lower empathy for others, making it easy for cyberbullying. For example, throwing a sarcastic comment under a co-worker’s social media post for not doing their job well is easier online than saying it face-to-face.

While cyberbullying is more subtle, it’s still emotionally distressing as it often leads to social isolation. Moreover, it affects you even after working hours. Hence, cyberbullying should be handled the same way as any other bullying in the physical office space.


What steps should I take to deal with workplace bullying?


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It is crucial to know what steps to take if you ever find yourself or someone you know facing workplace bullying. Here are a few measures you can take, depending on the severity of the bullying:


Speak up on your situation

If you are unsure about your situation, the best advice would be to speak up to your support systems, such as your work colleagues, family, and friends. Most of the time, you won’t realise the bullying until someone else points it out to you. It’s difficult for us to access the situation when we are in the midst of it. Keeping it to yourself will only isolate yourself further.

On the other hand, telling a trusted person about your situation will help you get a more objective perspective. From there, you can better consider what steps to take next to deal with the situation.


Stand your ground

If you feel that your employers or colleagues might just be harmlessly teasing you, but it’s affecting you, the first step is to learn to say “no” to them. Many employers or colleagues will continuously poke fun of you if you remain silent as they assume that you are perfectly okay with it.

Stand your ground and make it clear to them that you feel uncomfortable with the way they are treating you. Explain that they are crossing their boundary as an employer or colleague and request for them to stop.

However, talking things out might not work all the time, as employers or colleagues might simply brush it off and continue their actions. Also, not everyone is able to stand up to their bully. It’s terrifying, and it takes a lot of courage to do it, so do not fret if you are unable to do so. Confrontation is not for everyone.  


Bring it up to your HR department

An alternative approach is to bring it up to your Human Resource (HR) representative and explain your situation as detailed as possible. As HR personnel, they are supposed to help address this matter in your workplace appropriately.

Even so, raising the matter to your HR doesn’t work sometimes. A research study by the Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI) presented that 30.9% responded that nothing happened after filing complaints to their HR departments. One factor might be that these bullies are key appointment holders or high-performance employees in the organisation.


The Protection for Harassment Act (POHA)  

The Protection for Harassment Act (POHA) declares specific criminal consequences for behaviour that harasses, threatens, or distresses a victim.

First off, anyone who threatens, hurl insults or throws physical abuses that make you feel distressed are liable for an offence, even if they do not have the intention to hurt you. For example, if you’ve found that your colleagues are spreading false allegations about you in the workplace, they could be declared guilty even if they did not intend to cause you distress.

Unlawful stalking is also an offence under the POHA. For example, suppose a colleague keeps following you outside of work, constantly giving you gifts despite your rejection, or having your photographs taken and circulated in the workplace. These actions are punishable by law.

Last but not least, doxxing is the newest offence added under POHA on 1 January 2020. POHA defines doxxing as intentionally publishing personal information to harass, threaten, or facilitate violence against the victim.


Seek help from the authorities

If any of the bullying you’ve experienced falls under POHA, promptly seek help from the authorities. It is crucial to document specific behaviours and facts on these incidents as it will help to testify against your bully when you make a report.

Here are some details that you should take note of:

●    Dates of the incidents
●    Triggers of these episodes
●    Actions or the words from the abuser
●    Any witnesses present during the incidents

Seeking help from the authorities is the next step if your company is unable to help you. TAFEP was set up in 2006 by the tripartite partners—Ministry of Manpower, National Trades Union Congress, and Singapore National Employers Federation—to foster a safe work environment for all employees.

TAFEP has a team of professionals that are trained to deal with workplace bullying. They can tap on your company’s management and enforce policies and procedures to prevent workplace bullying in the future.

You can call TAFEP at 68380969, file a report on their website, or go down to its office for advice and support.

If your situation or a colleague’s situation starts to get out of control, immediately lodge a police report instead. A sure sign would be physical and verbal abuse that poses a risk to your safety and affects your workability.


Conclusion

Workplace bullying is no laughing matter. Victims often suffer in silence and go through a series of physical, verbal, or psychological abuse. No one has to endure such abuse; everyone deserves to be treated with respect and dignity in the workplace.  

Reach out to your colleagues and friends around you if you feel that they are going through something. A little kindness goes a long way!

Young NTUC also supports young workers with work-related issues as well as provide relevant contents to support their adulting journey including mental health tips and more. If you are facing workplace issues, connect with them for further support. Follow their social platforms to get the latest contents and events to support you through your career journey:  Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and TikTok.

If you are currently and SGUnited Trainee, follow Young NTUC’s LIT Xchange FB group and join the community of trainees!
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