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November 3, 2005

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National Safety Symposium- Beating the bullies

You might not realise it, but a bullying manager could be behind a lot of the sickness absence reported in your organisation.

Chartered psychologist Noreen Tehrani said that as many as 80 million working days are lost as a result of bullying in the workplace, with half of all workplace stress resulting from of bullying or relationship difficulties.

“When bullying occurs, the person suffers significant distress and injury,” Noreen told delegates. “The amount of damage can be enormous. I’ve done lots of work on post traumatic stress disorder and people who’ve been bullied can be more psychologically damaged than a train driver who runs over someone on a rail line.”

Noreen explained that bullying occurs when there is repeated unwelcome behaviour, but not when there are two equally strong people engaged in an argument. There are different types of bullying — from the easier-to-spot predatory or dispute-related, to the more complex delegated bullying (where one person gets someone else to do the bullying for them) and mob bullying (where a gang carries out the bullying).

Managers can also suffer bullying from subordinates, with 12 per cent of employees being accused of bullying their managers.

Mediation also isn’t always the answer: “If you’ve got a psychopathic person, they will use mediation to escalate the situation. Mediation can be abused,” Noreen commented.

Bullying can also have a terrible effect on colleagues: “People who observe bullying are almost as badly affected or damaged as those being bullied. They worry that it could be them next and also feel guilt that they didn’t help the victim.”

But, while bullying can be expensive for an organisation, particularly in terms of sickness absence and investigating the causes of bullying, it’s the individual costs that must always remain at the forefront of employers’, and safety and health practitioners’, minds: “A bullied person can’t sleep, they can’t eat, and they’ll cry for no apparent reason. You need a clear policy that commits you to work to a climate where employees are treated with dignity and respect, and you need to keep the subject high in people’s minds. Everybody needs motivating, and you need the support of middle management and senior management.”

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