Having entered adulthood, I am pretty sure none of us get to spend our lunches in school playgrounds; but I am also sure all of us have memories attached to the countless recess periods spent there, buried somewhere inside our hearts and minds. And one recollection I am sure everyone has, is of playground bullying – be as a perpetrator or the victim.
Interestingly, describing somebody as a bully usually evokes images of a mean kid ruling the playground with the brute force of their fists, or a cruel girl with a sharp tongue that inflicts so much more pain than a fist physically ever could. Many people assume that life post school and university will be completely devoid of bullying and that having been bullied as youngsters they will have learnt to deal with it as adults. But the sad reality is,bullies do grow up like the rest of us but their behaviour does not change and people can be bullied at any age and in any situation.
The bullying tactics may change but the basic premise and the impact of adult bullying are the same. Taking it one step ahead, bullying in the workplace is a reality so many of us regularly deal with and according to a University of Kentucky study at least 27% of the people they surveyed, experience workplace bullying even in the US, one can only imagine what the numbers in Pakistan look like.
This is something I started thinking about when a friend, who is a psychologist,recently asked if I had ever dealt with bullies at work. Little did I know she was working with two victims of workplace bullying and was trying to get a neutral viewpoint from her friends, outside of her own place of work.
But before we get into that, it is important to define workplace bullying. According to Wikipedia, it is a persistent pattern of mistreatment from colleagues at work that causes either physical or emotional harm. It can include such tactics as verbal, nonverbal, psychological, and physical abuse, as well as humiliation.
Finding little to no literature on workplace bullying and none from Pakistan itself, we decided to start asking those around us about their experiences. The stories that we heard were beyond heartbreaking to process. We heard countless stories of verbal abuse, where one woman was shamed for their weight to the extent that colleagues made noises depicting an elephant when they entered a room. Some people were alienated at workplaces simply owing to their ethnic background with an appalling number of people mentioning that Pathan and Bihari jokes really need to stop.
Another woman told us,
“nothing I ever did was enough and my work was never passed without ridiculing me and I, ironically, never received any instruction (in the first place) on the very assignments thatwere being used to degrade me”.
As Pakistan also struggles to make space for the transgender community, at least two people we spoke to did not disclose their gender identity during the hiring process. Ironically, the very rumour and gossip mills that are now considered a part of modern workplace culture are actually a type of bullying as well.
It is one thing to be bullied,it is another to go through the impact it has on the self. Since we related to some of the stories and knew how we felt while we were experiencing the bullying, we could not help but ask how these people felt and how they dealt with it.
One person said despite him resigning many years ago due to workplace bullying, he still had nightmares about it that jolt him awake. Some people said they struggled with anxiety and depression but most agreed their self-confidence was completely shattered at the hands of their bullies and they now struggle to get through each day. Some people attempted to get their workplace to intervene – only to find themselves shut out and pushed out. Others quit on their own, unable to bear their hostile workplace environment.
Probably only one or two met with success of having their bully thwarted – because, the odds are usually against them.
Quoting the girl who was body shamed about her weight,
“Management just buried their heads in the sand. Their attitude was as long as they were making money, they don’t care how people treat each other. If I didn’t like it, I could leave.”
Workplace bullying are by no means small problems and the most common advice meted out is to ignore the bullying, which is definitely easier said than done. Bullies usually harass other people because of their own insecurities so perhaps believing in yourself, being strong and trying to put a stop to this behaviour is our best bet at tackling this menace. And if all else fails, leave my blog casually on a bully’s desk and hope they can spot themselves.