Mind Matters: Bullying

I learned about bullies at the same time I learned about algebra. When I reached six feet tall in Year 9, schoolyard bullies stopped bothering me. I enjoyed life without bullies. Little did I know that bullying would return to my life in the workplace.

The first time I experienced workplace bullying was at a staff meeting where my supervisor told everyone I had made some mistake that I had not actually made. I felt annoyed, to say the least.

I later talked to an academic, "Jeb", in another department about the supervisor. Jeb told me that he and some other academics had discussed putting on clown masks, grabbing baseball bats, and paying the supervisor a visit.

That group instead went over the supervisor's head and got him removed from his administrative role. Weeks later I read in a newspaper that the former administrator was returning to teaching online but would do so while living in a more rural area. He said that he looked forward to spending more time with non-human populations. I laughed out loud when I read that.

Of course it is dangerous to go over a supervisor's head. You had better have the goods on him or her, because administrators tend to stick together.

I once contributed accidentally to an overthrow. I had a supervisor at a treatment centre who so mistreated me that I quit. Months later I ran into a fellow with whom I had worked there. He told me that he had gotten the supervisor fired on the grounds that the supervisor was signing documents as a licensed psychologist even though he was not licensed in that state. I was the one who mentioned that criminal act to the co-worker back when we worked together.

Administrators are not responsible for all workplace bullying. Fellow employees can contribute. For instance, I had a colleague who continually complained about me to my supervisor - always behind my back. I offered the supervisor explanation after explanation and then finally suggested that he tell the complainer to raise these matters with me first. I did not have to do any more explaining.

Some organisations have so much bullying that they adopt anti-bullying rules. A few years back an administrator told me that an academic was using the anti-bullying rules to bully him.

Now you have examples of options for dealing with workplace bullying. Don’t forget the clowns-with-bats idea.

John Malouff is an Associate Professor at the School of Behavioural, Cognitive and Social Sciences, University of New England.