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Workplace Bullying

By James Tapp | Illustration by Leo Walton

Braving the adult playground

At some point in everyone's lives, there’ll probably be a shitty boss or a coworker that you just can't stand. It doesn't matter what the job is, chances are there will be the odd sticky situation. As uni students, many of you will either be working part time, or ready to graduate and venture out in the job world in the near future. It’s important to be aware and know the signs if someone you’re working with is turning into a maniacal bully.

You’ll probably find that some co-workers are more on the annoying side, but some can be flat-out bullies. While some workplace bullies will show similarities to the kid who pushed others around on the playground growing up, the workplace version is often far more ruthless and there's a lot more at stake.

Now, in many cases, workplace bullying is dismissed - people’s quirky personalities are sometimes used as an excuse. When you’re at work, chances are you’re one of the following: a) The recipient of the bullying, b) The bully, or, c) An observer. If you're none of these, then either hats off to your manager, or just look a bit harder.

In any of these positions, it can be hard to define what constitutes workplace bullying as it’s often not taken very seriously in New Zealand. It seems a ‘concrete pill’ is usually the suggested solution. It’s not just those at the bottom of the pecking order who face bullying either. Sometimes it can be those who the company values the most; the smart, funny, helpful and hardworking ones, that are just genuinely striving to be their best.

Despite this, those positions of power in a workplace absolutely have a tendency to be tough on those below them. Traits that you’ll want to look out for include constant criticisms, narcissism, humiliation and an obsession with power. Now, while a lot of this is more common in corporate workplaces, don’t think it’s not happening at your local maccas too. So, if you’re someone soon to be joining the workforce, I encourage you to think about the actions you take in the job as they can really affect those around you.

So, what if you’re being bullied? Unfortunately, it might not just be as simple as talking to your manager about it, especially if they’re the bully. Something you can do is put it in a journal. Keep notes of dates, times and details of incidents, as well as how harmful the event is. Not only does this provide you with evidence, but it also allows you to see that you’re not being paranoid. Secondly, talk to others. Figure out who will support you if or when you go to management to voice your complaints. If there is anything to take from reading this though, it’s that if you’re the target, you need to keep your head high. While this may be hard with someone on your back weighing you down, it’s important to remember that you’re good at what you do.

Workplace bullying is a difficult topic and there is so much to it, as every situation is different. If you’re struggling with workplace bullying, I highly recommend reading up on it.

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment provides a free mediation service to any employee or employer. This can be used to address bullying, or issues related to bullying. Where mediation or informal talks have not been able to resolve any issues, you may want to consider raising a personal grievance. Under the Employment Relations Act an employee has 90 days, from when the action occurred, to raise this personal grievance claim. In some cases, bullying can actually be considered a crime. Have a look on employment.govt and check out which acts cover which forms of bullying.

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