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Bullying in the Workplace - Why You Should Care

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Bullying in the Workplace - Why You Should Care

On February 14th 1999, Silvia Braun, a policewoman from Bavaria/Germany did not appear in her office in Munich. Some of her colleagues found the 22-year-old woman later in her car on a service area on a highway - she had shot herself with her own rifle. Braun, an ambitious and determined woman, had no money problems, she did not suffer from any mental illness and she was not in love with someone who did not return her feelings. What was it that had made

life unbearable for her? She had been being bullied for almost one year. She felt being humiliated, intimidated and sexually molested by her superior. This case shows how disastrous and dangerous bullying in the workplace can be.

Unfortunately, the vast majority of cases of workplace bullying do not become that prominent - but bullying takes place everywhere. In begins at school, occurs in small and large companies, in government offices and even in charitable organizations. There are several reasons why victims of bullying often keep quiet. Some of them feel embarrassed and blame themselves for not being accepted by their colleagues. Others are frightened that everything becomes even worse once they have raised their voice against their punishers who might take cruel revenge on the accusations. Another problem is that it takes a lot of time from a victim's complaint about being bullied to the time the culprit is punished - if he or she is punished at all! Many victims understandably do not have the stamina to endure the fight against their oppressors and give in.

Bullying occurs in many different forms in the workplace. In the fewest cases people use physical violence to harass their workmates. It is the psychological terror that can destroy somebody's whole life. For instance, a superior may constantly criticize your work - no matter if the work is perfectly done or not. Even worse for those affected by bullying is social isolation. Nobody talks to you, nobody will warn you if the boss comes around to check whether the employees do their work correctly and if you enter a crowded room a terrible silence cuts all conversations immediately. A colleague of yours may constantly defame you among all colleagues and spread (untrue) gossip about your private life in the company. You did not know that your children are gay and your partner has several love affairs? Now you know.

Bullies might not always be aware of the severe consequences of their actions but this cannot condone the sorrow and pain they inflict upon the victims. Bullying often evokes psychosomatic illnesses. Victims complain about headache, heart diseases, dizziness, nausea and sleep disorder. Bullying becomes the dominating part of their whole life; they cannot do anything without thinking of the horror of the next workday. Weakened as they are, victims become an even easier target for people who want to harm them. It is a vicious circle, hard to break out for those terrorized by bullying. Many of them think of committing suicide as the last way out.

There is no doubt that taking one's life is the worst possible solution. But how should you react if you become the victim of bullying?

One has to be aware that those who are bullied often cannot be blamed. In contrast to the common opinion weakness, self-consciousness and incompetence at work do not belong to a typical bullied person's character traits. The self-confident, competent and well qualified employee who works meticulously is the most popular with bullies. Envy and the fear that someone could drive out other employees by working harder might be motives for bullying. The culprits, not the victims are often those who lack self-esteem and self-confidence. They need a scapegoat to release their anger and aggression that originate from their own unhappiness. Many bullies follow a ringleader, not daring to oppose him/her in order to help the victim. It is a frequently occurring phenomenon that people in hordes show cruel behaviour which they would refrain from as an individual (As a German, I only have to look back in the history of my own country to find a terrible example).

So, if you are bullied although you have not done anything wrong, the first step should be to make yourself aware of a clear conscience. In the long run, blaming yourself will reduce your self-confidence drastically and make you ill. It is also important not to do anything rash. You definitely should resist against any kind of intimidation but all steps should be planned carefully. A diary where each incident of bullying is written down might be helpful, especially if it comes to a trial later on. Moreover, you should talk about your problems with a person you can trust. That person should be sympathetic and be able to encourage you to take further measures. One could be to address the bullying person directly, for example by asking him or her if you had done anything that offended him or her (even if you know that you did not do anything wrong). However, the addressed person might pretend not to know what you are talking about. In this case, you should talk to somebody from your company who is responsible for work conditions, for example a member of the works committee. He or she can act as a mediator in a dispute between the ringleader and the victim. If all else falls, you should take legal proceedings into consideration. This, of course, is the fiercest of all measures and should be thought about thoroughly. An open conflict is inevitable then, reconciliation almost impossible. It takes



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