March 24, 2008

Bullying can't be seen as 'entertainment'

In a low quivering voice, Mary (name have been changed) a highly qualified teacher, sobbed as she told us the story of her distressing experience.

"I loved teaching but now I am totally shattered, and I have lost all belief in myself. I am not able to face a class of students. The awful bullying by my colleagues in the staff room got to me eventually. I couldn't take it anymore. I resigned and took a less-paid non-teaching job. But I am struggling to cope with the deep hurt and psychological pain I suffered."

John, (name has been changed) a State employee who is a victim of bullying, told us his sad story. "My job is on a rota basis but my bullying boss repeatedly changes my rota without informing me. Frequently, when I report to work, the bully's buddies inform me that my rota has been changed and that my boss wants to see me. When I report to the boss in his office he denies that he has sent for me. As I leave the office I am pained to see the sneers on the faces of the bully's buddies. I am often left with no work to do. I feel that life is not worth living. I would be better off dead".

John is not alone in experiencing suicidal tendencies resulting from workplace bullying. Research has shown that 14-20 per cent of all suicides are associated with bullying. Mary and John are among a very large number of people who experience workplace bullying. The Samaritans' recent survey has revealed that one in four workers is bullied.

Anti-bullying organisations have indicated that they are receiving a substantial increase in the number of calls for assistance from victims of workplace bullying. Clinical psychologist Marie Murray states: "Workplace bullying has been found to increase during times of social change and economic uncertainty and when people value commercial achievements over community factors. Increase in stress, in commuting time, in family pressure, in child-minding concerns and in mortgage repayments mean that a significant number of people arrive to work each day highly stressed and this gets articulated in bullying behaviour towards clients or work mates."

Those who are both younger or older or those from minority groups are more likely to be targets for bullying. The less experienced, less established employees are more likely to be intimidated by older more powerful people in an organisation or by unreasonable organisational demands. Equally those who are at the older age scale are often fearful of change, afraid of losing pension rights and because they are unlikely to obtain new employment elsewhere they are in a position of greater dependency than those in their middle years. All the these factors make it easier for bullies to operate unchallenged in the workplace.

Workplace bullying is the repeated acts of aggression that undermine the dignity of individuals at work. These acts can be direct or indirect, whether verbal, psychological, physical or otherwise. Cyber bullying by text messages or email is becoming more frequent. Bullying can cause enormous distress, often resulting in emotional damage, a lack of self-esteem, depression, a decline in physical health and loss of job satisfaction. Many victims feel trapped, desperate and emotionally crippled as a result of the horrific experience of bullying. Heinz Layman, the internationally renowned researcher, says that workplace bullying is psychological terror. Jacinta Kitt, the well- known Irish researcher, believes it is psychological torture. Bullying, which causes horrific psychological pain to victims, must never be accepted as a form of entertainment. The offensive TV scenes of bullying on the part of some celebrity chefs tend to normalise and legitimise workplace bullying.

Edmund Burke's statement: "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good people to do nothing." is relevant to this problem. Victims of bullying and those who would like to help them can learn practical and effective strategies for confronting bullies at the National Conference on Bullying in the Workplace at the Regency Hotel Conference Centre, Swords Road, Dublin 9 on April 15 and April 22, from 7pm to 10pm.

Minister Billy Kelleher TD, Mr David Begg, Professor Patricia Casey, Governor John Longeran, Senior Counsel Anne Dunne and other professionals will address the conference. For details, phone (01) 838-8888 or (087) 918-0777 or email:

Rev Dr Tony Byrne CSSp and Sr Kathleen Maguire PBVM MA founded the Awareness Education Office, which offers programmes on bullying in the workplace, home and school.

- Tony Byrne and Kathleen Maguire, from:


Anonymous said...

The survey on here records ten people as working in universities where they believe there are effective anti-bulling policies - can we hear from you please.....

Aphra Behn

Stuart said...

The Minister for Employment (actually Noel Dempsey, Billy Kelleher's predecessor) oversaw the process by which revised legislation on workplace bullying was largely driven by employers, and oversaw the dismantling of the Anti-Bullying Response Unit of the Health and Safety Authority.

In short, Ireland has the best anti-bullying legislation in the world, and the best procedures for undermining its implementation.