Workplace harassment and bullying is a common social problem today, despite the development of policies and codes of conduct to tackle the problem.
About four in 10 bullies in most workplace are bosses or people who hold a higher rank than the victim, according to the Workplace Bullying Institute based in the United States.
Some 25 per cent of victims say their employers denied the accusation and investigations on the bullying incidents failed.
In cases of physical or verbal use at work, the act of bullying is clear.
However, there are subtle ways in which harassment more commonly occurs.
Office pranks, for instance, can take a ugly twist when what seems like harmless humour turns out to be subtle passive harassment plotted by other colleagues.
Belittling or insulting someone, threatening termination, withholding promotion, making sexual advances or asking for favours can also fall under the parameters of workplace harassment.
In addition, given that different team members may offer varying accounts of the same situation, a case of harassment can become highly subjective.
The Workplace Bullying Institute defines bullying as "repeated, health-harming mistreatment of one or more persons (the targets) by one or more perpetrators".
It is important to recognise that you are a victim of workplace bullying and address concerns with the human resources (HR) manager before the situation gets out of control and impacts your work.
Managers can also do their part to look out for employees with low morale and decreased efficiency or productivity. These could be signs of someone who has been subjected to workplace bullying.
Sometimes, such employees take sick leave frequently, suffer from psychological illness and are less committed towards their job.
Some may eventually quit the organisation.
That said, indirect task-related attacks are hard to identify and categorise as bullying.
To assess if you are a victim of bullying, ask yourself if the behaviour in a particular situation is reasonable, if that behaviour is repetitive and if it impacts your emotional well-being.
Do note, however, that bullying is not the same as rudeness or a lack of tact that some people display at work. This could be linked to their personality rather than ill intentions.
If you think you are being bullied, document the incident right away by recording the date and time of the incident, verbatim if possible. Include details like the location and how you felt and responded, as well as the responses of other people who were present.
Discuss this immediately with your HR manager to initiate prompt action.
In Singapore, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM), National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) and Singapore National Employers Federation have jointly issued a Tripartite Advisory on Managing Workplace Harassment in December last year to help employers and employees prevent and manage such conflicts.
The advisory provides preventive measures to ensure a safe and conducive workplace environment. It also recommends management and remedial actions for employers and employees to initiate immediately when harassment occurs at the workplace.
From a HR perspective, bullying and workplace harassment can be curbed if employees are taught to stop acts of threatening and abusive behaviour, sexual harassment, cyber bullying and stalking.
Here are three key steps that employees can take:
Talk to people you trust at work about your concerns.
Have a one-to-one discussion with the person whom you believe has bullied you. Provide examples of his actions that affect your performance, productivity and morale. Highlight actions that negatively impact the team.
Document behaviours that are not appreciated at work.
Maintain a record of instances of workplace bullying, detailing the act and quoting in verbatim who said what.
Maintain your cool at all times and seek support from the HR management. If you feel that the management did not respond adequately, seek help from the authorities.
For instance, victims can contact the MOM and NTUC for assistance.
Ignoring workplace bullying will only embolden the bullies. Instead, take a stand and fight for your rights.
Belittling remarks that undermine your integrity, or lies that put your sense of judgment into question.
Deliberately ignoring you or failing to respond or reply to your questions or inquiries.
Attacking your personal beliefs, lifestyle and preferences; creating rumours that sully your character, such as saying you are "mentally disturbed".
Shouting and yelling at you, making threats to sack you, insulting your lifestyle and publicly humiliating you.
Use of offensive or abusive language; spying or stalking you; and harassing you when you are off-duty, such as on the weekends.
Making inappropriate sexual advances, suggestive glances and offensive gestures at you during work.
Giving you unrealistic deadlines or unachievable tasks and assigning you too much work which would set you up for failure.
Asking you to do meaningless tasks, undermining your credibility on the job and ridiculing you in front of clients and colleagues.
Withholding and concealing important work-related information, and failing to reply to messages or return calls.
Undervaluing your contribution and failure to give you credit where it is due, or taking credit for your work.
Giving you work that is below your level of competence, or demoting you unreasonably.
Denying leave, ignoring your views, changing work targets at the last minute without prior notice.
Failure to provide enough training or resources and denying you an opportunity for growth within the company in an unfair way.
This article was contributed by Ben Chew, business director of recruitment firm TBC HR Consulting.
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