How to spot and stop workplace bullying

MALAYSIA - If you think bullying is something that happens only in school, you're deluded.

From verbally abusive bosses to sexually inappropriate colleagues, bullying is something that we may have to face throughout our working lives.

While workplace bullying might be a grey area at times (Is it bullying if someone gets consistently overlooked for promotions or bonuses?), it can rear its ugly head in pretty obvious ways.


There is a fine line between an office bully and someone with poor interpersonal skills.

So what exactly constitutes workplace bullying? According to the Workplace Bullying Institute, it is defined as the "repeated, health-harming mistreatment of one or more people by one or more perpetrators".

For Help International School counselling psychologist Gerard Louis, the keyword would be "repeated".

"If it is a one-off act, then it might not be considered bullying," he said. People do, after all, make one-off mistakes.

Another important thing to remember is that whether an act is considered bullying depends largely on the person on the receiving end of it. No harm, no foul, right?

Malaysian Employers Federation executive direction Shamsuddin Bardan said: "Some things can be considered part of working culture. If a recipient doesn't find it unacceptable, then it is fine. But if an employee feels aggrieved by it, or it is against his rights, then it is bullying."

But workplace bullying can be more than just persistent verbal abuse. Sexual harassment is also workplace bullying.


According to Mr Louis, bullies often target victims as publicly as possible, which makes workplace bullying all the more embarrassing.

"Bullies like to perform and demonstrate their power. They often single you (the victim) out, isolate you, and humiliate you with nasty comments."

Bullies also often try to find a way to disguise what they're doing, and make it seem like it's the victim's fault, said Mr Louis.


Most of the reported workplace- bullying cases are not physical in nature - unlike those that happen in schools.

Some employees endure workplace bullying because they don't know their rights. Denying an employee a promotion and/or bonus that he clearly deserves is also considered as bullying on the employer's part.

Every company should have an induction programme to introduce its rules and regulations, working culture, benefits and employees' rights.


The problem with workplace bullying is that over 70 per cent of the bullies are managers.

But that doesn't mean that employees should stay silent when they see it happening. Those being bullied should voice out and get evidence - a bully is normally a powerful person, so it could backfire if they confront him directly.

The first step is to report the bullying issue to the company's human-resource management (to solve the problem domestically). If that doesn't work, then the worker should report it to the government authorities.

"Look for people who can help, like trustworthy colleagues or the higher authorities, if it is your bosses who are bullying you," said Mr Louis.

"It is normal to feel ashamed if you are sexually harassed or humiliated in public, but nothing is going to change if no one takes action."