They may come in all shapes and characters and there is a fine line between constructive criticism and bullying - but a few behavioural traits about bullies are universal.
Their conduct is abusive, humiliating and threatening.
“Workplace bullying is the consistent and repeated mistreatment of one employee by another,” Dr Gillian Mooney, teaching and learning manager at the Independent Institute of Education, said.
“You never know who it could be - there is no one size fits all and people bully in different ways. In the work context, we have this idea that if you’re going to reprimand someone, you will do so in private so it’s all the more horrific when, say, you are shouted at or humiliated in public”, she continued.
And the consequences are sometimes physically visible.
“Workplace bullying affects the target both mentally and physically, and will almost certainly impact on motivation and productivity. Psychologically, bullying causes heightened stress levels and often leads to depression, breakdowns, poor concentration, compromised memory, insecurity, irritability, and even post-traumatic stress syndrome,” Mooney explained.
“Physically, those on the receiving end of bullying may suffer from chronic fatigue syndrome, lowered resistance to colds and flu, high blood pressure, migraines, hormonal disturbances, thyroid problems, skin irritations, stomach ulcers and substance abuse.”
Mooney said that toxic team members caused a drop in productivity and organisational health, due to increased absenteeism and staff turnover, more accidents, bad customer service, higher costs for employee assistance programmes, and decreased motivation and morale.
“I don’t think many companies around the country have firm bullying policies. Human Resource departments may not necessarily know how to handle the issue. What would protect you as an employee though is to keep evidence of bullying - especially written so that your line managers and HR can be seen to do something about it”, Mooney continued.
Unfortunately, according to the specialist, in some companies - it also becomes part of the workplace culture.
“It is essential to remember that workplace bullying affects both the target and those who witness the bullying. For example, a researcher in the United Kingdom, Dr Charlotte Rayner, found that almost a quarter of people who witness workplace bullying will search for new employment,” Mooney added.
While legitimate and constructive criticism should be considered as positive and par for the course in the workplace, companies and individuals should not allow bullies to continue down their path of destruction, she said.
“Legitimate criticism occurs in a positive, non-threatening manner, and typically includes helpful methods for you to improve your work. In contrast, bullying occurs in a negative manner and is abusive - either overtly or subtly.
“A workplace bully may make unreasonable demands, use techniques such as verbal abuse which includes cursing, shouting, gossiping and constant undermining of the target, or tactics such as intimidation, degradation, isolation and humiliation,” Mooney explained.
The National Department of Labour advised:
The employee can confront the perpetrator, preferably in writing, and request the perpetrator to immediately cease his/her unacceptable and intolerable behaviour.
The employee should also make a formal complaint to the employer, and if the perpetrator happens to be a manager then the employee should address the complaint to somebody higher up on the ladder of authority.
The employee may also seek union assistance if they are a member of a trade union. It is important that the employee lodge a formal complaint (grievance) with the employer because once the complaint has been lodged, the company management must investigate the matter. Employees are also free to contact the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) for assistance should the employer ignore any formal complaint lodged.