I’ve been noticing in some articles on workplace bullying, that the position of the witnesses or bystanders are finally being acknowledged. This is great since the abuse of the victim seldom happens in a vacuum (or empty office). A witness is perfect fodder for the grandstanding bully. But we don’t know how that witness may feel about the situation.
We can, first of all, assume that the witness is glad that they are not the bully’s target. So if the torment falls on the usual victim, then at least it’s not falling on the witness (es). The next step though, which is the challenge in the long run is to be sure to stay on the bully’s good side. That is easy at first, but if a person has a moral code, and that code is continually challenged by what he or she is witnessing, it does turn into a stressful situation. That employee knows that he or she always has to be, not only on the bully’s side but be cognizant that they are appropriately boosting the bully’s ego. That’s because bullying tends to come down to the wielding of power and feeling in full control.
The stress therefore, is not as fast and hard-hitting as on the targeted victim of the bullying, but it does have a gradual and perhaps escalating effects on the witness. And rest assured that it does happen and presents a whole set of basic concerns that need to be addressed by the witness. Those issues are:
1. Self-care, both emotional and physical so the stress in minimized;
2. Finding a way to support the victim. It can be anonymous but will be of immense value to the victim and allay growing feelings of guilt for the witness, and
3. Jotting down notes about incidents of bullying that are witnessed. At some point the witness may be asked to speak out on what he or she has seen or heard. If the witness does decide to take that step, then he/she will be prepared to present truthful statements of observed incidents.
Some of you may not be in agreement with the information in this blog, but, if you are a witness, it is worth taking the time to decide what you should do if you do see bullying at your job.
One way that your company can address issues with bullying is by having staff from your human resources department attend conferences and trainings to establish healthy workplace practices. This is the perfect indirect way to get some training on how to deal with bullying without being disloyal to the company culture.
Yes, this may be the coward’s way around dealing with this issue, but guess what! HR staff’s first line of allegiance is to the company that employs them, not the staff. With that in mind there may be HR personnel who do see what’s happening but feel powerless to help the victim. By attending healthy workplace-themed conferences, the HR rep can learn about bullying along with other topics that make for a happier and more productive work environment.
As you can imagine there are any number of these types of trainings and conferences happening nationally and internationally. The one I came across on Twitter is called Work, Stress and Health 2013: Protecting and Promoting Total Worker Health which will be taking place this May in Los Angeles. Maybe you can share the tip with the HR person with whom you may have a friendly connection. Details for this conference can be found at http://www.apa.org/wsh