By Joanne Reid Rodrigues
MENTAL-health issues and musculoskeletal pain are the leading causes of absenteeism from work. And work-induced stress is a major part of the problem. Let’s remember that stress is the primary cause of musculoskeletal pain, especially back pain.
Most people diagnosed with work-induced stress aren’t complaining about their workload. It’s more often about people feeling disrespected, undervalued, and feeling like they’re treated as a commodity rather than a valuable member of a team. Sometimes there’s a dispute with a colleague or manager. And sometimes there’s bullying involved.
When people feel they’re walking into a lion’s den, or a snake pit, instead of a thriving workplace, stress levels rise while morale plummets. There’s no way in the world that the employer will get the best out of their team’s talent.
Bullying is psychological violence. This abuse can damage and destroy a person’s health. Common consequences include impaired immunology resulting in respiratory infections, colds and flu, hypertension and cardiovascular disease, IBS, gastrointestinal disorders and sleep problems.
Bullying causes anxiety, stress, depression and, in some cases, PTSD, mental breakdowns and suicide. This behaviour has profound adverse effects on families and children. It changes the personality of the victim, and it can damage their home environment where they raise their children.
In Jersey, we have a mental-health emergency. We also have one of the highest alcohol consumption rates per capita in Europe. Work-induced stress is a contributing factor.
From the playground to social media, to the boardroom, what is it that makes bullies behave as they do? In a nutshell: Fear.
Bullies might think of themselves as powerful, but the opposite is true. When an animal is cornered, it strikes. When the bully strikes, they’re expressing their anxieties.
The bully identifies a quality in their target that triggers their own feelings of inadequacy. They feel threatened. They might fear the person is too popular, too clever, too gorgeous, too talented, or just too darn happy. In the workplace, if a worker has too much initiative, the bully shuts them down.
It’s always the bully who fears the victim. Not the other way around. And this is a critical teaching. The bully is not powerful; they are weak. Happy, confident people would never bully others. We lift others up every day, except, of course, if we’re dealing with a bully. And we never have a problem apologising when we get it wrong. We all get it wrong from time to time. An immediate apology from the heart, in such circumstances, is a sign of strength and authenticity.
In today’s tick-box society, in many large organisations we have another type of crisis: Too many managers. Nepotism and cronyism often mean people occupy positions of authority without the appropriate experience or qualifications. This is exactly the type of scenario that has a so-called ‘manager’ terrified of being exposed as an imposter. Instead of organising the team tasks and leading their team, such individuals use their managerial position simply to control and dominate others.
A manager should have well-developed interpersonal skills. Naturally there are times when a manager might have to discipline a member of staff who’s blatantly unruly. But in general, a good manager is there to co-ordinate and oversee the smooth running of the department and ensure team tasks are completed to deadlines. When an unqualified person takes the position and treats people like ants, creating division in the team, it’s a disaster.
An experienced manager loves to see a member of their team showing initiative. But an unqualified bullying boss can feel threatened by an employee who exudes confidence and who demonstrates being able to work without a manager. And so, they might degrade that team member in front of colleagues, or ignore them entirely, or raise their voice at them and use intimidating body language. They’ll do whatever they can to do to dim their light. In some cases, even make false accusations to frighten and damage a person’s reputation.
In the workplace, a bullying manager is often one who can’t manage their own bad habits. They desire more self-control, but lacking emotional intelligence and self-discipline, they often vent their frustrations by controlling others. This gives them an illusion of being in control. But we can’t grow taller by cutting off other people’s heads.
Respect isn’t something we can write about in a brochure or on a website and expect it just to happen. Slogans on posters are catchy, but they’re all too often just a sugar coating on a bitter pill. Like greenwashing, it’s easy to exaggerate a company’s stance on respect. Zero tolerance? Words without action are empty. Words while the opposite action is happening on a daily basis are nothing but lies.
We have a duty to stand up to bullies in the workplace, and wherever else we might encounter them. And those who stand up for others who are being bullied show tremendous strength of character. Supporting someone who is the target of a bully can save their life.
Individuals thrive when they feel like a valuable part of a team. When managers are appointed because of their people skills and qualifications rather than because they’re a pal of a pal, teams can flourish.
The best leaders in politics, in business, and in every sector of life are those who genuinely want to serve, not dominate others.
But the reality is that some people are just nasty. Bullies often act in a devious way. In this life, we have to strengthen ourselves and never allow anyone to diminish our life force, or our personality.
People who are angry or deceitful are fighting an inner battle of their own. Yogi Bhajan put it beautifully: ‘If you are willing to look at another person’s behaviour toward you as a reflection of the state of their relationship with themselves, rather than a statement about your value as a person, then you will, over a period of time, cease to react at all.’ Allow no one to determine your worth.
Joanne Reid Rodrigues is the founder of Slimming Together and the creator of The Authentic Confidence Course. She is an author and therapist in nutrition and cognitive behavioural therapy. Joanne can be contacted at JoanneRR.com