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Bullying at work

"It is almost impossible to prove bullying at work," says LO-attorney Karl Inge Rotmo. While the employer has the burden of evidence that the physical work environment is in order and that there has been no discrimination, the victim must carry the burden of evidence in occurrences of non-physical bullying.

In my 10.2.2009 article in Vestlandsnytt "I was bullied", I pointed out that the victim does not necessarily know that it is being bullied. This is especially true for the work place. Alteration of the work environment to make someone uncomfortable is a way of making someone quit. It is, unfortunately, a common way simply because it is so hard to prove. Especially when the bullying is in the form of making the victim feel incompetent and worthless.

Bullying at the work place has many possible purposes: The bully's mental health, therein exaggerating other people's shortcomings in order to divert from one's own shortcomings. Squeezing someone out because of their success, which takes attention away from their boss. Squeezing someone out to make a vacancy for a friend or relative. At the end of the day, the bullying has a purpose, and it is therefore typically performed in a covert operation with subtle hard-to-prove alterations of the work environment.

Further, mental health is not seen as something very tangible. It does, however, have tangible ripples in terms of reduced productivity. If the mental health of someone who ends up quitting their job was the problem, then that one person quitting would be the end of the story. If you have a high turn over rate of employees, the problem is probably not the employee.

If you want to fight bullying at the work place, you have to look at root causes and prevent these causes from tainting the business. We know now that employees are motivated by autonomy, mastery and purpose. Bullying actually attacks at least one of these three (usually autonomy) and are therefore counter productive. The cure must therefore be to create a work environment that fosters these motivational factors. Not only is it productive, it also reduces the bully's need to bully.

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