Everyone has heard of the terms bullying and harassment where a number of them have experienced either or both of them. It is not unusual for individuals to consider bullying and harassment to be almost one and the same but there exist a difference between these two terms. While bullying refers to persistence of unwelcomed behavior mostly characterized as malicious, insulting, intimidating or offensive behavior used to injure, humiliate or denigrate the recipient, harassment on the other hand refers to unwanted actions that affect the dignity of individuals especially in the workplace (Keashly, Trott &MacLean 1994). Bullying usually incorporates discrimination on the basis of competence while harassment is usually connected with sex, prejudice as well as discrimination itself.
Every person deserves to be treated with respect and dignity in the workplace. Bullying and harassment are behaviors’ that have been observed to be quite common in workplace settings and should therefore not be tolerated (Roland & Christopher 2005). These two vices may be by a person against another or incorporate groups of individuals.
Bullying and harassment in the workplace are considered serious issues which require employers to be responsible for taking responsible steps in preventing such vice (Keashly, et al. 1994). Some of the actions that may constitute bullying in the workplace include ridiculing or demeaning an individual where they are picked on or set up to fail, victimisation, making threats or comments about job security without foundation as well as deliberate undermining of a competent employee by overloading and constant criticism (Needham 2003). On the other hand, harassment in the workplace mainly constitutes unwelcome sexual advances which may be in the form of standing too close, display of offensive materials or asking for sexual favours, spreading malicious lies and rumours or insulting an individual by behavior and word as well as unfair treatment (Roland & Christopher 2005).
As it has been observed, bullying and harassment need not take place face to face as they may tend to also occur in written communications, automatic supervision methods as well as through email (Lynda 2005). A number of people often question the causes or the reasons as to why bullying and harassment occur in the workplace. There are a number of reasons for instance lack of accountability, existence of a particular culture at work, presence of a rigid style of management by the senior employers as well as lack of proper procedure for resolving conflicts in the workplace (Needham 2003). It is therefore important for employers to be aware of the fact that these two vices can be detrimental to the health of their workers as well as potential legal implications associated with bullying and harassment in the workplace. Some of the effects and consequences of bullying and harassment in the workplace include, for the victims, panic attacks or impaired ability to make appropriate decisions, sleep disturbance or stress, low self-confidence and self-esteem, a sense of isolation, suicide tendencies, depression as well as reduced quality of home and family life (Keashly, et al. 1994).
Victims of bullying and harassment in the workplace who also happen to be workers of companies automatically lead to effects on the organization itself for instance there occurs more sick days, increased staff turnover, less enthusiasm and motivation to perform tasks well, increased costs related to training and recruitment, erosion of employee commitment and loyalty, damaged public image as well as reduced efficiency and production of the company (Roland & Christopher 2005). It is often difficult for employers to tell whether or not bullying and harassment is taking place in their organizations as these two vices tend to be rather subtle and difficult to define. Victims or those experiencing them are also fearful of being retaliated or ridiculed and may tend to exhibit anxiety about losing their jobs, escalating the situation or being demoted as a result (Needham 2003).
Employers should therefore recognize bullying and harassment and take the necessary preventive steps. Some of these steps include introduction of a no bullying and harassment policy in the workplace, ensuring that there are no inappropriate calendars, posters or other material in the workplace, defining what harassment and bullying means to one’s workplace and communicating this clearly to all employees as well as setting up training sessions using professional organizations with expertise in bullying and harassment prevention training (Keashly, et al. 1994). It is also important for the employers to ensure that the policy introduced covers all areas catered for by the anti-discrimination law and that it is linked to other grievance and disciplinary procedures in addition to any appraisal system for managers (Lynda 2005).
As earlier mentioned, bullying and harassment in the workplace can be quite detrimental to the safety as well as health of employees. Bullying and harassment can not only make one feel humiliated and anxious but also trigger feelings of frustration and anger at being unable to cope with or handle the present situation. It is therefore crucial for employers to increase employee understanding and awareness of personal bullying and harassment where they are in a position to recognize signs that might be taking place in the workplace as a result, for instance complaints and absenteeism. Employers have a legal duty of ensuring the safety as well as health of their workers in the workplace.