The Twisted Tale of Corporate Bullying

It is clear that we cannot address the issue of Gender Parity without addressing all its ugly rearing heads, like Corporate Bullying, which defuse all the effort being applied on inclusion.


Written by: Phumza Dyani


Del på TwitterDel på FacebookDel på TwitterDel på Twitter
Phumza Dyani

The whole world has now taken a stand and agree on the need for addressing Gender Parity as stipulated in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. Sustainable Development Goal 5 speaks to Gender Parity, raising a myriad of goals including, among others:

  • Ending all forms of discrimination;
  • Eliminating violence against women
  • Eliminating harmful practices.

Revolving-door phenomenon

While there seems to be evident and reported effort by corporates to attract talent into the spaces and industries, certain cultural norms which have been permitted perpetuate the ‘revolving door’ phenomenon of women coming in but not staying in these corporate roles. Corporate Bullying is real and needs to be tackled in all its ugliness.

This is a phenomenon that is often under-dressed, often guised under elegant titles like “workplace incivility” and not spoken about. Victims are often left to deal with this in their corners and whilst there are witnesses to this kind of behavior, it is kept under wraps. Whilst bullying is not gender specific, women tend to be mostly affected as a representation of the most vulnerable group of society.

Just what is Corporate Bullying?

According to Dr. Carroll M. Brodsky in The Harassed Worker, workplace bullying refers to “Repeated and persistent attempts by one person to torment, wear down, frustrate or get a reaction from another or others.” Dr. Dorothy Suskind PhD, a renowned speaker on this topic, states that, “Workplace bullying begins like a blister, small, and undetected. Over time, however, it can render targets immobile, fully engrossed in pain, and completely surprised by what transpired.”

Work-place bullying

According to a research paper published by Research Gate, Nightmares, Demons, and Slaves—Exploring Metaphors of Workplace Bullying, based on qualitative data gathered from focus groups, narrative interviews, and target drawings, the analysis describes how bullying can feel like a battle, water torture, nightmare, or noxious substance. Abused workers frame bullies as narcissistic dictators, two-faced actors, and devil figures. Employees targeted with workplace bullying liken themselves to vulnerable children, slaves, prisoners, animals, and heartbroken lovers.

Employees live in fear and tend to be disengaged in order to protect their feelings.

My question is: If corporate companies intend to display optimal performance and are driven by the values on the walls, why would Workplace Bullying be permitted?

My own Bullying experience

Let me tell you about my encounter with a guy I will call Melvin at one of the Top Professional Service organisation I worked. This was the second Professional Services company I had worked for in my life (also part of the Top 4) and I had never experienced this ever. My new colleague, Melvin was a Harvard graduate and held in very high esteem within the organisation. I was an experienced professional and had just joined the organisation from an external organisation. Melvin was important to the organisation and was renowned for having won a few accolades and critical business.

I had heard about Melvin’s rather erratic behaviour but was not necessarily bothered because in my head, he was attacking people who did not know what they were doing. Needless to say, I was assigned to Melvin’s team for an amazing project in the pharmaceutical space. We joined the team with a few other women and were excited by the new prospects.

Within a few days of joining the team, we would feel the sting of Melvin’s poison. We had to, individually, present portions of the research on the document. He tore all of us apart, separately so. This was Melvin in action, in public, he upheld perfect standards and was almost likeable. However, behind closed doors, he presented a monster that berated people apart. He tore all of us, secretly and the manner in which he did it was absolutely ludicrous. This behaviour continued and we would later report this to our superiors, who in turn, directed us to Human Resources.

This behaviour continued and in several following instances, he would isolate the victims and tear them apart with vile words that he knew there would be no consequences for. We would, eventually, all request to be moved from Melvin’s team except for the few other team members who continued. Most of whom we saw with red eyes on the passages. The common joke in the corridors was that we all needed a Melvin Recovery Group.

Corporate dealing with bullying

What was shocking with Melvin is that his behaviour was a known factor. Those who stayed eventually resigned and HR had numerous reports on him, but nothing was done about it. The highest levels of the leadership team was aware of his bullying. At some point, I became vocal about it. When they noticed that I was, I was asked to lead the Transformation team.

This is the fallacy of many Corporate companies: I was meant to sacrifice myself to deal with a problem they could not deal with. Secondly, it reduced the situation to being my problem and Melvin. The third part is that it absolved them from dealing with the issue and they could point to a structure that is meant to be dealing with the problem. Lastly, no one wanted to face Melvin head on, so I was meant to take on this stress that everyone was running away from. I graciously let them down.

Melvin would stay another two years and make it to Partner in the organisation before eventually leaving under strange circumstances. Melvin is but one of many examples of Corporate bullying, many of which were also dealt with in the same manner.

According to the research report, The Contagion of Incivility by TG Consultancy, bullying led to the following in employees:

  • 47% intentionally decreased the time spent at work
  • 80% lost work time worrying about the incident
  • 66% said their performance declined
  • 78% said their commitment to the organization declined
  • 25% admitted to taking their frustration out on customers

Our Expectations

As a leader, you might want to observe and pay attention to the bullies in your organization. Those bullies may be part of the reason employees are disillusioned with their prospects of finding meaning or purpose in their place of work. Bullying often-times has a propensity to develop into physical harm. In a workplace, it can transition to matters like restricting access to resources, information which is important in facilitating employee production, as well setting up traps for the employee to fail.

Corporates have the resources needed to address this. Protection of employees should be a prerogative of the leadership, as no employee willingly lifts up their hand to be a candidate for bullying.

Bullying, on the other hand, is not as pretty and camouflaged. It needs to be dealt with in all its ugliness.

Call for Action

As a call for action, we need to remove the shame around bullying and talk more about it. Corporate can run Awareness Workshops in order to help and create a safe environment for employees to talk and deal with it. The strange thing is, recently, there has been a wave of bringing awareness to unconscious bias. Perhaps ‘unconcsious bias’ provides an escape in saying I was not conscious about it. Bullying, on the other hand, is not as pretty and camouflaged. It needs to be dealt with in all its ugliness.

Secondly, victims and former victims need to make something of their experiences through talking, teaching and vocalising these experiences. It is also important to join support groups and movements that are working to enact protective workplace legislation, and adopt strict anti-bullying policies in order to retain top performers and cultivate work environments. •