How Bullying Operates in the Corrupt Workplace

- Wednesday, October 05, 2016


By Andrew Hedges

Wanting to belong
How does bullying operate in the corrupt workplace? If there is anything a new employee in a workplace does not want to feel is it’s being an outsider. Just as a new student in an established class at school wants to fit in and be a part of the peer group as quickly as possible, the same applies to when we join the workforce as adults. If the worker is seen as a troublemaker (let alone a whistle blower) and not accepting of the existing culture, particularly in relation to corruption, bullying can be introduced as a way to try to keep them in line.

When an employee speaks out against corruption or even says they will expose what is going on, bullying can make that person’s life extremely difficult. They may begin to not enjoy their job, they could also start to feel extremely uncomfortable, depressed or anxious, and even if they complain about the bullying to management it may be that very little change occurs.  This could lead to feelings of powerlessness and helplessness. Ultimately, the lack of support could mean they decide to resign or ask for a transfer. If a long-standing culture of corruption exists, once the whistle blower has gone, it could well mean a return to the status quo.

Hopes for change
Can investigations into bullying work? It is a complex area. While formal processes do exist to comply with existing laws involved for a formal investigation to take place, it can be difficult to proceed. How do you resolve the issue of the person making a bullying complaint having to potentially face the bully? There are ways of getting around it, such as involving an independent mediator to talk to both parties separately, giving both sides the chance to say what has been going on for them, though there is also the danger of “he says”, “she says”. More workers would need to backup each person’s version of events.

A practical way of breaking a bullying culture is to formulate a code of conduct which clearly states what is and is not acceptable in the workplace. If this code of conduct is established, getting both individuals to adhere to it may be a part of that more informal process. 

Halting real progress or change
So what happens if an individual in the workplace decides to address it? Although systems may exist to deal with such an issue, there are ways to block any real progress being made into fully dealing with the situation particularly if there is a desire to blank out any questions or probing.

The whistle blower may be transferred to another section or department, their job title, role or work given to them may suddenly change, they may be made redundant, their shifts changed or working hours diminished. To their colleagues, it may just seem like a case of bad luck or that the person is not performing or is somehow unpopular. Their co-workers may wonder what is going on but are too hesitant to discuss it in case they are perceived in the same light or feel worried they will be put in the spotlight and will suffer the consequences. Secrecy, sticking to the rules and silence may prevail.

When corruption has been raised and management become aware of it, the dysfunctional group members who support and assist each other in the unacceptable practices can join forces to present a united front and collude to present themselves as “honest Joes” with a false story, covering their tracks or making sure they all say the same thing.  This kind of conduct makes it very hard for management or workplace investigators to uncover what is really going on.

Employees can be scared of risking speaking up. This could be because they are concerned that their suggestions for change or a new way of doing things will be unfavourably viewed by their immediate boss or management.  The “agitator” may be viewed as not being helpful and their comments seen as disloyal or unfavourable to the boss or manager. The consequences of saying something could result in demotion or poor career prospects.  Various studies have found that employees being forced to keep their mouth shut can result in anxiety, depression, stress and poor performance and a lack of desire or motivation to be at work. Bullying in the corrupt workplace is hardly an optimal situation.

Download this FREE Whitepaper to know the signals to look for regarding corruption in the workplace and bullying.

Corruption and misconduct are often hard to detect without the assistance of employees. A well supported confidential hotline is an essential component of your risk management strategy. Research how our hotline service can assist. whistleblowerhotline.com.au

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