Employers have failed to help victims of workplace bullying - The Age, February 12, 2010
Targets are brainwashed into feeling powerless and paralysed.
MAGISTRATE Peter Lauritsen's ruling on the culpability of those responsible for the subtle and sadistic workplace bullying that led to Brodie Panlock's death in 2006 may reduce the acceptance of such behaviour in the workplace.
This is only a small indication of justice and the manner in which victims are further abused by adversarial employers and our insurance and medico-legal systems. Nevertheless, it is a sign things may be finally, although slowly, changing for the better.
But the most-asked question is why don't people just leave a toxic workplace. It's hard to understand how a victim can stay and become increasingly hurt.
Philip Zimbardo's famous prison experiment, conducted at Stanford University in 1971 with bright, normal university students, demonstrated that they had emotionally deteriorated to the point where after six days of abuse by their peers he ceased the experiment.
We know about learnt helplessness, where women stay because they have lost the confidence to leave abusive relationships.
We know that some parents keep their children at the same school for years, despite their child's constant complaints of being bullied. But why didn't this young woman leave the cafe?
Bullying occurs at any level in the workplace and studies show that one in five employees will experience it, more in some workplaces.
Strangely, most employers don't understand that employees who feel safe and respected work harder and achieve more.
The problem is that most employers don't truly educate their staff to identify bullying, provide systemic solutions to rectify the causes, develop interventions and empower victims to create ways to block bullying behaviours. Most policies are superficial, formed without adequate staff collaboration, regular monitoring, comprehensive training programs, meaningful consequences or conciliatory, restorative dispute-resolution processes.
Instead of identifying bullying as a sign of a toxic culture and managerial incompetence, many employers address a bullying case by attacking the confused, hurt victim, whose brain has already been scrambled by the abuse from co-workers.
Thus the victims face a gauntlet of hazards. Do they ever get flowers, balloons or caring phone calls from their employer when they are home, too injured to work? In most cases, victims are sabotaged by adversarial, aggressive or passive managers keen to avoid liability.
Many wait for promissory notes about employee safety and justice to materialise. While they wait for assistance, the bullying escalates like a slow-growing cancer.
Most don't understand that they are being bullied until they are injured.
Just like Humpty Dumpty or the terracotta warriors of Xian, they have fallen to pieces, curdled, disintegrated. Their spirit is broken, their good name trampled on; they have been humiliated in front of peers. Their fight/flight instinct is paralysed and they become stuck in time, obsessing over what is occurring but unable to take action.
According to Canadian psychologist Pat Ferris, brain scans will soon show the extent of their serious injuries. Unlike the victim of a hold-up, their injuries are often only validated when there is legal evidence of bullying, which is hard to prove when bullying is subtle or there are many minor acts, rather than by their medical and psychological symptoms.
Besides, the current state of research seriously restricts general practitioners and mental health professionals. Many can't distinguish between the biochemically different injuries of stress versus trauma.
There are no adequate evidence-based diagnoses and consequently no suitable treatments for victims of workplace bullying trauma. Few mental-health professionals know how to identify their symptoms. No wonder victims face a potpourri of diagnoses when they confront a medico-legal examination. Few have had training to deal with this crippling injury, leading some to blame victims for their personalities, without assessing work culture, management, bullies, employers and bystanders.
Worksafe and Medicare pay scant attention to the needs of this seriously injured group and the many years of treatment they require. Many caring mental-health professionals make big financial sacrifices to treat them.
Despite the excellent work being done by the National Centre Against Bullying and by many schools, the rates of school bullying have not fallen significantly.
So what hope do victims of workplace bullying have when they are unaware of the hazards facing them, their employers don't care, safety and legal justice is virtually impossible, mental-health professionals are under-resourced, bullying awareness programs are a farce and instead of restorative practices to deal with disputes, employers unleash a battery of adversarial tactics?
No wonder victims become brainwashed into feeling hopeless, powerless and paralysed.