Is bullying a big problem in IT?
Human Resources

Is bullying a big problem in IT?

Independent research from IDG Connect looks at bullying in the workplace… and how bad things really are in IT.

 

“It was quite insidious,” says Alex [false name]. “The odd comment here or there. And he’d work his way through the team. Then he started on me and I stood up to him… and it got really ugly. Really ugly - to the point where I went and got a lawyer.

“I am a really strong person,” continues Alex. “Anyone that knows me is just shocked by what went on. But he undermined me so much, it was this whole campaign. It got to the point where you think: am I imagining this is happening? It was very manipulative and subtle: complete psychological and mental bullying. It was awful. And it wasn’t [just] a mental health issue. It was a physical thing. One day I literally started haemorrhaging blood…”

It is at this point that the naysayers will often step in. If it is female being described she would be casually dismissed as “emotional” and most likely “always running to HR”. If it is a male, this it would be the moment to give a kind of appalled snort: clearly he should “man up” and learn to deal with “tough management”.

Yet throughout our conversation, it is plain to see that Alex is extremely bright and analytical; not overtly weak or emotional.  This is a firm, likeable and very self-possessed person. And still, although this happened five years ago, Alex is only starting to get over the experience now.

The latest research from the Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI), released in June 2017 [PDF] shows 19% of adult Americans “have suffered abusive conduct at work”. And Dr. Namie, Director of WBI and widely regarded as North America’s foremost authority on workplace bullying, has stressed that figures would have been far higher, if he was less stringent with the definition.

A huge part of the problem is that bullying is extremely hard to define. It can cover a raft of abusive behaviour, from obvious horribleness, such as shouting, hectoring and physical maltreatment. Right through to a devious spectrum of Machiavellian, psychological techniques, designed to break the victim from the inside. This can include too much work, too little work, ill-defined expectations, constantly changing the goal posts, along with the usual schoolyard fare of whispering in corners and making people feel worthless.

There is no overt legislation against it, and not only is it difficult to prove, it often takes the recipient a long time to realise it is really happening.  “I was paranoid. I had depression,” explains Alex. “It had a terrible effect on me. To the point where it made me question my sanity.” So, how bad is the situation in IT? Our study of 650 IT professionals attempts to find out.

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Kathryn Cave

Editor at IDG Connect

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