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Back in 2009, Associated Counsellors was interviewed by The Australian newspaper about a story on Female Bullying in the Workplace. At the time, there was a sense that bullying behaviour was a masculine affair – criticisms and put-downs, yelling, aggressive behaviour, even the odd punch up – but since that time, there has been much discussion about the propensity for females to engage in bullying behaviour.
The female workplace bully is, perhaps unsurprisingly, a different beast to her male counterpart. The female bully tends to be far more subtle about the process – they snub, they exclude, they gossip and proliferate nasty rumors. They keep secrets and withhold information. As The Australian put it, female workplace bullying is “bullying by stealth”.
Parents of girls often comment on how raising their pre-teen and teenaged daughters is difficult – girls are typically self-conscious, they hold onto grudges, they play favourites and they tell secrets. Let’s face it, girls can be bitchy. And so it’s perhaps no surprise that female bullies are as prevalent if not more so than men in the workplace environment.
Of course, the problem with the female bullying style is that it is difficult to pinpoint and even more difficult to evidence. This is because the female bully’s behaviour is typically sly and restrained – it is rarely obtrusive and therefore easy to hide.
But when it does exist, it is always emotionally damaging for the victim, and can be financially detrimental for the organisation that lets it happen. Of course, victims of bullying behaviour often find it difficult to admit – even to themselves – that the behaviour they are experiencing constitutes bullying – they shrug it off as a personality conflict, or they berate themselves for not being stronger and more resilient. In this way, the bullying continues unabated and the victim continues to suffer. Most commonly, victims of bullying become depressed, anxious, subject to panic attacks and develop extremely low self-esteem. It is therefore essential for victims of bullying behaviour to recognise and acknowledge their experience – they need to talk to their superiors at work and take steps to stop the bullying behaviour.
Victims may also need to work through the damaging impact of bullying behaviour by talking to a professional counsellor, who can help them to process the trauma and develop better resilience for the future. Bullies can also benefit from psychological treatment to help them understand the underlying causes of their behaviour and learn how to redirect their emotions into more effective patterns of relating.
Employers must be vigilant about recognising bullying behaviour in the workplace, and must take affirmative steps to stop bullies and aid victims.