October 25th, 2013
Fifth of Five Freedoms for Freedom from Workplace Bullies Week
#5: Freedom from Fear
Fear is the dominant emotional identifier in workplaces where bullying has struck. Bullies engineered it that way. When the targeted person is paralyzed by fear, there can be no counter-aggression, no blinding retort that would neutralize the perpetrator. Similarly, fearful coworker-witnesses will not rise up to defend their bullied colleague.
Fear takes many forms:
- Fear to confront swiftly & immediately is mainly felt by witnesses. Of course, deciding to take no action is based on a skewed internal calculus. We irrationally imagine worst case scenarios, magnifying relatively small risks into large ones. Clinicians call it “catastrophizing.” The worry: “if I intervene, I will be slain, figuratively.” That’s an imagined risk and not likely to happen. In fact, everyone suffers more when the bully is allowed to pursue her or his aggression without being stopped by witnesses who have the numerical power to overcome a lone perpetrator. In other words, the failure to stop the bullying poses a real risk to the entire workplace worse than the imagined one. However, the self-generated rationale for coworker inaction is fear of being the next target, of being persecuted for defending the target, of being the only one of the entire team to act, of botching an intervention attempt, or of getting involved in what could be construed as a private battle between two workers.
• For targets, shock from being told they are incompetent overwhelms both coping and decision-making skills. Rational thought becomes almost impossible. The magnitude of the lie is so stunning and incredulous, personal shame and guilt are the most probable initial emotions. After the first assaults, targets fall into a pattern of anxious anticipation of each encounter.
• Long-term harm to witnesses includes clinical depression (yes, just from witnessing bullying) and guilt over not defending a friend.
• No one suffers as much as targets, the direct recipients of abuse. Long-term damage to targets is from anxiety that strengthens when employers block separation from bullies. Anxiety and fear activate the human stress response. Targets are trapped. As exposure to the stressor of workplace bullying extends weeks into months and months into years, health harm worsens. Our biological reaction to stressors is supposed to be brief to minimize harm. Stress-related diseases, from unremitting incidents, affect entire systems — cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, immunological, chronic kidney disease, rheumatological, cortical volume in memory & decision making brain areas, and disruption of DNA replication that accelerates aging. These diseases can kill.
• As bullying continues unabated by inept institutional representatives, targets’ emotional injuries grow more severe. 80% experience debilitating anxiety, 50% suffer panic attacks, 49% are diagnosed with clinical depression, 66% have trauma-like states of agitation and anger, and 83% experience acute apprehension of the next negative act. This is a compromised life, of always walking on eggshells in light of impending danger.
• Stressors responsible for all of the ill effects for those unfortunately targeted include: tactical threats to job security, sabotage of work, verbal threats to personal safety, attempts by perpetrators to redefine one’s self-definition and self-image, intimidating interpersonal behavior, humiliating actions designed to instill a sense of shame or worthlessness. Remarkably, ALL of these actions are preventable! None make a positive contribution to any workplace. Despite the claim that fear is a useful motivator, in the long-run it fosters disloyalty and resentment. Only unskilled managers routinely rely on fear.
In a sense, the desire to establish fear in the hearts of targeted workers underlies the robbery of the other principal workplace Freedoms — Social Affiliation, Dignity, Credibility, and Innocence.
Sadly, perpetrators of targets’ fear are perhaps very fearful themselves. They are mortified of revelations of their personal weaknesses. Some are technically incompetent. Some have only their record of butt-kissing to protect them from termination. Some are socially inept, lacking emotional intelligence. Some are so narcissistic or mean (antisocial), they know their glowing reputation is a farce if the truth ever be found. In some way, all bullies are imposters, with a fictitious public persona masking a darker abhorrent self hiding in the shadows.
It is important we make helping individuals exploited by the imposters our top priority. Let’s drive out fear within our organizations on behalf of the victimized.
To Affiliate with Friends | Dignity at Work | To be Believed | To be Innocent | From Fear
This entry was posted on Friday, October 25th, 2013 at 4:00 am and is filed under Freedom Week, WBI Education. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.