I know it doesn’t sound right, something is off, “workplace bullying.” You mean people get bullied in workplaces? Workplace bullying is verbal, physical, social or psychological abuse by your employer, supervisor, colleague or group of people at work. It can happen in any type of workplace, from offices, restaurants, workshops, or government organisations. In workplaces, it’s often bullying that takes place in private without witnesses and targets are easily victimized. In most cases, the bullies tend to be supervisors often operating with the rules and policies of an organisation.

Annie looked forward to working in a particular prestigious government department. So, when she saw an advert for a vacancy in a government department, she didn’t hesitate to apply. The role profile fit her perfectly and she had the necessary qualifications. She was not surprised to receive a call for interviews and scooped the position. Her first day in the new job, she couldn’t help but feel there was a weird look she was getting from her supervisor. She figured it would wear off and that maybe it was anxiety seeing it was her first few days at work.

Months passed and she still felt awkward when walking out of the supervisor’s office. It gave her a feeling as if she was walking on a stage of a runaway with all eyes on her. She couldn’t help but feel her supervisor stare from toe to head and head to toe. Annie was now confidently settled in her position, but her supervisor never gave her feedback. She never got to see her final works even after submitting drafts but once in a while, she would come across reports which she could recognise as her work. She loved the prestige her new organisation came with, but the atmosphere was off and unconducive for her mental health. The sigh of relief whenever she knocked off was beyond comprehension. The only best days at work was when her supervisor was out of the country, something that happened so often. The unfortunate part was her supervisor never informed her of when she would be out of office and all she would see was the acting supervisor come to take up the office. She thought this was the norm in that department but later came to learn that other staff in other units knew about the travel itineraries so she made sure she made friends with the officers who looped her in whenever there was a trip.

The deadlines Annie received from her supervisor felt like straight from hell, she was always given assignments close to 5pm which were due the next day morning. Working late due to these late assignments became the new norm. And the funny thing was whenever the supervisor came back from the foreign trips, she would be handing over little gifts to all other members of the department and Annie was the only one who wouldn’t receive anything. At first, it hurt her but she kind of got used to seeing her friends receiving little goodies. At times she thought maybe her supervisor didn’t know she was a Christian hence her hiding travel and flight details so she ended up bringing a bible to work on a visible space on her table so that her supervisor could easily see it. She figured her supervisor maybe suspected she could bring bad luck to her booked flight or something, sounds silly but these thoughts crossed her mind.

The worst days were on days when her supervisor woke up on her “left side” and didn’t speak to her the whole day until at 5pm just before assigning her urgent work due the next morning. Annie actually begun to look forward to her supervisor travelling out which luckily was often. It reached a point where she begun to wonder when her supervisor would retire and looked forward to that day when she learnt her supervisor only had two more years before retirement age.

The worst experience for Annie was when her supervisor poked her on her forehead. On this day, she accidently sent an email to a client with an unsigned letter. This was due to the fact that she had worked late the previous day up to 9PM, caught a bout of diarrhoea in the night, hardly slept but still reported for work knowing her boss did not condone mother’s days on Mondays, Tuesdays or Fridays. When she was poked, it was a turning point for her, she couldn’t believe what just happened, she walked to the bathroom and broke down as if someone had died because she spent a good one hour locked up crying in the bathroom, she didn’t even bother to disinfect the bathroom seat as she sat on it forgetting it was a public room and that there was an outbreak of cholera going round.

If you witness bullying in the workplace, let Human Resources know of it. To Human Resource officers, take reports of bullying seriously and investigate it promptly. To individuals who are facing bullying in workplaces, don’t keep it to yourself, share with someone who can be of help. It might be embarrassing to tell fellow workmates that you feel bullied but believe you me, talking helps and you might just find a colleague who has experienced it. Inform reliable elderly family members who can offer moral support, seek help from Human Resources, speak to your pastor, church elder, priest or see a professional counsellor.

About the author

Aka Monde, is a licensed Professional Counsellor who holds a Master of Science in Counselling from the University of Zambia. She believes in the adage “a problem shared, is a problem half solved.” Speak to your pastor, church elder, elderly family member or see a professional counsellor when in need.

Email: [email protected]