Tribute to International Workers’ Day and addressing workplace bullying

Labour DayEvery year, May 1st every year International Workers’ Day (also known as May Day) is being celebrated in recognition of workers’ solidarity as they grapple with one form of work-place like low salaries to harassment and bullying.

As a way of reminiscensing that glorious moment, May 1 is a national holiday in more than eighty countries and celebrated unofficially in many other countries except in the United States and Canada where the official holiday for workers has been slated for in September.

Sierra Leone too was not left behind as the Sierra Leone Labour Congress (SLLC) joined their counterparts across the world to celebrate “Action now to ensure decent work and pay for all workers in Sierra Leone”.

As expected, the highlights of this year’s SLLC’s celebration were, among others, the recognition of the hard work workers have done in contributing to the building of the country, the demand for better working conditions, and to promote and protect the welfare of its members and society at large.

One area that is often neglected in the work place is addressing the psychological fitness of workers, the bullying tactics employed by employers and between and among workers themselves. It is against this backdrop that countries in the West have made an inextricable link between stress, most times emanating from the great expectations of employees and its attendant stress, and workers’ moral and productivity. Thus the establishment of the Employee Assistance Programme that will support workers and their families in addressing incidents of stress either from the work place or at home.

In Sierra Leone, one area that is being overlooked is bullying in the work place. This has led to acute stress thereby immensely contributing to low work morale.

By way of solidarising with workers across the world, especially colleagues in Sierra Leone, I hereby pay tribute to the International Labour Day by reproducing an article that was first published in the Canada-based online newspaper, “thepatrioticvanguard” on Sunday, 28 February, 2010. Please read below:

Addressing Workplace Bullying in Sierra Leone

Newspaper reports backed by UK-based National Bullying Helpline, Christine Pratt that British Prime Minister Gordon Brown swore at his staff, grabbed them by their apparels and sometimes shouted at them are making global headlines, more questions than answers of incidents of bully have been raised not only in the UK, but across the world at large.

In the West African state of Sierra Leone, a former British colony that endured one of the devastating brutal civil conflicts in post-independent Africa, some of the reasons for the initial outbreak of the war could be attributed to incidents of bullying and injustice across the board.

In recent times, Sierra Leone has been indicted with scandalous reports pointing to maltreatment between and among high schools and tertiary institutions of learning across the country. This is partly what provokes this piece as incidents of bullying have the potential to undermine the hard-won peace the country prides itself on as victims can be depressed, anti-social and often suicidal in intense situations.

Furthermore, the impacts bullying has on victims range from emotional effects of anxiety, uncertainty, low self-esteem, cognitive effects of one making mistakes, having accidents, behavioural effects, to physiological effects that often culminate in higher blood pressure which may lead to heart problems. In summary therefore, bullying, like stress generally, is an invisible disease that has a detrimental effect on the organization as a whole because people working in a climate of fear and resentment do not usually work at their best. It is even nauseating when bullying becomes political.

This is where I buy into the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary’s definition of a bully as “a person who uses their strength or power to frighten or hurt weaker people”. In spite of such unwelcome behaviour, perpetrators mostly use unwarranted or invalid criticism, nit-picking, fault-finding, coupled with exclusion, isolation, singling out and treating victims differently, shouting, humiliation, excessive monitoring, imposing verbal and written warnings, are among the several cheap tactics bullies employ.

Often used as a tactic by state functionaries like the Army, the Police, some unenlightened employers, bosses or some well-placed politician of some sort or the other, bullying whether due to impulsive or compulsive behaviour should be abhorred. This is because bullies would often go to great lengths to keep their perceived or real targets quiet through the use of tactics like threats of disciplinary action, dismissal, and gagging clauses.

The bottom line is that, while some managers wanted to be seen as “tough”, and despite the fascia they put up by bullying others, what they are oblivious of is the empirical fact that those who bully are hiding their inadequacies and incompetence, and are found to have very low self-confidence and low self-esteem, and thus feel insecure. They therefore become incensed with resentment, bitterness, hatred and anger, and often have wide-ranging prejudices and therefore find scapegoats on whom to unleash their anger.

Bullying becomes particularly dangerous when it assumes a political facet. This is so because it will not literary kill the performance of others without the least knowing that yelling, kicking and swearing, as Prime Minister Gordon Brown stands accused of, but will only expose one who bullies as a coward with a personality devoid of any intellectual reckoning.

What one who bullies, especially those wielding political power, for instance, may not know is the fact that bullying results in disillusionment, depression, and alienation. The question then, rhetorical it may be, is that why should the academically lazy and intellectually challenged boss use invectives like “you bastards, you lazy people, you good for nothing people, for example, on other people’s valued and respectable fathers, mothers, grandfathers and grandmothers, brothers and sisters just because of their privileged positions?

Bullies usually perpetuate their tactics by constantly unloading destructive criticism, with explanations and proof of achievement ridiculed, overruled, dismissed or ignored, or better still, the cheap bully never acknowledges the strengths and expertise of others. Rather, they subject their targets to fault-finding and trivialities like not crossing the “t”s, dotting the “i”s, “y”s and ‘z”s et al. At the same time, they will be-little degrade, demean, ridicule, patronize, and, above all, use disparaging remarks with no substantive and quantifiable evidence but to the self-serving the efficacy of the bully’s unreliable opinion to exert control over the “weak” out of paranoia.

While President Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma does not seem have a volcanic temper, like British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, according to political journalist, Andrew Rawnsley, as described in his new book, The End of the Party, it therefore becomes imperative for all stakeholders to engage him in curbing the silent disease of bulling in the workplace, especially among those occupying public office.

This clarion call is especially crucial because bullying in the workplace, and in the body-politic of our country for that matter, is one chronic disease that nobody wanted to diagnose for possible treatment. The challenge therefore is a two-pronged approach whereby victims of bully should rise up and shout, while the Government should put modalities in place that would encourage victims to complain.

This, undoubtedly, will be a litmus test for the Attitudinal and Behavioural Change project, the Human Rights Commission, and pro-human rights Non-Governmental Organizations to create a helpline where victims of bully could report incidents of bullying if only to reduce work-related stress breakdowns, deaths in service, ill-health retirements, and early retirements in a civil service that is already underpaid and ill-motivated.

This is very crucial for Sierra Leone, a country recuperating from a deadly conflict, and where issues of bullying and other abuses go with impunity knowing that the law is weak and jobs are scarce to come by.

With research contending that bullies are rapacious and opportunistic, and more than anything else, fear exposure of their inadequacies and incompetence; one’s presence, popularity and competence unknowingly and unwittingly usually fuel a quiet fear in them.


© 2013, Abdulai Bayraytay. All rights reserved. – The views expressed here are purely those of the author and not necessarily those of the publishers. – Newstime Africa content cannot be reproduced in any form – electronic or print – without prior consent of the Publishers. Copyright infringement will be pursued and perpetrators prosecuted.

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