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Tuesday, June 7, 2016, 00:33

Stand up to the meanies

By Evelyn Yu

Workplace bullying may be more commonplace in HK than is usually imagined. Evelyn Yu finds out possible ways of dealing with such crisis situations.

Stand up to the meanies

All grown up now, the school bullies of days gone by wear suits and ties and work in offices. Their tactics have changed. They don’t punch, kick, or throw people to the floor, but they haven’t changed their ways. They still push other people into pits of despair. They are just more subtle.

Chow Wai, a 28-year-old insurance manager, recalled what she now describes as the worst three years of her life, when she was a sales assistant for a tobacco company where three coworkers ganged up to make her life like hell. She was new and the only one from the Chinese mainland working in the company.

Coworkers condemned her every mistake and when she did extra work, her coworkers took the credit. She was never invited to social gatherings. She was the only one not given souvenirs when the bullies handed out gifts one by one in the office. They told her she was trash. Rumors spread that her family had close ties with company management, and that she was given the job because of luxury gifts handed to bosses. When chatting online with friends and family, coworkers stood behind her, gleaning every snippet of information to turn against her, and then they went to the boss and complained about her online social networking in working time. The boss told her the job might not be suitable for her.

Close to tears, she worked all night preparing a report, backed by figures supporting that she handled 70 percent of the team’s workload. Chow could not identify any reason for the animus of her coworkers. Then she learned there had been other victims, who had come and gone before her.

There is no statutory definition of workplace bullying in Hong Kong. A wide body of researches back the view that it is a repeated, unreasonable behavior posing a risk to health and safety, directed toward coworkers, or a group of coworkers.

The Hong Kong Fire Services Department was shamed by a sexual assault scandal, when a victim was pinned by other fire fighters, some half naked, others in uniform, while the assailants were seen attempting to insert an object into the victim’s rectum. The offenders were fired, but only after a photograph of the incident appeared on the internet, setting off a public outrage.

Office bullying is more frequent than is commonly believed. About 53 percent of 509 people randomly polled in a survey conducted by Vital Employee Service Consultancy, an offshoot of the Christian Family Service Centre, said they had been victims of at least one type of workplace bullying. Verbal abuse, assignment to tasks no one wanted, and being shunned by colleagues are among the top complaints. Most of those viewed as bullies were people of superior stature in the workplace.

A survey revealed how some Hong Kong employees, who were not especially favored by their supervisors or their workmates, were assigned to sit at a workstation opposite the toilet; asked to buy things for those higher up the ladder; given new assignments just before the end of the work day; found themselves never receiving invitations to after-work social gatherings; become targets of innuendoes and rumors.

Victims share several traits in common, said Suen Lap-man, principal consultant for Vital Employee Service Consultancy. Employees who tend to be shy, awkward socially and in entry-level positions are the most likely victims. If they are overweight, disabled or physically awkward, they are more likely to be picked on as well.

Bullies themselves often prove to be below the average in their own emotional intelligence and tend to express themselves through uncontrolled outbursts. They see bullying as a way to increase personal power, Suen said.

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