Fear, Bullying and Our Growing Toxic Work Environments


Apr2012 208“I have experienced this fear myself and fully understand what people are saying when they talk about working with this element of fear hovering about each day.”

I have been compelled to write about this topic due to my concern around an ever growing number of people I come into contact with who are experiencing a level of fear in their jobs and who are working in toxic environments.

While we all accept that there is no absolute job security, most of us expect if we do our jobs well, that we should be able to work with a reasonable level of confidence in our jobs being there tomorrow. Yet it seems that this too has changed.  More and more people are going to work carrying this fear that they may not have a job the next day and it has nothing to do with their performance. Rather we are seeing that organisations are not upholding their values -particularly around their people. The bottom line overrides all else. While everyone appreciates organisations need to be profitable, and restructures and mergers are a part of business life, how this is being achieved and the cost to their employee’s emotional health and wellbeing is rarely factored in.

My concerns are supported by evidence in the form of recent research by Right Management in the USA that 65% of workers are not satisfied in their jobs. The same statistic was found by Open Universities in Australia that 65% of people are unsatisfied in their jobs. While the reasons for the lack of satisfaction will be varied, the one thing we cannot ignore is that the majority of organisations are not providing environments that people are happy to work in. Something certainly has to change.

I think most of us will agree that the vast majority of people go to work to do a good job. Most people seek out a role that will be satisfying and where they can experience the feeling of doing a good days work. Very few go to work to do a poor job.  We all just want to experience a sense of worth from our work. When people are not performing it is best to look at why. While there is a small element of people who are just lazy, most people’s work commitment and performance will deteriorate for all sorts of reasons such as fear in turn causing stress and anxiety making it hard to focus, personal reasons, lack of challenge in the role and no career progression and so on.

We are also seeing an increase in the number of bullying claims being made in Australia. ‘It appears that bullying behaviour is rife in Australian workplaces. A survey of 800 employees by Drake International found that half of the respondents had witnessed bullying and 25 percent had been bullied.’ Bullying and working in such environments is no doubt a contributing factor as to why people are not happy in their jobs.

Unfortunately when people are coming from a position of fear they can react in all sorts of ways. For some their behaviours may become bully like, which the growing statistic around bullying could be attributed to.  Bullying is a real issue as evidenced by a 2012 publication I have been reading called ‘Working with Mean Girls’ by Meredith Fuller. It’s a great book with the tagline of “Identifying and protecting yourself from workplace nastiness”.  A sad indictment on the current work environment really!

Clearly it is not healthy for employees to be working in environments where they are constantly fearful if they have a job the next day and are working with and around people who are not coping and displaying negative behaviours towards others.  It makes it very difficult to stay focussed, motivated and productive – let alone happy.

I have experienced this fear myself and fully understand what people are saying when they talk about working with this element of fear hovering about each day. Going to work and knowing while doing a good job, this may not be enough because at any point the role could be outsourced or made redundant based on a whim of someone above. Fortunately I have been lucky to date not to have had to work directly with nasty men or women.

So what am I expecting from this post.  Given the problem is a massive one I initially want to continue to raise awareness of what is going on. For those people who are experiencing this fear in their workplace – to let them know that you are not alone, it is a growing problem. It is not a sign of weakness or that you are doing anything wrong, rather it is a signal that there is a major problem within our organisations.

The other objective of this post is to signal to organisations to really start paying attention to the environments you are creating for your employees and the implications. While as said above we all appreciate that organisations need to make money and deliver shareholder returns, you have to question at what cost. How much fear and misery do you want to be causing your staff? Do you want to have a workforce where 65% of them are not happy to be there?

Please share your views and experiences on the topic.

Note: for information on bullying, visit www.bullying.com.au or go to Safe Work Australia where you can access information on workplace bullying and a guide on how to manage it.

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