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Workplace bullies are the malignant Ganoderma Boninense rotting the roots of an organisation

Workbullies create an environment of hostility using intimidation, humiliation, and subjugation. Photo by Elisa Ventur - Unsplash

By: Ts. ChM. Dr. Kumuthini Chandrasekaram

As I walk through a busy ‘pasar malam’, the aroma of fried food beckons me while I admonish myself to have better control over my diet. The stall selling fried mushrooms in small cups magically crops up right before me, the piping hot dish calling my attention. My mind voice croons, that mushrooms are technically plant-based meaning they are, vegetables. The next minute I pocket the change and walk away munching my mushrooms, happily.

Ts. ChM. Dr. Kumuthini Chandrasekaram

Now, what mushrooms have anything to do with work bullies? Mushrooms come from a vast group of fungi families where there are the good, the bad and the ugly. Mushrooms such as oyster, shitake, button, portobello, and enoki are the common plateable ones but the fungi group also has a darker side. A very significant example relatable to us in Southeast Asia is the foreboding Ganoderma Boninense.

Ganoderma Boninense is a soil-borne fungus that causes the Basal Stem Rot (BSR) disease, which is the most destructive disease in oil palm, especially in Indonesia and Malaysia. This fungus siphons away the life of the affected palm tree by attacking the roots. The white rot fungus, within six months, can cause an oil palm plantation to suffer a significant 43% economic loss. Workplace bullies much like the white rot fungus, corrode the very structure of an organization and in a matter of time crumble the organization with their continued and extended toxicity.

Workplace bullying refers to repeated actions and practices that are directed against one or more workers, that are unwanted by the target, that may be carried out deliberately or unconsciously, but clearly cause humiliation, offence, and distress, and that may interfere with work performance and cause an unpleasant working environment. It has been a growing concern over the years but rarely makes the limelight due to victim stigmatization. In most cases, victims who stand up to the bullies are shamed, ridiculed, and subjugated to psychological evaluation.

A study in 2019 reports that contrary to the general perception, it is the work bullies who are in need of psychological evaluation. The article reports that work bullies score high on Dark Triad personality traits. The Dark Triad test is a set of questions used as a tool to determine the practice of socially aversive traits of narcissism, psychopathy, and Machiavellianism. The concept of Machiavellianism originates from a 16th-century Italian politician, Niccolo Machiavelli. Typically, the personality traits justify their act of fulfilling their personal agenda by any means possible including unethical behaviour, manipulative lies, low morality, hostility, and power abuse. While on the other hand, Honesty-Humility is one of the traditional personality traits in the HEXACO model and is known as the H-factor. Workbullies have a high tendency to exhibit low Honesty-Humility scores with a particular proclivity to be selfish, haughty, deceitful, and hypocritical with a deep sense of entitlement and superiority.

The consequences of workplace bullying are not isolated to the victims, the bullies who are left unchecked will subsequently bring ruin to the organization. Organizations with a pervasive bullying culture see higher turnover rates, lower productivity, increased healthcare costs, higher levels of absenteeism, lower levels of morale, a lack of trust in management and higher litigation costs. To put it simply, a workplace bully is never an asset but the worst form of liability to an organization.

Workbullies create an environment of hostility and toxicity using intimidation, humiliation, and subjugation.

Workbullies, much like Ganoderma Boninense, should be taken seriously and acted upon at the soonest. Though in the case of detrimental fungi, much work is in progress, the issue of work bullying is largely swept under the carpet. In most cases, the victims are subjugated into getting therapy while the perpetrators freely roam inflicting further damage. As much as a victim needs to stand up against the harassment, the organization too could come forward and take active initiatives to ensure a healthier working environment and organizational prosperity.

“We must stop signal-boosting bullies. Bullies are nefarious opportunists. They will exploit your cognitive and emotional biases and weaknesses. Do not allow them to do that.” – Ms Amy Cuddy, Author of Bullies, Bystanders and Braveheart.

The author is a Research Officer at Universiti Malaya, and may be reached at kumuthinic@um.edu.my

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