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Dealing with bullying in the office

Bullying tends to be ignored rather than confronted.
By Wilma V. Lacaba |
Dealing with bullying in the office

Aubrey (not her real name) is in her late 20s and works in a supervisory capacity in one of the country’s top call centers. She resents the female operations manager in her unit for being a nitpicking faultfinder who makes life hell for many subordinates. Early this year, for instance, she witnessed how the woman—who was their team leader then—slapped down so hard on the head of a male agent wearing a baseball cap that she nearly gave him a whiplash injury, then just walked away as though nothing had happened. “Most people at work hate her guts,” she says. “She’s a bully in every sense of the word.”

The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS), a publicly funded UK-based group working to foster better employment relations, defines bullying as “offensive, intimidating, malicious or insulting behavior; an abuse or misuse of power through means intended to undermine, humiliate, denigrate or injure the recipient.” It occurs when the conduct in question is “unacceptable by reasonable normal standards and is disadvantageous or unwelcome to the person or people subjected to it or witnessing it.”

According to Loree Cruz-Mante, book author and part-time career counselor with the transitions firm DBM Philippines, bullying goes by a broader name in the local workplace: “harassment” (indeed, the two labels are often used interchangeably). She says that in offices, in particular, bullying takes such subtler forms as snooping or spying on co-workers, excluding certain persons from group activities, spreading malicious rumors, forwarding private messages without the sender’s permission, withholding information meant to be otherwise communicated, and embarrassing subordinates openly.

In the Philippines, though, this type of behavior—whether it takes place in a factory or a boardroom—tends to be ignored rather than confronted. Observes Ric Abadesco, vice-president of the People Management Association of the Philippines (PMAP), a non-profit organization of professionals involved in human resource management and industrial relations founded in 1956: “Take, for example, the telling of off-color jokes during breaks, or maybe the teasing of someone about her Visayan accent, or calling someone ’Duling’ [cross eyed] or ’Negro’ [Nigger]. Most of the time, it’s tolerated, even encouraged, although it could be quite an aggravation to some people.”

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Perhaps it’s culture-related, but Filipinos seem to be impervious even to issues that are serious enough to cause the filing of court suits elsewhere in the world. As a case in point, violations of the Anti-sexual Harassment Act of 1995 continue to be committed despite strides achieved by the local feminist movement in raising consciousness about rights of women. Stories make the rounds, for instance, about male team leaders at call centers using their clout to extract sexual favors from their young female subordinates.


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