Below is a list of themes we will cover in this resource. Each listed issue has its separate illustration, but you can also find more various undesirable behaviours scattered in other animations. The clips showing symptoms can also be combined to form a longer story, depending on your experience and imagination. Some clips show signs of individual bullying while some show situations when the group of colleagues is also negatively influenced or involved in group bullying. To label the event ‘bullying’, it must be a deliberate and repeated incident intended to harm somebody.
Watch little stories about work and take your time to reflect on the stories. Try to understand them and draw conclusions. We suggest some interpretations, but you can work out different answers based on your knowledge and personal experiences.
Have you encountered similar behaviour or a similar situation? Have you heard of situations like these? What would you do in such a situation? Let’s think about these questions and discuss them with friends or workmates.
‘You have no right to act like that.’ Picture 29
Communication such as: ‘You have no right to act like that’ is an example of an assertive response to unacceptable behaviour and such pictures can be used at interactive workshops.
‘Bad apples at work. The satirical view of three common types of problematic workers.’ Story 8
This movie humorously presents three frequent types of characters who are nightmares to companies. It is said that these three types of workers can undermine the workplace: they can spoil relationships, disrupt the fulfilment of duties and financially undercut a business. In the case of a slacker or a jerk, problems seem to be clear, while a depressive illustration is not so obvious and can cause controversy. Admittedly, depressed people may show a drop in functioning, yet they need to be treated carefully because they might need more help and support at the professional or private level. What’s more, in the case of bullying, we could deal with a vicious circle – the subject of bullying becomes depressed, weaker and might expose themselves to further trouble.
‘Watch your step.’ Story 33.
Although serious in the real world, it is portrayed with ‘one eye closed’. A newcomer is politely welcomed in the office. Yet, what starts with laughter ends in tears as he falls into a trap made by one of his crafty colleges. Whether it is a bad joke to show the newbie how it feels to work there or being overloaded with accumulated issues from the start, such an onboarding will not instil good memories.
‘Belittling a person's opinions.’ Story 7
A very short episode of downgrading a worker and the contempt for someone’s effort. This illustration shows a one-off situation face-to-face, but this is often one in a series of unfavourable and hostile behaviours in various contexts you can find in many little stories about work.
‘Constantly changing work guidelines.’ Story 18
It is not surprising that constantly changing plans and guidelines can handicap how smoothly duties are fulfilled or that everyday work can become impossible. A chaotic boss or colleague is always a nuisance, but this time it is done intentionally, though not openly or directly. By doing so, such people show disrespect to someone’s effort or completely waste they hard work and potential. At best, such a game with workers can confuse and stupefy them and erode their morale.
‘Assigning unreasonable duties and workload.’ Story 4
Another example of undesirable behaviour is assigning unreasonable duties or workloads, which are unfavourable to one person, and creates unnecessary pressure and force them. This clip tells the story about intentional action to oppress a selected worker who is disliked by a manager, while other workers are treated equally and fairly.
A different topic is the practise of assigning a heavy workload to most or all workers. It can stem from a certain, purposeful management style at a company, but it can be out of necessity, resulting from the company’s budgetary and financial problems.
An example of yet another cause of work overload can be seen in a story from this series, ’Dream of supervisor’.
‘The tricky game. Establishing impossible deadlines and a workload that sets someone up to fail.’ Story 9
Deliberate and planned actions to set up a worker for failure and incompetence. Preoccupied with his work or unaware of consequences, the worker tries to do their best to fulfil their role, then fall into a trap. It can happen under the guise of doing tasks and responsibilities. If a real workload is obscured and justified on the surface by busy time and the company’s urgent needs, colleagues can perceive the ineffectiveness and failure as a lack of skills and motivation. Allocating and delegating too many or too difficult tasks unskilfully by a manager can cause similar effects, though it is not intended to harm someone.
Other threads about setting worker up to fail by not providing advice, guidance, training or proper environment to help them succeed are shown in other little stories about work.
‘Tampering with a person's personal belongings or work equipment.’ Story 10:
Tampering with personal belongings, equipment and documents in the absence of their owners; unauthorised gathering of sensitive information and seeking uncomfortable anecdotes – these types of wrongful behaviour can be elements of bullying. It shows a lack of respect for someone’s privacy and intellectual property. The enemy is intent on sabotaging or destroying someone’s work or harming them as a person. Such a situation can also be adverse and dangerous to a company because the bully can make improper use of important and sensitive information. A related story is about stealing other people’s ideas and work to present them as their own.
‘An intrusive colleague – pestering, spying or stalking’ Story 15
When someone is meddlesome or obsessed with finding something on a colleague, it creates a situation that can be disturbing and harmful, like any other form of persecution. Disrespect for someone’s privacy and suspiciousness can even lead to a pseudo investigation. Uncomfortable facts, awkward news, weak and vulnerable points – all can be used to ridicule, compromise, blackmail the victim.
‘A bad joke. Making obviously offensive jokes.’ Story 16
Classic examples are laughing at, insulting remarks, offensive jokes and labels. This is much more than the playful and teasing conversation called banter; this attack is hurtful, derogatory and abusive for a victim. It can happen both on site and while working from home via technology like phone, email and team message apps. What’s worse – it’s contagious.
‘Bad relationship at work. Criticising a person persistently’ Story 24.
Constant criticism, picking up on trivial details, a lack of fundamental trust and ordinary aversion can create barriers in communication and drastically spoil the relationship between supervisor and subordinate. This results in negative stereotypes and makes a work atmosphere unbearable. The superior is so fierce and negative that his biases distort employee’s assessment and appraisal.
Permanent criticising a worker may be related to micromanaging, which can turn into bullying. It can be caused by many factors which bias a supervisor’s perception, e.g. a personal dislike, a tactic to eliminate unwanted employees, an inappropriate management style, perfectionism, the severe nature of an assessor, increased time or performance pressure, organisational culture.
'Removing areas of responsibility and taking away some tasks without good reason.' Story 6
Lower amounts of work are not always welcomed by and beneficial for employees. This is the opposite of being overloaded, but it does not mean that they are privileged. Unattractive jobs do not bring satisfaction and depriving an employee of more ambitious tasks leads to missed opportunities for professional development and ruin chances for other, better positions. Also, such underwork can create a feeling of uselessness.
‘Blocking application for promotion.’ Story 12
A short story about the killed chances for a better position. Here we have a worker who has received a positive assessment and performance ratings, and he has been chosen for a well-deserved promotion. His co-workers agree and they welcome the colleagues’ success with enthusiasm. At a crucial moment, his adversary appears and his underlying private antipathy and/or interest leads to a vile act that ruins the hero’s career. He diminishes the hero’s achievements and his voice has a significant impact on the final decision.
‘Blocking application for leave.’ Story 3
Someone’s plans and dreams can be buried with one adverse decision. If there is a possibility to grant leave and a decision-maker dismissively and unpleasantly rejects an application, it can be a symptom of bullying behaviour. Keep in mind that in certain justified circumstances, a manager has the right to disagree with or deny the request, e.g. during periods when an employee is in high demand at the company.
‘Blocking application for training.’ Story 11
This is a sign of unfair treatment when someone deliberately- tactically or maliciously- prevents a worker from needed training and other essential resources. This worsens the worker’s effectiveness and final appraisal and is not beneficial for the organisation too. This is yet another sign of bullying- blocking career success when an employee is deliberately denied available learning opportunities for their professional development.
‘Don't be like him! A little visual shock therapy.’ Story 25
Yelling, mocking, name-calling, threats of demotion and dismissal can happen in workplaces you would not think about. But yes, they can happen almost everywhere- ruthlessly, without restraint and regardless of the presence of third parties. This little story also shows the difficult, unpleasant, and distressful situations co-workers and clients can be placed in.
‘Spiralling out of control. Verbal abuse and physical threats.’ Story 31
This animated story focuses on the relationship between a problematic worker and his neutral superior and shows that unacceptable behaviour can also occur towards superiors and can involve open aggression and violence. This time, there is an argument between superior and subordinate, who does not want to concede and get angry. It may be caused by ongoing business difficulties or feedback on someone’s performance prompted by a worker not meeting requirements of their job. Finally, the heated discussion turns into threats and even gets physical.
‘A small dispute can cause a big row by spreading malicious rumours and imputations.’ Story1
Short cartoon on gossip culture and a quarrelsome means of resolving issues. A group of workers continually talk and spread rumours behind someone’s back, and finally, they unanimously accuse the victim. The origin of bullying is often caused by a spontaneous escalation of a small problem or tiny conflict.
‘Strange coincidences and mysterious fiasco’ Story 27
The parable of a mysterious fiasco outline how acts behind the scenes lead to the collapse of someone’s initiative. Bullying often takes place out of sight and in the corridors. Every day, everything seems to run normally, yet we can identify this issue through an unexpected twist of events, surprising decisions of bosses, and colleges' strange reactions. Co-workers witnessing these events are not necessarily unfriendly, but they feel that something wrong is happening, so they prefer to steer clear of the situation or they are helpless.
‘A man lost in the company. Withholding necessary information or purposefully giving the wrong information.’ Story 17
Information is power. Individual bullying or group blocking by a clique can take various forms: not passing on information about the company’s events and plans; cutting off access from vital guidelines on ongoing actions or deliberate misleading; an ordinary lack of help and support in clarifying details and sharing resources by better-informed staff. Finally, the responsibility falls on the excluded employee who ends up in the dead end, but poor cooperation affects the whole company.
‘Outsider – isolating and marginalising at work’ Story 2
Isolation and marginalisation at work can be at the professional and social levels. Apart from ignoring and not assigning tasks within the team, it can also entail social distance and even antipathy from a group of colleges. Many single incidents, when they happen together, may create a pattern of pushing someone out of the team. On the one hand, such a situation causes a sad feeling of alienation for a victim. On the other hand, colleagues can perceive an individual as a misfit having inappropriate personal qualities and skills like in a process of self-fulfilling prophecy. A notice of termination can also come from a worker seeking relief.
‘Change for the better gone bad – one of the organisational causes of bullying.’ Story 23
Introducing new ways of working is not welcomed by staff; they are not used to changes and are accustomed to old practices. The staff expresses dissatisfaction and resistance to this move, but responsibility for a lack of progress falls on the coordinator of the improvement. Poor communication between the levels of the organisation and insufficient insight by management creates a fertile ground for excuses and insinuation against the author of ‘the confusion’. It ends in a deadlock between disappointed management, the coordinator and hostile workers.
‘They are made to feel guilty for things that are not their fault.’ Story 32
A spiral of negative opinions spread in a fast and uncontrolled manner and focus on a marked person. We cannot tell from the information provided whether the problem is serious nor who should be blamed, but aggressive criticism and accusations cause the issue. It undercuts this person’s self-confidence and eventually the victim falls into self-blaming. The hero may also be upset because fair and proper clarification did not take place. If this is one in a series of unfavourable attacks, we can call it bullying.
‘Well, then you are cooked! Basic instincts in a business setting.’ Story 5
Basic instincts are triggered by some failure of the team, which seeks a scapegoat to close the case. A threat to the group and its members releases primal fears and survival instincts. From there, it is only one step towards stigmatising and punishing the one responsible. Participants of the bashing forget about the world and become so lost that it appears as a ritual trance.
‘The dream of a supervisor. Ambition, compliance and a bad attitude towards workers.’ Story 26
An ambitious manager is also entangled in the chain of command and reward system. His desire to fulfil bosses’ expectations, excessive critical attitude and a low opinion of his team leads him to perceive workers as not engaged enough or just lazy. He lowers the value of their work and then reorganise their work. Increased demands are miscalculated and cause difficulties and conflicts. This movie shows that issues can stem from and are linked between all levels of an organisation.
‘How high can you raise the bar?’ Story 22
Very difficult or unmanageable demands can cause stress and problems with proper, timely performance. Finally, it can end in mayhem, conflicts and accusations against one another, especially in a weakly connected and unprepared team. Sometimes managers raise the bar to motivate and challenge workers, but miscalculated or irrational goals can lead to opposite results. At best, it forms a generally stressful workplace in which employees must use additional skills and energy to cope with and do not prefer to participate in the long run.
‘Lynching at work’ Story 19
Uncritical compliance to commercial values, lack of soft skills to self-control and control others and lack of ethical sensitivity make an explosive combination. Non-performance, failure, stressful situations or crunch time can release the urge to mark someone as the weakest link and bash them in the act of herd behaviour. One may think that achieving business goals is of the utmost importance and the only way to survive in a competitive world, while for others, it is just hard work to be done. The problem occurs when you cross the border and commit bullying because someone does not conform perfectly to these hard rules.
‘Surprise in the cupboard’ Story 14
It is a well-known reminder of what might happen when the workplace falls into a state of neglect. Abandoned and forgotten by all. Was it bullying or karoshi? Isn’t it better to prevent such an ending than leaving it alone until someone uncovers the company’s secret?
‘Does an employee have a choice? Does an employer have a choice?’ Story 21
Work is already a treadmill and impersonal place, and on top of that, there is bullying! Of course, it affects both professional and private life. Leisure time is permeated with apathy and bleakness, giving no rest nor sufficient pleasure. In this case, a decent break from routine to regain peace of mind and recharge your batteries with positive energy seems to be a good solution and then make sure you continue to do things that make you feel good. But the employer also must act proactively and refresh workplace relationships. This movie shows possible and straightforward solutions to prevent the worst consequences: when things have gone too far and the company does not provide any means to resolve tensions many workers seriously think about quitting their job.
‘Does an employee have a choice? Does an employer have a choice? Version 2. This alternative scenario is a reminder about what just might be happening in your workplace and the possible consequences
A daily treadmill can become even more tiresome. Faceless working spaces may develop a sense of alienation and a hostile atmosphere at work only worsens this feeling. Unsurprisingly, it affects professional and private life. Leisure time permeated with apathy and bleakness gives no rest nor pleasure. In that case, a decent break from routine seems to be a good solution. But if things have gone too far and the company does not provide any means to resolve tensions, many workers decide to quit their jobs. All this makes a worker feel like they are in an invisible cage, so one’s only thought is to escape and polls show that this is a very frequent thought. Interestingly enough, specialists are of the opinion that changing jobs can be a rational choice. From the company side, bullying considerably heightens turnover, which is already problematic and costly for other reasons. Whether they stay or leave, it is good to change something proactively so as not to immerse oneself in negative thoughts, regain peace of mind and recharge batteries with positive energy.
‘At the end, a little bit of optimism. Positive mindset and persistence.’ Story 20
A quick reminder and positive story among rather gloomy illustrations. A professional failure can happen to everyone; even a small one can cause disheartenment and awaken unpleasant memories. Yet constructive thinking and proactive behaviour protect from draining and falling into constant worry and apathy. It is good to lean on the wisdom and concrete knowledge of solving problems to work out options and patiently pursue them step by step, even if it is an uphill task.