Bullying: Macro-Economic Ailmentsand a Tool of Destructive Leadership

Shirley Shivangulula

Workplace bullying receives ‘generous’ inattention in the world of work.

It remains intractable and malignant.

Institutional systems that exemplify robust ‘ethical standards’ are its transmission belt.

Its cultured tenancy in typical work conduct constitutes an architectural blueprint aimed at harming individuals to the point of abandoning labour market participation.

This alone generates macro-economic ailments such as unemployment, breeding generational poverty traps and transmission.

In the face of this, organisational justice for the average person all but remains mythical across interpersonal, informational, procedural, and distributive organs.

This is partly because organisations lack strategic willpower to combat workplace bullying.

The dearth of comprehensive national research on workplace bullying could be responsible for this strategic oversight.

Hence, the oblivious association of workplace bullying with workplace conflict.


Workplace bullying is a sophisticated construct related to, yet distinctly different from, workplace conflict.

It frequently ‘outsets with conflict’ and contains elements of harassment.

While conflict constitutes a ”controversy, disagreement or opposition” at a point in time as Frank Lorho and Ulrich Hilp articulate, bullying occurs constantly.

The effects are degrading and are manifested in a ‘series of different actions’ over a considerable period of time.

Some of these actions include social ostracism, victimisation, intimidation, sabotage, fallacious performance reportage, frivolous complaints and obstruction of training and developmental opportunities,

Writing on bully-prone industries, business journalist Dana Wilkie notes: “Bullying often occurs in workplace cultures where highly powerful people or those with high-profile jobs work alongside those with lower status.”


In academia, bullying is regarded as endemic. “It’s a silent epidemic”, says Gary Namie, co-founder and director of the Workplace Bullying Institute in the US.

Drawing on Ståle Einarsen’s narrative on “the nature, causes and consequences of bullying at work” in the Norwegian context, workplace bullying can be predatory or dispute-related.

Predatory bullying is a strategic tool in the hand of a prejudiced organisational leader determined to intimidate, oppress and persecute an employee for having done nothing “provocative justifying” the bullying behaviour.

Belonging to a minority group, holding a certain political affiliation, paying for the ‘sins’ of parents or family, being a “victim of scapegoating processes”, can be fertile ground for predatory bullying.

This signals destructive organisational leadership.

Dispute-related bullying stems from interpersonal conflict.

Interpersonal conflict is natural between two or more people on the job.

However, lengthy and frequent interpersonal conflict, underpinned by tactical aggressive behaviour, generates unfair treatment and reduces a target’s self-defence capability against bullying.

This is prevalent in organisational cultures that tacitly institutionalise workplace bullying as a leadership tool.

It is exactly this problem that triggers the involuntary departure of skilled members of workforces.

One of the most insidious byproducts of unemployment is institutionalised workplace bullying.


In response, anti-bullying legislation is starting to be put in place globally.

In the US, for example, New Jersey and Oklahoma, among others, are considering anti-bullying legislation, reporter Carolyn Said wrote in The San Francisco Chronicle.

New York and Washington, among others, “have introduced similar bills”.

In Europe, the Health and Safety Authority of Dublin (under the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act) introduced a “Code of Practice for employers and employees on the prevention and resolution of bullying at work”.

In Namibia, there is a dire need for bullying-specific legislation.

Risk assessments on workplace bullying and employer declarations that the workplace is bully-free should be mandatory.

Independent workplace ombuds offices are essential. Education or training for employers and employees is necessary.

No nation wants to build its economy with a wounded workforce.

  • * Shirley Shivangulula is an economic and industrial sociologist, and director of Workmanship Consultations Pty Ltd, a Namibian-based research institute on socio-economic research, and consultancy.

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