A career as school bully


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May 24, 2005
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A career as school bully
If bullying is not curbed in childhood it is likely to continue into later life, says the new Children's Tsar. So once a bully, always a bully?

Bullying does not stop at the school gates. Two million people were bullied at work over the past six months, according to the TUC.

It is costing the economy £1.3m a year in sick leave, lost productivity and the price of recruiting new staff to replace those who quit.

A young bully is likely become a workplace bully if their behaviour is not tackled early on, according to England's first children's commissioner, Al Aynsley-Green.

"My first plea in my new post is for adults to look in the mirror before they start castigating children," he says. "Nobody will challenge an adult for bullying colleagues if they are successful in achieving their work targets, but the long-term pain for victims is incalculable.

"I want to see the treatment of bullying mainstreamed in schools so that by the time the children become adults, they know how to cope with it and defeat it."

Sticks and stones

So once a bully, always a bully? The close link between bullying and personality suggests this could be the case, says Dr Stephen Joseph, reader in health psychology at Warwick University.

"We do know that bullying behaviour is very much related to character and personality, which isn't expected to change that much over a lifetime," he says.

"Bullies have a personality profile that is high on anxiety and less empathetic. Victims are more introverted and neurotic."

Bullying is not learned behaviour - it is inherent in us all
Lyn Witheridge
Andrea Adams Trust

But he says personality is not a completely accurate predictor, the social context that a bully works in is also important.

"That is why we need policies on bullying in schools. They can make a difference."

What does change with age is the dynamics of bullying. At school it is easily defined: dinner money gets stolen, heads are pushed down toilets and the perpetrators can be easily identified. At work it's different. Culprits don't hang around the office gates.

"In childhood you see a range of bullying behaviours: physical, verbal, property damage and social manipulation," says Dr Joseph.

"In adulthood you don't see so much physical or verbal bullying as it is easily identifiable and could lose a person their job. It is much more about manipulation."

Driven by envy

The Andrea Adams Trust, a charity set up to combat workplace bullying, agrees that bullying at work and school are not the same and says the difference needs to be recognised.

"In school bullying is about weakness and at work it is about strength. Targets in the workplace are viewed as a threat and often have skills that the bully doesn't," says Lyn Witheridge, chief executive of the trust.

Everyone is capable of bullying or being bullied at any time in their lives, people don't just learn it at school, she says.

"Bullying is not learned behaviour, it is inherent in us all. It is about envy and we are all capable of it from cradle to grave. This is something policy makers need to understand.

"Some people do take behaviour from school into the workplace, but bullying at work is different. A good deal is overlooked or excused because of a number of euphemisms which are frequently used to justify bullying behaviour, like a personality clash."

Figures suggest that bullying at work is not far off the "epidemic" in schools highlighted by the Children's Commissioner.

"One in four people who go to work are victims of bullying," says Ms Witheridge. "It is too costly for employers to ignore, financially and emotionally."

But initiatives and money to combat bullying are nearly always aimed at schools while workplace harassment is overlooked, she says.

Human cost

Victims say the effects of bullying at work are just as devastating as at school, and as wide reaching.

"People suffer serious ill health and often families are disrupted or left financially crippled if the person ends up quitting their job," says Ashia Taylor, who was bullied at work.

"It is easy to say you have to stand up to a bully, but when you are so demoralised it is very hard. As an adult people tend to think you should be able to deal with bullying, but those who carry it out are clever and often very popular.

"I think tackling bullying behaviour at school does make a difference. But for every bully who changes their ways, another won't and will continue. That's why the huge problem of workplace harassment should be recognised."
In the 10 years since the Andrea Adams Trust started, it has been told of seven people who have committed suicide because of bullying at work. A statistic that can't be overlooked.

By Denise Winterman
BBC News Magazine

Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2005/11/16 11:16:30 GMT