The many faces of harassment

Psychological harassment may occur at all levels of the organizational hierarchy. It may manifest itself between work colleagues; individuals in a position of authority may harass subordinates or vice-versa. The harassment situation may involve individuals or a group. The presumed harasser may also come from outside the enterprise. In this case, the harasser may be a customer, a user, a supplier or a visitor.

In addition to the individuals directly involved in the harassment situation, there are the witnesses. The role that witnesses of a psychological harassment situation play in maintaining or ending this behaviour is important. Indeed, collectively, they can contribute to ending or perpetuating the climate of fear and silence that is closely linked to a harassment situation. When it becomes necessary to intervene, the giving of their versions of the facts can make a significant difference between aggravating and putting a stop to the situation.


Insidious behaviours

The behaviours involved in psychological harassment are multiple, insidious and usually associated with underlying aggression.

Harassment may take many forms such as:

  • preventing a person from expressing himself – constantly interrupting him, preventing him from speaking with others
  • isolating the person – no longer speaking to him in public, no longer speaking to him at all, denying his presence, leaving him out, depriving him of means of communication (telephone, computer, mail, etc.), preventing others from speaking to him
  • discrediting the person – spreading rumors about him, ridiculing him, humiliating him, calling into question his convictions or his private life, insulting him or harassing him sexually
  • belittling the person – no longer assigning him tasks to perform, forcing him to perform tasks that are demeaning, absurd, or below his abilities, causing him to fail, blaming him for professional errors, denigrating him in front of others
  • threatening, assaulting the person – yelling at him, shoving him, damaging his property
  • destabilizing the person: making fun of his convictions, his tastes, his political choices, his weak points; making disagreeable allusions without ever explaining them; calling into question his judgment and his decision-making abilities.

The many faces of psychological harassment at work
Psychological harassment may occur at all levels of the hierarchy: between colleagues, by superiors against subordinates or vice-versa. Both individuals and groups may be concerned. The harasser may also be outside the enterprise. It may be a customer, a user, a supplier or a visitor.

Witnesses also play a role in a psychological harassment situation. Collectively, they may contribute to ending or maintaining the climate of fear and silence that is closely linked to harassment. By giving their version of the facts, they can prevent the conflict from escalating and help put a stop to it.


Consequences of psychological harassment on individuals

The consequences of psychological harassment on individuals are numerous and insidious. They are often denied or trivialized. The person being harassed is not the only person who must cope with the consequences. His friends and family suffer, as do the persons who witness the situation.

All of the people affected go through a range of feelings and emotions. Without an appropriate  intervention in the workplace, the consequences of psychological harassment can degenerate to the point of causing the individuals in question:

  • physical or psychological health problems, such as anxiety, difficulty adapting, depression, post-traumatic stress, suicide
  • dependencies such as alcoholism or drug abuse
  • professional difficulties, even a job loss
  • major financial losses
  • family or conjugal difficulties
  • absences and even disabilities.

Consequences of psychological harassment on enterprises

For the enterprise, the consequences entail: