Workplace Bullying and Eating Disorders: anything in common?

| April 2, 2013

With office bullying constantly under the microscope, organisational psychologist Leanne Faraday-Brash says it’s time to eradicate the culprits and create a culture of zero tolerance.

I have to confess. Undergraduate psychology at university for me feels like it happened a long time ago. Eating disorders as a subject within psychopathology was very new. But what of its incidence in the population?

We deduced there have probably been some isolated cases through the ages but the pressures of modern life, the obsession with ‘thin’, the global village that brings the Kardashians within a mouse click, have served to create a brutal phenomenon that leaves mostly young women and men ravaged by weight and body obsession. And while females are more likely to starve, binge and purge, males are more likely to overexercise and resort to mass-increasing medications.

And now to a parallel universe. More and more we are hearing about the incidence of bullying. Bullying-related grievances are rising sharply in every year. Children in the school ground utter words of hurt from a very young age effortlessly. Is there more of it or are we more attuned to it and move to diagnose it more readily? There is strong support for the idea than men and women tend to bully differently; men using physical power and intimidation; women more indirectly and passively aggressively, via rumour and innuendo.   

I do believe that the pressures of a modern world, a world of internet and pop culture, with busy parents trying to raise kids in a world where authority is being eroded and fame and attention are acquired in novel ways, have all contributed to the growing prevalence of eating disorders.

This is where the analogy diverges. I believe that bullying is less prevalent than before where employees in years past were sometimes expected to comply with the demands of dogmatic and overzealous managers who never feared recrimination. But our consciousness about its unlawfulness, the damage it causes to people, productivity and to brand, has never been higher.

We must do everything necessary to eradicate bullying at work. For me, this includes letting people go if they threaten safe and supportive culture – even if they’re the best sales people, the clients love them or they are regarded as leading authorities in their area of domain expertise. Just like eating disorders, those bullied at work are ravaged; starved of the nourishment they need and deserve to be happy.

There is plenty of room for mavericks at work, but not those who cause psychological mayhem. We get the culture we deserve. We get the behaviour we’re prepared to tolerate.

Leanne Faraday-Brash is an Organisational Psychologist, Executive Coach and Principal of Brash Consulting. She facilitates, consults and intervenes with individuals, teams and organisations from the dysfunctional and toxic right through the high performing and elite. She is a certified speaking professional (CSP), which is the highest international accreditation for speakers and has presented in the US, Asia, the Middle East and Europe. Leanne’s book Vulture Cultures: How to stop them ravaging your performance, profit, people and public image was released in Nov 2012 by Australian Academic Press.