Monday, June 7, 2010

Snake in a Suit? Workplace Bullying in India

While watching Rocket Singh (Ranbir Kapoor is emerging as one of the best actors of his generation) last night, I felt very sorry about the bullying he undergoes at his workplace. 

Reflecting upon that later I realized that work place bullying is actually very rampant in India. 

Countries abroad like US, Australia, Canada & UK have very stringent laws to curb this abuse and it is legally punishable. Not so in India. This bullying has been recently captured in movies like Rocket Singh and to some extent in Karthik calling Karthik. 

A workplace bully is the same as your school bully but these adult bullies are actually psychopaths. A recent study showed that 3 personality disorders were most common amongst all bullying bosses: 

The study described the business people as successful psychopaths and the criminals as unsuccessful psychopaths

The workplace bully generally adopts the following tactics:
  • Unfair treatment
  • Public humiliation(s)
  • Regularly threats of dismissal
  • Any form of undermining behavior
  • Taking credit for work that another has done
  • Unfairly passed over for promotion or denied training opportunities
  • Being quick to criticize and slow to praise
  • Character assassination
  • Spreading malicious rumors
  • Smear campaigns
  • Social ostracism

Working with such a boss keeps you in a state of psychological emergency. And add to it the rage you feel towards the bully and a sense of self-rage for putting up with such behavior. These are hardly prime conditions for doing your best work--any work in fact.

And then you get bullied some more for not doing work that is good enough.

 In fact bullied employees, are so high-strung all the time due to this “psychological emergency” that it begins to affect their personal lives. This is not a good place to be in and can severely stunt your personal & professional growth.

Bully Bosses don't see themselves accurately. They see themselves as better than others--which only acts to justify their bullying behavior--a feeling reinforced by promotion.

 So if you are unfortunate enough to work for a Snake in a Suit, what can you do?

1.      Confront the bully:  It can be effective. A bully can't bully if you don't let yourself be bullied.
a.       Conduct the confrontation in private--behind dosed doors. The bully won't back down in front of an audience.
b.      Specify the behavior that's unworkable
c.       Make your boss aware by showing him or her the consequences of his behavior on others.
d.      Awareness is not enough; help your boss figure out what to do. Specify the behavioral change you want.
e.       Point out how the boss's behavior is seen by others.

2.      Recruit an ally or allies. Standing up for yourself can stop a bully by earning his/her respect. But it could also cost your job. The higher your boss is in the organization, the more you need allies.
3.       If the company you work for is large enough to have one, talk to the human resources department. Although very few organizations in India have anti-bullying guidelines, & HR may not be able to do much
4.      If you are important to the organization, you may accomplish your goal by going to your boss's boss. But that's always a chancy move; you'll have to live with your boss in the morning.
5.      Resist the urge to vent to the Bully. It won’t help matters. If you feel like you are going to burst with the negativity, take a day off
6.      Focus your energy on something positive. Do what makes you happy in your spare time.
7.      Sometimes despite our best efforts, certain bullies are beyond redemption. In such cases, for your own sanity, consider moving to another department or company.
8.      Re-inforce your faith in your abilities. There is nothing wrong with you. Don’t let the negativity and pessimism get to you.

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.
We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant,
gorgeous, talented, fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be?
Your playing small does not serve the world.
There is nothing enlightened about shrinking
so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.
We are all meant to shine, as children do.
It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone.
And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously
give other people permission to do the same.
As we are liberated from our own fear,
our presence automatically liberates others.
- “A return to love”, Marianne Williamson


  1. Hey!!!

    I have seen exactly what happened with Ranbeer in my previous organisation...some how I think India still is not prepared for it ..

    Nice post

  2. Tanveer,

    Thanks for your post on this very important topic. Anyone talking about it in order to create awareness is awesome in my book. At the risk of being a nag, I thought it was important that certain points in your post be corrected to be sure your readers are getting accurate information.

    There are no laws in the US to stop workplace bullying. Visit the website of the folks working to pass laws at to learn more. Only two provinces in Canada have laws, but not the entire country.

    The 3 personality traits the study you mention found do not equate to psychopathy. Calling bullies psychopaths is something the internet has picked up, but there is no scientific research to back that claim up. Please also be careful in urging readers to "diagnose" others without credentials.

    Finally, confronting the bully can only be useful if done right away - as soon as the aggression begins. Research indicates that those who do confront bullies once too far in the problem will find themselves the subject of even worse aggression. So go cautiously here in giving this kind of advice - it can make matters worse, not better.

    Even more unfortunate, you are right about HR. They often do not know how to handle a complaint about bullying because they don't know what it is, or how harmful it can be. Your advice to remain positive is right on. And, as you said, if you find the problem is not getting resolved, ask yourself how much your dignity is worth, and transfer departments or leave the company if you must.

    Visit for tools to provide to your managers and HR folks and other information.

  3. @Anamika: Sadly HR in India is still stuck doing administrative work. They are not even equipped with the skills to deal with such issues.

    @Catherine: Thks a lot for the information. I am sure lots of readers will find it useful. The study results were obtained from Wikipedia by me.

    Boss Bullies are just as damaging to an employee's psyche as child molestors are to a child's psyche.

  4. Excellent article & you have explained in a neat manner.

  5. I hv a manager whose behave i have found to be threatening and like a bully for the past 3 years. Im waiting for karma.

  6. The powers gone to this poor mans head.

  7. Too bad I didn't see this before now. As it is I am giving up a career I dearly loved because my Indian boss (here in America) has bullied me daily for seven horrendous years. The fact that he is HR, owner and Management rolled into one means I have had no one to speak with about his behavior. No matter how good my work is, I realized a long time ago it will never be good enough. His hateful, snide remarks, the constant yelling and micromanaging have taken a toll on me. I don't sleep well always worrying about what he's going to say or do the next day. I feel as if I have PTSD from the constant battle going on at his direction. Rest assured that I am not the only one who is leaving. It just happens I am the first to do it. I won't wish him well on my last day because I have absolutely nothing left to say to him.



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