For Aline Ingabire, getting a job at a local advertising company in 2019 was a dream come true, as she looked forward to learning, honing her skills, and earning a living. At first, it seemed alright when her boss asked her to take on the workload of two employees—one who was fired and the other who quit. She complied with the boss’s request, although she believed it would only be temporary. ALSO READ: Dealing with workplace bullies She continued with the additional tasks, and as time went by, more were assigned to her as she appeared to be handling all of them quite well. “I did my job diligently but my salary was still the same for two years, regardless of working extra hours, and reporting to work over the weekend to reduce the work pile, my boss overlooked the good and sought for mistakes all the time,” she said. Sometimes, Ingabire would be publicly scolded in front of colleagues and customers whenever she made a mistake, forcing her to retreat to the restroom to cry. ALSO READ: Workplace bullying: How can managers eliminate the vice? It’s the consistent burnout, pressure, low pay with lack of appreciation from her manager that led her to call it quits. Like Ingabire, many workers experience bullying in various forms, whether intentional or unintentional, from colleagues and supervisors. Some have opened up about the issue and sought help, while others have remained silent, which affects them psychologically. Workplace bullying is a common and real issue, as revealed by a survey from the Workplace Bullying Institute. 30 per cent of workers have directly experienced bullying while at work, with remote workers being even more likely to report such incidents — 43.2 per cent responded that they had been bullied on the job. In light of this and bullying anywhere, the Anti-Bullying Week is observed every year. This year, the campaign started on November 13 and will run until November 17. Its aim is to raise awareness about bullying, its impact on individuals, and the importance of preventing bullying in schools, communities, and online spaces. The Anti-Bullying Week highlights the issue of bullying and encourages individuals to take action against bullying in all places to promote kindness, empathy, and respect, and to create a safe and inclusive environment for everyone. According to Espoir Baraka, a counselling psychologist at mHub Rwanda (a mental health organisation), workplace bullying is a persistent mistreatment. It can include behaviours such as verbal criticism, personal attacks, humiliation, belittling, and exclusion. For him, anyone can be a bully or be bullied, regardless of the role they possess in the workplace. “Bullying at the workplace has a range of effects on employees, for instance, health, job performance, and impact on work environment. A single incident of unreasonable behaviour is not workplace bullying. However, it may be repeated, or escalate, so should not be ignored,” he explained. Baraka said the effects of workplace bullying don’t end when one leaves the office, noting that bullying can cause physical and psychological health problems, including high blood pressure, mood changes, panic attacks, stress, and ulcers. He additionally noted that people who are bullied at work may also experience physical symptoms such as headaches, muscle tension, and change in appetite, stressing that bullying can impact sleep quality and duration too. Dr Celestin Mutuyimana, a psychotherapist at Baho Smile Institute, a psychotherapeutic and research centre, defines bullying as the repeated maltreatment of a person by another or others in the workplace, which may cause physical and emotional harm. He noted that this includes behaviour that intimidates, offends, degrades or humiliates a worker, possibly in front of co-workers, clients, or customers and other forms include excluding and ignoring people and their contribution. Mutuyimana pointed out that various factors contribute to workplace bullying. For instance, toxic leadership, narcissism, insecurity, incompetence, trauma-related issues, favouritism and nepotism, lack of emotional control, and problems related to organisational culture and politics, among others. For Baraka, workplace bullying is the result of contributing factors like work stress, leadership styles and systems of work. He added that bullies dismiss others’ efforts, intimidate, lie, make sarcastic remarks, minimise others’ concerns, take credit for other people’s work, threaten others, remove areas of responsibility without cause, constantly change work guidelines, establish impossible deadlines that will set up the individual to fail, make jokes that are obviously offensive by spoken word or e-mail. Additionally, bullies can also intrude on a person’s privacy by pestering, spying or stalking, assigning unreasonable duties or workloads that are unfavourable to one person (in a way that creates unnecessary pressure), yelling, belittling a person’s opinions, blocking applications for training, leave or promotion, and tampering with a person’s personal belongings or work equipment, Baraka stated. Mutuyimana highlighted that the main symptoms of bullying include intimidation, forcing someone to do things that are not ethically accepted or they don’t want to do, favouritism, excluding some people, ignoring someone’s efforts, criticising or destruction of ideas unfairly, humiliating people in front of others, and in extreme cases, violence. “People who are the targets of bullying may experience a range of effects psychologically and physiologically such as shock, anger, feelings of frustration and helplessness, increased sense of vulnerability and a loss of confidence,” Baraka said. He also noted that physical symptoms that come after bullying include an inability to sleep, loss of appetite, and psychosomatic symptoms like stomach pains, headaches, panic or anxiety — especially about going to work — family tension and stress, inability to concentrate, and low morale and productivity. “Despite the fact that bullying affects the employee who has experienced it, their co-workers who witness it also can get affected and this can impact all employees negatively. In addition to disrupting the work environment and impacting worker morale, it can also create an unfriendly work environment, affect workers’ compensation claims, promote absenteeism, decrease productivity, and lead to costly and possibly humiliating legal problems,” Baraka said. Aimee Josiane Umulisa, a clinical psychologist, explained that you can tell that a person is bullied if they are frustrated, isolated, have low self-esteem, possess anti-social behaviours, or their performances deteriorate in general. Umulisa noted that bullying is a bid for attention, which is why she urges walking away or ignoring the bully instead of reacting or ‘fighting’ back. “Stay calm and assert yourself, create boundaries, laugh instead of showing the fear or discomfort that your bully wants and expects, and speak up to your friends or people you are comfortable with,” Umulisa explained. Baraka further stressed that employees who get bullied cannot perform their tasks to the best of their ability. Common issues that they may encounter include failure to work or concentrate, loss of self-esteem, difficulty making decisions, decreased productivity level at work, poor customer service, reduced corporate image and customer confidence, and increased turnover. Bullied employees lose motivation to either go to work or perform their duties. Furthermore, they get preoccupied with trying to avoid the bully, seeking moral support, making plans to deal with the situation, reflecting on the situation, and trying to defend themselves, he added. Baraka explained that employees who are more at risk of workplace bullying include casual workers, young workers, new workers, apprentices or trainees, older workers, injured workers, and workers in a minority group because of their ethnicity, religion, disability, gender and to some extent, sexual preference. Mutuyimana said individuals with less experience, elderly individuals, people of a different race, talented individuals who are perceived as future threats to their superiors (and therefore replaceable), women who are subjected to sexual harassment and pressured to comply with their superiors’ demands, as well as individuals of varying heights, weights, or appearances, racial minorities, victims of racism or xenophobia, and employees who uphold high ethical standards are all likely targets of bullying.