Perhaps none of us, who have been to school, college or university, can claim that they weren’t subjected to “ragging”. At some educational institutions it is rampant with viciousness and at others it is more decently undertaken. At my Alma mater, as an example the new joiners were forced by seniors to eat a dozen samosas (triangular patties) in one go, without taking a sip of any cola or water. The sight of eyes swelling with tears of excruciating discomfort were the source of joy for the seniors. With most, both the “raggers” and the “ragged”, this element of wanting to rag for pleasure ceases to be a pursuit, once we leave the university.
However, a few “professional raggers”, who having earned a reputation of being the best badgers, carry this trait to their professional lives. Hence, we see the bullies in the business world, while most of them; however, get into the arena of politics, where it is an essential trait to possess.
These tormentors at work place behave differently in different environment. If it is a sole proprietorship, their bullying activities will be in tandem with the seeking of the good pleasure of the seth (owner). If it is a more defined and regulated entity like, say, the limited companies, then modus operandi will be altered to suit the exigencies of their respective management’s demands.
Bullies do not have to be necessarily your bosses. Yes, indeed there is bullying undertaken by your peers and to have more spice in our lives, the juniors also join in the foray.
To cite an example of soft bullying by a junior, there are situations where your junior is proficient in a certain area of operation (these are usually the jealous and envious rankers), if he/she decides not to deliver their output on to your table, at the right and designated time; your part of the work can suffer, virtually giving you a bad name -- if such an event were to happen, the bullies have reason for collective celebration.
Bullies and brow beaters come in all shapes, sizes and forms, with distinct manifestations. And each of them have striking qualities of distinction; some are essentially intelligent; some are dumb; some are loud and imposing, while some are quiet and apparently docile. The corporate ruffians, who are visible and known, I refer to them as over the surface subjugators. Those who are not visible on the floor and are also not pronouncedly known as bullies, I refer to them as the subterranean operators, who act more as ‘ submarines’, but who possess very powerful and active periscopes to capture opportunities for soft bullying. He that seeks trouble never misses. Bullying can be as dangerous a corporate pandemic as Covid-19; for it enters like a needle and spreads like an Oak tree.
The persecutor-in-chiefs (can be the manager, or the CEO) primary methodology to harass is to ensure deliberate and unwanted late sitting. They simply love to torture colleagues by procrastination of work to the later part of the day. Yesterday, in preparation for this piece, I asked a colleague, if he was bullied or tormented ever in his career? He replied in the affirmative, and cited that he was forced to sit late, very late, as if he was a minister- in -waiting to his highness the persecutor-in-chief.
I enquired, while he would wait, what would his boss be doing? To my utter dismay, he mentioned that he was caught and sacked for indulging in watching, the unwatchable on the internet! PTA, in that era may have not existed.
By and large, bullies are loud in expression; they are imposing and intimidating in demeanour. I had once a peer, who was a patented bully as part of the recruitment panel, he would literally roll up his sleeves while asking questions to the poor interviewee; with elbows placed on the table and a posture of leaning forward, he would convey with bulging eyes, his intention to devour him/her for having dared to appear in the interview. Tormentors are rough in conversation, politeness, if any resides in their backyards. The use of foul language, laced with expletives is their hallmark.
The aggressive ones stab in the back too, their hour of calling to do this heinous act is usually at the time of annual performance appraisal exercise, where they strike with either awarding low performance rating or put a stop to transfers and promotions. This is one format of bullying by retaliation!
Life at work becomes even more difficult if the bullying supervisor is incompetent. To mask his/her inadequacies, such resort to despicable and uncouth behaviour; public insult and tongue lashing are their nuclear weapons to strike with at colleagues.
They are also usually afflicted with dual personality syndrome; hence they insult colleagues in full public view and later apologise in the quietness of their cabins.
The brilliant bullies are akin to dazzling meteorites that fades away with time. They dig their own grave, and for which they seek no assistance. Arrogance of ability makes them the worst bullies.
From Aesop's Fable story, “The Swallow and Other Birds”, all of us have learnt the moral, ‘Destroy the seed of evil, or it will grow up to your ruin’.
Far and few incidents of bullying at the shop floor can be and for good reasons should be ignored; but if they start to grow, it must be recognised for stubbing it out, otherwise only to the peril of the organisation, it will strike at the management's eye, when it is too late.
Cited as a quote in a different context but most apt to my subject is the following composition, “Some men wish evil and accomplish it; but most men, when they work in that machine; just let it happen somewhere in the wheels; the fault is no decisive, villainous knife; But the dull saw that is the routine mind”. Good tempers get dominated by bad ones and badness is never accidental. These corporate thugs have in them certain boldness and courage to get to be truly base in their management and responses, towards team mates. Aristotle had remarked, “a bad man can do a million times more harm than a beast”.
The corporate bullies who masquerade as the fearsome lot, essentially are masked cowards. To explain this feature and characteristic, allow me to draw further an everyday sighted example.
Dogs love to chase cats, until the cat is running away from it, the moment the cat arrives at a dead end, it turns back with ferocity, her whiskers straitened and fur on its ends, then, almost immediately the dog puts its tail between its legs and walks off…. The dog never hunts a live cat as its prey for lunch! It just enjoys the thrill, the excitement – once confronted it backs off. Similarly, these corporate thugs, with their hidden cowardice, back off too, if the harassed staff dares to confront. When faced with such supervisors, be the cat – do it once only, but do it with firmness!
Those who do not succumb to their tormentor actually must look at these bullies as benefactors, for they help sharpen your skills in the understanding of the evil side of the humankind. Bullies do not prosper perennially. They succumb to their evil deeds. They meet their waterloo, sooner than later. Some bullies I have seen amend themselves when they could not grow worse.
In Rip Van Winkle, Washington Irving, wrote, “A tart temper never mellows with age, and a sharp tongue is the only edged tool that grows keener with constant use” wrong can never beget right. No good can come from evil.
Finally, never should any bully forget, he that mischief hatches, mischief catches!.
The writer is a senior banker and freelance columnist