Abusive bosses and inhumane workplaces: time to address the issues

Abusive bosses and inhumane workplaces…time to address the issues

Workplaces are by and large, the second home of most working people. It represents many things to many people. For some, the workplace is where they find family- a company of people who show concern about their personal issues. For another group, the workplace is their community and for yet another category of people, the workplace is a refuge (from issues that bedevil them at home). For everyone though, the workplace is where we derive our livelihoods.

According to Dimitrov, (2009), “A humane organization is an employee-friendly organization that provides a meaningful workplace to its employees by cherishing the human in the center of its value system, policies, and programs”.  In addition, a humane organization is a workplace living a value-based culture, caring about employees, caring about the organizational mission, and committed to work, play, and community involvement.

In addition, a humane organization has a service-oriented culture and tailors to the specific individual needs of employees (treating employees as human beings with their own personal values, goals, and needs. So, for a workplace to be classified as humane, it must:

Be committed to community service

Allow more time for family and leisure activities

Be concerned about the well-being of the people AND

Have friendly and supportive co-workers and superiors/bosses

These four cardinal principals define the ‘humaneness’ of an organisation. In reverse order however, friendly and supportive co-workers and superiors moderate the first three principles to a very large extent and is the key determinant of the occurrence of the first three.

Because of what the workplace means to many people, the workplace is expected to be humane and friendly. Bosses are also expected to be civil and nice. That, however, is not the case in many workplaces. Many woeful tales have been told about bosses who are abusive, tyrannical and in some cases ostensibly wicked.

In spite of being the source of livelihoods, feelings of community and family, a lot of workplaces are very inhumane. Inhumane workplaces are places where people are subjected to awful or horrible experiences leading to stressful outcomes for the individual and counter-productivity for those organisations.

These awful experiences can be summed up as bullying or in extreme cases mobbing. Inhumane workplaces are unsafe and deconstructive and often worsen the plight of workers rather than enhance their wellbeing.

The issue of abusive bosses and inhumane workplaces is a global phenomenon and worldwide managerial headache. Examples can be drawn from both advanced and less advanced nations to ascertain the facts of its occurrence.

Here in Ghana, abusive bosses are everywhere and bullying is almost entrenched in many workplace cultures.

Research conducted by staff of Humane Organisations-Africa (HORG-AFRICA) in three major sectors of the economy provide evidence of wide-spread abusive leadership and inhumaneness. These include academia, the hospitality industry (hotels) and healthcare. The study population in these three studies were teaching and non-teaching staff, hotel staff and nurses respectively.

Findings from the studies indicate that out of about 400 surveyed in academia, 40.9% of the respondents had been bullied.  In the hospitality industry, 346 respondents out of a population of 3500 drawn from 38 hotels in Accra had suffered bullying of one form or another in their workplace due to a  low concern for their wellbeing and high concern for customer satisfaction.

The study on Nurses showed that all 120 nurses who were surveyed in the study who had suffered bullying at the hands of their superiors. These are just three out of many sectors of the economy.

Bullying in the above organisations and others took many different forms. These included: Discrimination; giving unpleasant or unexciting jobs or positions; transferring victims; threatening; talking behind victims’ back; ridiculing victims; criticizing victims in public; set extremely high targets for victims; attacking a victim’s professionalism at the least provocation; undermining victim’s credibility with other staff; denying victims access to information needed to do their jobs; labelling victims as trouble makers’ shouting and screaming at victims repeatedly; insulting victims; ostracizing victims; inciting co-workers to gang-bully the victims; constantly ignoring victims’ request for help or advice; denying victims opportunity for training or further studies; refusing to accept contributions or work advancement proposals of victims (especially if it will inure to their credit); using performance appraisals to judge victims unfairly; subjecting victims to sexual harassment; denying victims promotion; victimizing or marking a person for victimisation for making complaints previously and physical harm. The list is endless and in some cases they are so overt that most people do not even recognise them as bullying.

These bullying experiences reported in the studies are supported by reported news carried by some tabloids and media houses such as the abuse of a 25-year-old woman at Marwako Restaurant, in which the victim was alleged to have been grabbed by the neck and had her face dipped into blended pepper. This story was carried by the Daily Graphic on March 4, 2017. Similar stories have been told in various places across the length and breathe of Ghana.

The effects of bullying on staff (irrespective) of their professions are enormous and often long lasting. Whiles the effects depend largely on the form of bullying meted to the victim, their position in the organisation, their gender, their financial status and ultimately their coping strategies, they are nevertheless negative.

At the individual level, bullying has been linked with economic losses, psychological strain, intense emotional reactions such as aggression, socio-phobia, anxiety, depression, shock, psychiatric problems and mental illness.

These effects are often not reported as victims tend to keep quiet on their experiences for fear of reprisal, stigmatization and or ignorance of avenues to channel their grievances. Consequently, victims of bullying are suffering in silence. There are therefore countless people suffering emotional problems with attendant mental health issues.

Whiles the Ghana Psychological Association and the Mental Health Authority have over the years championed the advocacy on mental health and given it considerable popularity in the media, there is the need to take pro-active steps to not only prevent bullying in workplaces but also enforce policies and laws that will make workplaces humane.

Research on abusive bosses and workplace bullying as well as other factors that make the workplace inhumane indicates that it is still on the increase. It is time to address these issues. Victims should seek redress rather than keeping silence on their experiences.

HUMANE ORGANISATIONS-AFRICA (HORG-AFRICA) is an organisation committed to addressing issues of bullying, unsafe workplaces and providing consultancy to organisations. HORG-AFRICA also provides legal representation to victims of bullying and other unacceptable workplace practices.


Dr. Doe is a senior lecturer, UPSA and Executive Director, Humane Organizations-Africa (HORG-AFRICA) and Dr Essiaw is a lecturer, UPSA and Director, Humane Organizations-Africa (HORG-AFRICA)


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