Career Advice

Bullying At Work A Growing Trend

According to an AOL Jobs Survey, 22 percent of the respondents have personally felt threatened or bullied at work. Of those, 57 percent state it was from their manager, while 47 percent say it was from a peer, and 79 percent say that the abuse they experienced was verbal. Twenty-five percent have witnessed someone being bullied at work. Out of those people who witnessed it, 59 percent reported it.

What is workplace bullying?

Workplace bullying is the tendency of individuals or groups to use persistent aggressive or unreasonable behavior against a co-worker or subordinate. The abuse displayed may be verbal, non verbal, psychological, or physical.

Bullying can take the form of the obvious (such as being berated in front of colleagues, being gossiped about, or being the target of office pranks) as well as the not so obvious (not being included in important meetings, not having your phone calls or e-mails returned, or getting the silent treatment from co-workers or supervisors). Any of these actions can have a detrimental effect on employees.

According to Diane M. Pfadenhauer, an attorney and president of Employment Practices Advisors, Inc., “many bullies are ‘equal opportunity bullies’ who threaten or abuse people regardless of gender, race, etc. While it is not illegal to bully, it is generally a violation of company policy and something that employers need to pay attention to. if the employee’s complaint that he/she is being bullied is not addressed, the employee may chose to make a discrimination complaint instead and have enough evidence to support it. This can lead to a formal investigation, which results in expensive legal fees, a disruption in the workplace, and the loss of productivity.”

Why does workplace bullying occur?

A tough economy may be perpetuating bullies in the work force. People are under an enormous amount of stress, and expectations for worker productivity are high — despite the fact that employees are being forced to do more with less. Managers are under pressure to get work done through their teams. If they are successful, those managers may receive positive rewards or promotions, fueling the cycle of abuse. And subordinates may be fearful that if they complain about inappropriate management practices they will lose their jobs.

What are the effects of workplace bullying?

Bullying can take an enormous toll on the victim’s health. According to the Workplace Bullying Institute, the stress can lead to debilitating anxiety, panic attacks, clinical depression, and post-traumatic stress or physical health problems including cardiovascular problems, adverse neurological changes, immunological impairment, fibromyalgia, and chronic fatigue syndrome.

How do I know if I’m being bullied?

The Workplace Bullying Institute, an organization dedicated to raising awareness of and creating a public dialogue about workplace bullying, suggests using the following checklist to determine whether you may be the victim of workplace bullying:

Experiences outside work:

  • Your frustrated family demands that you to stop obsessing about work at home.
  • You feel like throwing up the night before the start of your workweek.
  • Your doctor asks what could be causing your skyrocketing blood pressure and recent health problems, and tells you to change jobs.
  • You feel too ashamed of being controlled by another person at work to tell your spouse or partner.
  • All your paid time off is used for “mental health breaks” from the misery.
  • Days off are spent exhausted and lifeless; your desire to do anything is gone.
  • Your favorite activities and fun with family are no longer appealing or enjoyable.
  • You begin to believe that you provoked the workplace cruelty.

Experiences at work:

  • You attempt the obviously impossible task of doing a new job without training or time to learn new skills, but that work is never good enough for the boss.
  • Surprise meetings are called by your boss with no results other than further humiliation.
  • Everything your tormenter does to you is arbitrary and capricious, working a personal agenda that undermines the employer’s legitimate business interests.
  • Others at work have been told to stop working, talking, or socializing with you.
  • You are constantly feeling agitated and anxious, experiencing a sense of doom, waiting for bad things to happen.
  • No matter what you do, you are never left alone to do your job without interference.
  • People feel justified screaming or yelling at you in front of others, but you are punished if you scream back.
  • HR tells you that your harassment isn’t illegal, that you have to “work it out between yourselves.”
  • You finally, firmly confront your tormentor to stop the abusive conduct and you are accused of harassment.
  • You are shocked when accused of incompetence, despite a history of objective excellence, typically by someone who cannot do your job.
  • Everyone — co-workers, senior bosses, HR — agrees (in person and orally) that your tormentor is a jerk, but there is nothing they will do about it (and later, when you ask for their support, they deny having agreed with you).
  • Your request to transfer to an open position under another boss is mysteriously denied.

How can I deal with a workplace bully?

Katherine Crowley, author of ‘Working for You Isn’t Working for Me’ and ‘Working for You is Killing Me,’recommends the four Ds — detect, detach, depersonalize, and deal.

Detect involves naming/documenting the bullying behaviors that you are witnessing or experiencing — document what is happening and how the bully is targeting you (or others).

Detach is to take a step away from the bullying by taking actions to restore your energy, repair your emotional state, and rebuild your confidence. Bullies take a serious toll on our health — mental, emotional and physical. It’s extremely important to counteract the negative effects of being bullied. Seek counsel for your mental health; exercise to release the toxins for your physical health; spend time with people who believe in you for your confidence.

To Depersonalize is to understand that you aren’t the first target and you won’t (unfortunately) be the last. It’s not about you — although bullies try to make it seem that way. This person is sick and taking out his or her illness on you.

Finally, Deal by taking some kind of action. You can report your experience to someone in the company who is in a position to do something about it. If no one is willing to address the bully, you may have to leave.

You may need help from others in order to manage the situation. Consider enlisting the help of a career coach, counselor, or mental health professional. A few other books to take a look at are ‘The Bully at Work,’ ‘The No Asshole Rule,’ ‘What Would Machiavelli Do?,’ ‘Can They Do That?,’ and ‘Brutal Bosses and Their Prey.’

– By Barbara Safani