Bullying in the Workplace

Bullying is a type of abuse. It can take the form of emotional, verbal, or physical abuse and can take place in school, at church, or in the workplace. It can happen face-to-face, anonymously, or online involving friends, family, or strangers. Dan Olweus, who developed an anti-bullying program for schools, defines bullying: “A person is bullied when he or she is exposed, repeatedly and over time, to negative actions on the part of one or more other persons, and he or she has difficulty defending himself or herself.”

Bullying is not just for children. Adult bullies do exist, and are more common than we?d expect. In most situations, avoidance is the best choice. However, when bullying occurs in the workplace, avoidance is not an easy option. Often, workplace bullies make their targets? lives difficult and unhappy. The effects of bullies can impact morale and productivity, and produce a hostile work environment. The Workplace Bullying Institute estimates that up to one-third of workers experience workplace bullying.

Workplace bullying can include unfounded and/or unjustified hypercritical judgment, groundless blame, segregation, isolation, being treated differently from coworkers, being yelled at or humiliated, disproportionate or unnecessary monitoring, accruing verbal and written warnings unjustly and more. Workplace bullying may revolve around vague or untrue claims of poor or underperformance.

Bullying can result in high stress levels, bitterness, depression, lack of motivation and hostility in employees. It may even result in physical illness, such as digestive problems, high blood pressure and insomnia. It is an unproductive way to operate a business. Companies with bully problems tend to be dysfunctional and inefficient; turnover and absenteeism are high whereas profitability, morale and competence are low. Innovation is also low, since victims of bullying are less likely to develop or share their ideas. Companies suffer long-term as word spreads about the bullying environment and quality employees leave to seek employment elsewhere. At the same time, for the same reason, new employees cease to materialize.

Bullies are covertly admitting their feelings of inadequacy; the degree of bullying a person uses is a measure of those feelings. Bullies project their feelings onto their coworkers in order to:
a) avoid admitting their feelings of inadequacy and attempting to correct them
b) evade responsibility for their behavior and the results of it
c) reduce their fear of being seen as inadequate or incompetent and to direct attention away from these failings.

Bullying is one way inadequate, incompetent and aggressive employees keep their jobs in poorly-managed workplaces. Speaking of managing, bullying has nothing to do with managing. Good managers manage; they don?t need to resort to bullying.

Since workplace bullying has come into corporate consciousness, many companies have introduced zero-tolerance policies. Employees experiencing bullying must document those experiences and report them to their Human Resources Department or upper management. Effective anti-bullying policy includes:

  • a clear definition of bullying
  • how to report bullying
  • the consequences for bullying

Sometimes, though companies usually don?t support bullying per se, problems with bullying may develop when companies don?t take it seriously enough or when they practice ?fault and blame? instead of problem-solving. In these cases, the bullying may get worse and/or, ultimately, an employee may have to find a new job.

People who are or have been victims of workplace bullying must understand that it is not their fault that they are being bullied. Adult bullies were often either bullied, or bullies, as children. Understanding this may help you cope with the behavior. There often isn?t much that can be done about it besides ignoring the bully, reporting the behavior and documenting the instances of bullying. Ignore and avoid is a temporary fix, until you can find another job, or until your company takes action against the bully. Reporting and documenting instances of bullying may afford you legal recourse if necessary, later.

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