Bullying on the job


A lot has been written about the topic of bullying in schools over the past several years. But what do you do if you are an adult and the bullying is occurring in your workplace?

The Workplace Bullying Institute definition is “repeated, health-harming mistreatment of one or more persons (the targets) by one or more perpetrators. It is abusive conduct that is threatening, humiliating, or intimidating, or work interference — sabotage — which prevents work from getting done, or verbal abuse.” The Institute conducted a national survey in 2014 and found that 27% of responders have been subjected to bullying. Most of the bullies are bosses, but 72% of employers deny it is happening, defend it, or even encourage it.

Who becomes a target of a bully? Generally someone who is a veteran employee and the most skilled and thus poses a “threat” to the bully. When a target tries to preserve their dignity and their right to be treated with respect, the bullying escalates.

Workplace bullying, sadly, is not illegal. At least, not yet. The Institute is lobbying to have a bill passed. Until that is achieved, what can an individual do?

The Institute offers suggestions but not much hope.

First, call it what it is; give it a name. This legitimizes the problem. The source of the problem is external. You did not invite it.

Second, take time off. Check the state of your mental health with a professional, not your employer’s EAP. Decide whether to stay and fight or look for a new job elsewhere. Check the state of your physical health too. Stress takes its toll. Research state and federal legal options. In a quarter of cases, discrimination plays a part. Talk to an attorney and look at your employer’s internal policies, but if you take an action, expect retaliation.

The Institute cautions against taking advice commonly given by human resources or career coaches. Don’t beat yourself up for not confronting the bully. If you could have, you would have. Hold your employer accountable for creating the work environment that allows bullying. Don’t ask for relief from the bully’s boss. They are allowing the bullying. Create a paper trail, but don’t share your documentation with anyone at work.

The Institute estimates that a person who has been targeted by a bully has a 66% chance of losing his or her job either by quitting or by being terminated. That is a sobering statistic.

S.L. Young in the Huffington Post states that workplace bullying is a “toxin to an organization.” He urges leaders to take proactive and corrective measures.

Have you ever experienced or witnessed workplace bullying? How did you handle it?



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