Bullies in school is expected and an unfortunate fact of life for many children. However, as we grow up, we hope that this type of behavior will be left in the school yard. It is a false hope in some work places though. Some bullies never grow up. They take it into the workplace and make the lives of their co-workers and subordinates a living nightmare. How do you survive it?
According to a report published by the Department of Labor and Industries for the State of Washington, workplace bullying is defined as “repeated, unreasonable actions of individuals (or a group) directed towards an employee (or a group of employees), which is intended to intimidate and creates a risk to the health and safety of employee(s).” [Link included at end of article]. Bullying can involve misuse and abuse of power. It can also include behavior that intimidates, offends or degrades a worker, often in front of others.
Most workplaces take various forms of harassment very seriously. How is bullying different from harassment? They are similar, but have striking differences. Bullying tends to be wrought on people’s minds, while harassment is usually targeted against a person based on their sex or race. Bullying tends to happen over time while most forms of harassment are immediate. Bullying can be subtle while harassment is overt. And most forms of bullying are legal, while many forms of harassment are illegal.
Examples of bullying include spreading malicious rumors or gossip that is known to not be true, assigning an unreasonable workload on one individual while letting others off light, physical abuse or threatening abuse, isolating or excluding an individual socially, yelling or use of profanity, and making constant jokes at one individual’s expense. Other examples abound, but these give an idea of what bullying involves.
Realize the effects it can have on an individual and on the workplace.
Victims of bullying experience a wide range of effects. The pressure from the bullying can lead to high levels of stress. This stress can trigger insomnia, loss of appetite, and panic attacks. Some victims show an elevated level of anger or frustration. Loss of confidence and increased vulnerability often show up as well.
Individuals can show physical symptoms such as headaches or stomachaches that are related to the stress as well. Low morale and productivity in the workplace are common as well. Some people experience a feeling of dread when its time to go to work.
In workplaces where bullying is prevalent, the consequences can be seen in high rates of staff turnover, low employee morale, absenteeism, loss of productivity, increased legal action by employees, poor customer service, and increased risks of accidents. So it’s not just in the individual’s best interest to address the bullying, but in their employer’s as well.
Take the steps necessary to address the bullying.
The first step is to approach the individual responsible for the bullying and firmly tell them that what they are doing is unacceptable and to stop. Taking a supervisor or an HR representative as a witness is not a bad idea.
Document everything. Keep a journal of everything that has happened. Information kept should include dates and times, names of people who witness the incidents, and details of what happened and the consequences. Bullying is often not a single incident but repeated incidents of the same nature.
Keep copies of anything received from the person who is doing the bullying. This includes emails, faxes, letters, etc. If other co-workers are amenable, have them send you copies of anything the perpetrator sends that are involved with the bullying (jokes about the target, subtle put downs, etc.).
Report the incident immediately upon identification of it. Most workplaces have policies on how problems are to be reported and resolved. Follow those procedures. If the concerns are not taken seriously, escalate to the next level.
Under no circumstances should the target retaliate. Retaliation makes the target look like the perpetrator.
If no action leads to a positive outcome, then it might be time to look elsewhere for employment. Workplace bullying is a known problem in business today. More and more companies are adopting policies that clearly address what is and what is not acceptable in the workplace. Finding a job at one of those companies might just be the answer.
Sources used in this article:
Department of Labor and Industries, “Workplace Bullying: What Everyone Needs To Know”, State of Washington
Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety, “Bullying in the Workplace”