What is workplace bullying and who is affected?
Workplace bullying refers to 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 the employee (s).
Workplace bullying often involves an abuse or misuse of power. Bullying includes behavior that intimidates, degrades, offends, or humiliates a worker, often in front of others. Bullying behavior creates feelings of defenselessness in the target and undermines an individual’s right to dignity at work.
Bullying is different from aggression.
Whereas aggression may involve a single act, bullying involves repeated attacks against the target, creating an on-going pattern of behavior. “Tough” or “demanding” bosses are not necessarily bullies, as long as their primary motivation is to obtain the best performance by setting high expectations. Many bullying situations involve employees bullying their peers, rather than a supervisor bullying an employee.
Examples of bullying:
• Unwarranted or invalid criticism.
• Blame without factual justification.
• Being treated differently than the rest of your work group.
• Being sworn at.
• Exclusion or social isolation.
• Being shouted at or being humiliated.
• Being the target of practical jokes.
• Excessive monitoring.
What is Corporate/Institutional Bullying?
Corporate/institutional bullying occurs when bullying is entrenched in an organization and becomes accepted as part of the workplace culture.
Corporate/institutional bullying can manifest itself in different ways:
• Placing unreasonable expectations on employees, where failure to meet those expectations means making life unpleasant (or dismissing) anyone who objects.
• Dismissing employees suffering from stress as “weak” while completely ignoring or denying potential work-related causes of the stress.
• Encouraging employees to fabricate complaints about colleagues with promises of promotion or threats of discipline.
Signs of corporate and institutional bullying include:
• Failure to meet organizational goals.
• Increased frequencies of grievances, resignations, and requests for transfers.
• Increased absence due to sickness.
• Increased disciplinary actions.
If you are aware of bullying in the workplace and do not take action, then you are accepting a share of the responsibility for any future abuses. This means that witnesses of bullying behavior should be encouraged to report any such incidences.
Individuals are less likely to engage in antisocial behavior when it is understood that the organization does not tolerate such behavior and that the perpetrator is likely to be punished.
How Bullying Affects People:
Victims of bullying experience significant physical and mental health problems:
• High stress; post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
• Financial problems due to absence
• Reduced self-esteem.
• Musculoskeletal problems.
• Sleep disturbances.
• Increased depression/self-blame.
• Digestive problems.
What Can be Done About Bullying?
Bullying in general is NOT illegal in the U.S. unless it involves harassment based on race/color, creed (religion), national origin, sex, age (40+), disability, HIV/AIDS or Hepatitis C status and, in Washington State, on marital status, sexual orientation/gender identity, honorably discharged veteran and military status or retaliation for filing a whistleblower complaint with the Washington State Auditor (RCW 49.60).
However, here is what you can do about bullying:
Employees – regain control by:
• Recognizing that you are being bullied.
• Realizing that you are NOT the source of the problem.
• Recognizing that bullying is about control, and therefore has nothing to do with your performance.
Take action by:
• Keeping a diary detailing the nature of the bullying (e.g., dates, times, places, what was said or done and who was present).
• Obtaining copies of harassing / bullying paper trails; hold onto copies of documents that contradict the bully’s accusations against you (e.g., time sheets, audit reports, etc.).
• Expect the bully to deny and perhaps misconstrue your accusations; have a witness with you during any meetings with the bully; report the behavior to an appropriate person.
• Create a zero tolerance anti-bullying policy.
This policy should be part of the wider commitment to a safe and healthful working environment and should involve the appropriate Human Resources representative.
• When witnessed or reported, the bullying behavior should be addressed IMMEDIATELY.
• If bullying is entrenched in the organization, complaints need to be taken seriously and investigated promptly. Reassignment of those involved may be necessary (with an “innocent until proven guilty” approach).
• Structure the work environment to incorporate a sense of autonomy, individual challenge/mastery, and clarity of task expectations for employees – Include employees in decision-making processes.
• Hold awareness campaigns for EVERYONE on what bullying is. Encourage reporting.
• Ensure management has an active part in the staff they supervise, rather than being far removed from them.
• Encourage open door policies.
• Investigate the extent and nature of the problem. Conduct attitude surveys.
• Improve management’s ability and sensitivity towards dealing with and responding to conflicts.
• Establish an independent contact for employees (e.g., HR contact).
• Have a demonstrated commitment “from the top” about what is and is not acceptable behavior.