Often the word bullying is associated with children or cyber bullying. However, there is a silent epidemic and bullies exist in the workplace. According to the United States Department of Labor, “Nearly 2 million American workers report having been victims of workplace violence each year.” Even more alarming, “The Workplace Bullying Institute’s 2014 U.S. Workplace Bullying Survey found that 6.5 million workers said they were affected by bullying in the workplace. Sixty-one percent of respondents said their employer failed to react to abusive conduct.”
To decrease these numbers and reduce these trends, both employees and employers can make a difference. Gaining a greater understanding of workplace bullying can help and taking action as a bystander can reduce the cycle.
Workplace bullying is a serious issue and for victims of bullying, sometimes they feel they have no place to turn. Individuals bullied come to work each day with stress before they ever arrive. They worry about being approached by the bully and can develop physical symptoms from verbal aggression, isolation, and disrespect, often referred to as incivility. The victims can get anxiety, depression, headaches, sleeping, and other physical problems. They may also develop reduced self-esteem and withdraw.
Michele Paludi, Ph.D, assistant dean for graduate business programs shares, “We may think that workplace violence means assault or homicide. However, most of the aggression that occurs in the workplace is verbal, indirect, and passive. Bullying is one type of aggression considered along the continuum of workplace violence. Without intervening early on in bullying incidents, the behavior does escalate into other forms of workplace violence, including discrimination, harassment, and homicide.”
Workplace bullying involves an abuse of power, often is persistent, intimidating, humiliating, and can be demeaning. It can be done by an individual or a group in person, by text, or by email. The intent is to hurt someone’s career. Bullying can be overt or covert like withholding information, excluding the individual from events, or setting impossible deadlines.
A victim of bullying can also suffer by being branded by the bully and getting others to believe they are “mentally ill” or “difficult.” This creates a secondary issue when bystanders don’t get involved out of fear of being the next target and bullied too.
From a human resource perspective, victims of bullying in the workplace are slow to seek help from their employer for fear of retaliation. The victim can get depressed, angry, and do poor work, which could lead to performance issues for the victim. For these reasons, it is critical to seek help in the early stages of bullying. Once the victim shows fear and does not take any steps to stop the bullying behavior, the worse it becomes over time for the victim.
Anita H. Burns, MS, Excelsior College’s assistant vice president for Human Resources shares, “The advice I would give to any member of the staff would be to reach out to Human Resources (HR) if you feel someone is treating differently than the way they treat others, and/or being inappropriate toward you. Because the behavior gets worse as time goes by, it is important to share your experiences with HR so that we can help you.” Every employee has the right to come to work, do their job, and feel good about the contributions they are making. It is not acceptable for you to feel fearful, depressed, or shameful. You have done nothing wrong. Please help us help you!”
Bullying quick stats:
- 60 percent of men and 40 percent of women exhibit bullying behavior.
- 73 percent of “bullies” are supervisors.
- Bullies within an organization can at times be protected and this allows abusive behavior to continue.
Source: Paludi, M. (Ed.). (2015). Bullies in the workplace: Seeing and stopping adults who abuse their co-workers and employees Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger.
Bully targets – quick stats:
- 57 percent are women.
- 40 percent of targets voluntarily leave.
- 45 percent suffer health related stress problems.
- On average targets are exposed to 18-20 months of bullying.
- Start to mistrust administration.
- Fear retaliation.
- 20 percent of witnesses leave organization.
For workplace bullying to decrease, companies need effective and enforced policies with training for all members of an organization. Bystanders and supervisors also can help by reporting the situation without fear of retaliation. Studies show bullies can start at a young age at a playground and continue into adulthood within the workplace.