When you think of a bully, do you usually think of a mean kid on the playground pushing down a smaller kid and then laughing about it? Bullying at school and online is a major problem right now for children, but it can also affect adults in the workplace. Often those schoolyard bullies are the ones who grow up to be adult bullies in your place of employment.
According to the Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI), 35% of the American workforce, approximately 53.5 million people, have directly experienced bullying. The WBI defines workplace bullying as repeated, health-harming mistreatment that takes one or more of the following forms:
- Verbal abuse
- Offensive conduct/behaviors (including nonverbal) that are threatening, humiliating, or intimidating
- Work interference or sabotage that prevents work from getting done
Workplace bullying can happen to anyone in any type of job. The Workplace Bullying Institute reports 72% workplace bullies are bosses. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that nearly a third more women are bullied than men.
Unfortunately this problem is on the rise. In 2011, half of employees in one survey by theHarvard Business Review said they were treated rudely at least once a week, an increase of 25% from 1998. It’s not entirely clear what the reasons are for the increase but the consequences of workplace bullying are troubling for employees and employers as well.
There are real health concerns for targets of workplace bullying. Anxiety and panic attacks, trouble sleeping, high blood pressure and ulcers are some of the common physical health problems. Loss of motivation, depression, feelings of isolation and the inability to concentrate and make decisions are more of the common psychological problems that people face as a result of being bullied at work.
Here are 10 signs of workplace bullying in this summarized excerpt from a Forbes.comarticle:
- Feeling physically ill before the start of your workweek. Few people look forward to Mondays but if you feel like throwing up or are particularly anxious the night before the start of your workweek, there’s a good chance you’re experiencing workplace bullying,
- Constant criticism from your boss or co-worker. Criticism from your boss or co-worker never seems to stop, despite your history of getting your work done and doing a good job.
- Frequently being yelled at even screamed at, insulted or humiliated in front of others.
- Remembering your mistakes. Your boss or co-worker constantly refers to your past mistakes for no constructive reason and/or they falsely accuse you of errors.
- Gossip is being spread or lies are being told about you.
- Being excluded, or isolated by your co-workers or boss. This includes not being invited to work and social events like lunch or meetings or feeling physically isolated.
- Feeling like you always need a day off for your mental health. Also, if at home you obsess a lot about work and it’s affecting your family and home life.
- Having your work sabotaged. A co-worker or boss is doing things or not doing things to ensure you fail at your job.
- An impossible schedule. This could include last minute meetings being scheduled on days when you aren’t available or being asked to work an unreasonably long or difficult schedule.
So what can you do about workplace bullying?
The very first thing you should do is stand up for yourself. Don’t be an easy target by just letting the behavior to continue without consequence, as that just feeds the bully’s behavior. Also don’t show the bully that you are flustered and try not to give an emotional reaction.
Avoid the bully if possible. This may not always be possible and while hiding out isn’t a long term solution, the less you are around a bully the opportunity to be bullied will present itself less. You will also likely be bullied less if you are with someone else. Keep good documentation. This means keeping a very detailed log of your interactions with this person, including what they say to you, what they do to you and when.
Most importantly, bring this to the attention of your employer. Talk to your boss, and if the bully is your boss, talk to your bosses boss or even better your Human Resources department. If your company does not have an anti-bullying policy, they likely have a harassment policy that does not tolerate this behavior. It is in HR’s best interest to help you out as there are a lot of legal ramifications for companies for bullying behavior in the workplace.
Though the setting for bullying has shifted from the playground at school to the office, the overall dynamics are the same. As of now bullying at work isn’t illegal but since 2003, individual states have been lobbying the government to pass the Healthy Workplace Bill legislation that would officially label and work to prevent workplace bullying.