Bullying in the Workplace: How to Make it Stop

Many of us have experienced being bullied at some point throughout our lives. Perhaps you can remember this happening to you early on during your adolescent years and no matter who you told, nothing would be done to stop it or maybe the person you told didn’t take you seriously.

We all thought that this trend of bullying would cease once we began our adulthood and started our careers but unfortunately, that is not the case. Bullying in the workplace is becoming a “silent epidemic”. According to the Workplace Bullying Institute, a national survey was conducted in which 35% of Americans reported being bullied at work. That comes to a little over 53 million of American workers experiencing some form of harassment in their workplace. Now keep in mind, these are reported cases, therefore if we were to add the non-reported cases this number would significantly be higher.

The definition of bullying is: Persistent, offensive, abusive, intimidating or insulting behavior, abuse of power, or unfair punishment which upsets, threatens and/or humiliates the recipient(s), undermining their self-confidence, reputation and ability to perform.

How do you know if you’re being bullied at work?

Dr. Helge Hoel, professor of Behavioral Organization from the University of Manchester Business School, has dedicated his career to researching bullying, harassment and violence within the workplace. He defines bullying behavior among the workforce as such;

  1. Threat to professional status (for example, belittling opinion, public professional humiliation, accusation of lack of effort).
  2. Threat to personal standing (for example, name calling, insults, teasing).
  3. Isolation (for example, preventing access to opportunities such as training, withholding information).
  4. Overwork (for example, undue pressure to produce work, impossible deadlines, unnecessary disruptions).
  5. Destabilization (for example, failure to give credit when due, meaningless tasks, removal of responsibility, shifting of goal posts).

So what do you do if you are being bullied at work?

Most people think that going to speak with your company’s Human Resource Department will be their saving grace, but it’s quite the opposite. The purpose of HR is to protect the company and to seek the best interest for the organization. You would think that employees would be one of those interests, but from my experience and what I have witnessed, that is not the case. A lot of times, the employee reporting the harassment will be perceived as a “whistle blower”, which can lead to termination. If by chance your company has a Human Relations Department, then you should feel safe speaking to them and addressing the situation. Human Relations differs from Human Resources in the standpoint that their overall objective are the employees and what’s in the best interest of the employee.

You always want to begin by documenting EVERYTHING, (include; date, time, what was said or the circumstances surrounding the bullying or harassment). Once you have enough documented ask to speak to your immediate supervisor or manager and let them know you’ll need about 30 minutes to an hour of their time to speak to him/her privately. This way, you nor they will feel rushed and it will give you the time you need to thoroughly explain the circumstances. Make sure to ask your manager to keep your conversation confidential at the time. This way he/or she will be able to absorb the situation and perhaps pay closer attention to the bullying which is taking place and take some sort of action.

Unfortunately, a lot of bullying is bestowed by managers towards their employees. This can be tough because you begin to feel stuck, as if you have no one to turn to. In this case, you would need to approach their supervisor and address the situation to them, but also ask for the conversation to be confidential. You want to give your managers the opportunity to witness the bullying and to be able to address it.

If you’re finding that you’re beginning to have anxiety, insomnia, depression, feeling of isolation and simply not feeling like your normal self, you should see a doctor and explain to him or her what is going on, so that it’s on record and if you choose to see a psychologist to help you deal with the array of emotions, make sure that all of it is being documented. Keep in mind, your health should always come first. No job is worth the deterioration of your well-being, sanity and even your home life. These factors can have a tremendous impact on your personal life.

Have trust in upper management, that they will facilitate on your behalf to address the “bully” about his or her behavior. If you feel that your managers have overlooked the situation or simply “swept it under the rug”, then you might want to consider finding new employment.

As of today, there are no anti-bullying laws in the workplace, therefore it is up to you to protect yourself. If we all would treat one another the way we want to be treated the rising epidemic of bullying in the workplace would cease.


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