Do you feel discriminated against or harassed at work? Are you humiliated or falsely accused of being incompetent? Do you feel apprehensive about going to work, anxious while you’re there? If so, you may be the victim of bullying.
Bullying usually involves repeated incidents or patterns of behavior that are intended to intimidate, isolate or degrade a person or group. It is described as the assertion of power through aggression.
Both genders bully, but women bully more than men. Women are the primary targets for both female and male perpetrators. According to a Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI) study, women bullies choose women targets 87 percent of the time. Thus, bullying is viewed as same-sex harassment.
The most common workplace bullying relationship is between an abusive boss and targeted subordinate. Gary Namie, an authority on North American workplace bullying and author of The Bully at Work, notes that 71 percent of targets report the bullies outranked them. A workplace bully could be your boss, the chief executive or peers.
Most victims are college educated with about 20 years of successful work experience. Their average length of tenure with their employers is seven years.
Once targeted, bullied individuals faced a 70 percent chance of losing their jobs according to the WBI survey. Thirty-seven percent were fired and 33 percent voluntarily quit. However, few perpetrators were held accountable.
If you’re not sure a behavior is bullying, use the "reasonable person" test. Would most people consider the following actions unacceptable?
- Falsely accusing someone of errors not made
- Spreading malicious rumors
- Discounting someone’s thoughts and feelings
- Isolating someone
- Disregarding accomplishments
- Soliciting bullying assistance
- Undermining work
- Physically abusing someone
- Demoting without cause
- Constantly changing work guidelines
- Withholding necessary information or resources
- Assigning unreasonable workload
- Making offensive jokes
- Taking credit for target’s work
- Sabotaging contributions to team goals
- Criticizing constantly
- Belittling opinions
- Blocking training, promotional opportunities
- Giving poor performance evaluations
- Tampering with work equipment.
Bullying affects the overall "health" of an organization. An unhealthy workplace is characterized by high absenteeism, accidents and turnover, and elevated employee assistance, recruitment and legal liability costs. This results in low productivity, morale and customer service.
Ways employees can respond to bullying
Behavior that’s unreasonable and offends or harms you, should not be tolerated.
- Document the abuse. Record the date, time and details of the event, names of witnesses, and outcomes. Keep copies of the perpetrator’s correspondence.
- Consider confronting the perpetrator. Ask an impartial third party such as a trusted supervisor or union member to accompany you to the meeting. Show evidence you’ve collected that demonstrates bullying behavior.
- Solicit the assistance of higher level management. Don’t confide in anyone close to the bully. If a top executive is the perpetrator, reaching out to someone within the organization can be risky, ineffective. With a bully at the top, your situation probably won't improve. Your best option may be to leave.
Ask colleagues and clients to provide documented perspectives of your performance. This can illustrate your superior’s assessment of your performance is incorrect.
- Don’t retaliate. You may look like the perpetrator and confuse personnel responsible for evaluating and responding to the situation.
- Move on. Consider transferring to another department or change employers. Request a severance package. Positive opinions of coworkers, other supervisors and clients will provide needed documentation. Before giving notice, get personal property off the premises.
View your move as a positive change, not an escape. It’s better to leave on your own terms and time than wait for involuntary termination. Tell a trusted supervisor why you’re leaving. Don’t broadcast your impending resignation.
Start an external job search. Be discreet. Top-brass bullies sometimes use the full weight of the organization to trash careers of workers who turn on them. Don’t discuss negative aspects of the company with prospective employers. Emphasize your accomplishments.
Ways organizations can prevent bullying
Employers have a legal responsibility to protect employees. Senior management must let perpetrators know bullying isn’t tolerated. A comprehensive written policy that covers varied harassment incidents must:
- Apply to all company levels.
- Outline the process by which preventive measures will be developed.
- Provide examples of unacceptable behaviors, working conditions.
- State organization's policy of bullying and commitment to preventing it. Specify consequences.
- Encourage reporting of all aggressive incidents. Treat all complaints seriously.
- Outline procedures for investigating and resolving complaints. Address them promptly.
- Outline confidential processes by which employees can report incidents without fear of reprisals.
- Provide victim support services and employee prevention training.
- Monitor and regularly review the policy.
Act towards others in a respectful, professional manner. Try to resolve issues before they get out of control. Proceed promptly.
Columnist, Carole Kanchier, career and personal growth expert, is author of the award winning, Questers Dare to Change Your Job and Life, which gives tips for managing career growth: https://www.amazon.com/Questers-Dare-Change-Your-Life/dp/1508408963.