Workplace bullying is a serious problem which affects many individuals on a daily basis. Sometimes people are not even aware that they are being bullied or are too afraid to speak up out of fear of being fired. Did you know that workplace bullying can have a direct impact on your work performance and can hinder your career? It is defined as a “repeated, health-harming mistreatment of one or more persons (the targets) by one or more perpetrators. It is abusive conduct . . .” (http://www.workplacebullying.org/). We can all agree that kids in school should not be bullied; however, it is constantly tolerated in an office. Listed below are some traits of abusive conduct:
- Threatening, humiliating, or intimidating, or
- Work interference—sabotage—which prevents work from getting done, or
- Verbal abuse
No one should have to go to work every day being afraid of what might happen, work in fear of making a mistake, and worry about losing their job.
How Can You Identify Workplace Bullying?
Sometimes it is easy to spot workplace bullying. It may be the boss who constantly yells at his legal secretary and belittles her/him. It is ostracizing an employee at work simply because he or she is a bit different. It is throwing things, withholding resources, gossiping, and sabotaging someone’s work. Sometimes it is hard to identify when you are being bullied. After all, we are all adults and bullying is for kids, right? Wrong. I once worked at a firm where most of the paralegals had been at the firm since its inception and they felt there was little or no space for newbies. They would groan and moan loudly about the growth of the firm and reminisce about the days when the firm was much smaller. My department was new and consisted of another young lady and me. Upon being hired, we expressed our interest relatively early about how we would love to learn and grow with the firm.
The attorney loved our enthusiasm and began inviting us to the paralegal meetings so we would feel a part of the team. I remember going to one of the meetings and hearing one of the paralegals whisper loudly to the next, “What are they doing here? They are not paralegals.” An awkward silence followed. Most of the time we would ignore the comments. We did not want to lose the opportunity we were given and, most of all, we were young, inexperienced, and needed the money. I remember asking questions and being told, “You did not learn that in paralegal school” or “You cannot print over here” simply because the printer we were using was broken and we had to print somewhere. We had to get the work done even if it meant listening to someone complain the entire time we were using “their” printer. Eventually the way we were being treated was brought to the attorneys’ attention and a meeting was held. As a result, we were often given the cold shoulder. My coworker decided to quit before the 90-day probation period was over. It was not an environment in which she felt she could thrive. I stayed a little while longer because I kept looking at the bigger picture and eventually the rude comments occurred less frequently and the working environment changed for the better. They had to accept the fact that the firm was growing and there was nothing they could do about it.
Statistics show that:
- 49% of adult Americans have been bullied or witnessed it.
- 80% of bullying is legal, but still occurs.
- 72% of bullies outrank their targets.
(Healthy Workplace Bill)
Physical Impact of Bullying
Bullying in the workplace not only affects your career, but it also affects your health. Bullying may cause serious health issues including, but not limited to, anxiety, stress, and panic attacks. If an employee already has serious medical conditions, having to cope with a stressful work environment can be deadly. Due to the high stress they are experiencing, an employee could suffer a stroke or a heart attack as a result of being bullied at work.
Bullying can impact someone’s work, causing them to lose their job. If a person is being ostracized and not given any work, ultimately this will affect their work morale. If employees are constantly being belittled, they feel they are not good enough and may start producing less out of fear of making a mistake or being yelled at. They may not volunteer, speak up, or share ideas as frequently because doing so may get a reaction from the bully they are trying so desperately to avoid—especially if the person hates conflict or is extremely introverted.
Not only does bullying impact the worker, but it also affects the company’s bottom line. If a manager has a bad temperament, very few people will want to work with that individual. The team will constantly have a high turnover until something is done about the manager’s behavior. The cost of absenteeism will increase because the employees do not enjoy being at work and in the hostile environment that the bully has created. Absenteeism can account for a loss in productivity. Bullying can cost the company a lot of money because the employee who is being affected might need to go to the doctor more frequently. Stress affects the body in a number of different ways. It pays to have a healthy working environment where people enjoy coming to work and getting the job done.
Workplace Bully Institute found that:
- 27% have current or past direct experience with abusive conduct at work.
- 72% of the American public are aware of workplace bullying.
- Bosses are still the majority of bullies.
- 72% of employers deny, discount, encourage, rationalize, or defend it.
- 93% of respondents support enactment of the Healthy Workplace Bill.
How to Deal With a Bully
It is important to bring it to your supervisor’s attention and document everything. Keep detailed notes of what has taken place. If there are witnesses, jot this down as well. This might be needed in the future if the person seeks to disclaim what you are saying.
Stand up for yourself in a professional manner. Do not stoop to the level of the bully hurling insults. At the end of the day you do not want to be remembered for starting a brawl in the middle of the office. If the bully is your supervisor, get HR involved as quickly as possible. If the bully is your boss, I would suggest looking for employment elsewhere especially if that person has no intention of changing. If you are able, mediate the conflict. It is a good thing to move on and count it as a learning experience. Sometimes people might not realize they are bullies especially if they have a type A personality. Getting a third party involved is always essential. It might not be something you can solve by yourself. It might make the situation worse.
If you are an office bully, it is important to evaluate your actions and really think about the other person’s feelings. Start working on alternative ways to get your points across. It is never okay to belittle others. Workplace bullying should not be tolerated.
Tashania Morris, MSHRM, ALS, CDF, CPC, started her career as a paralegal. She has over six years’ experience in the legal field specializing in the areas of foreclosure and bankruptcy. She recently completed her master’s degree in human resource management which has equipped her with the tools needed to think strategically and develop creative solutions to problems in the workplace. As a Certified Professional Coach and Career Development Facilitator, she loves all things career and personal development. Tashania is able to recognize people’s skills and abilities and enjoys working with individuals to figure out their “why.” Her mission is to engage, empower, educate, and promote change from within. If you have any questions about any of the articles written, suggestions about something you would like Tashania to write about, or enjoyed reading the article, send her a quick note. You can reach Tashania at Tashania_m@hotmail.com.