No one likes a bully. It seems that incidents of bullying, both in person and online, are being reported with greater frequency than before, often with tragic results. On February 22nd we will be observing International Stand-Up to Bullying Day. This is a bi-annual event (will also be observed November 29th) in which participants across twenty-five countries wear pink and sign a pledge to take a public stance against bullying and to support bullying victims. As supporters use International Stand-Up to Bullying Day to create actionable plans to identify, prevent and end bullying, we should also use the day to address another bullying that is not often spoken about – workplace bullying.

The Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI) defines workplace bullying as “repeated, health-harming mistreatment of one or more persons (the targets) by one or more perpetrators”. It is characterized as abusive conduct, such as “threatening, humiliating or intimidating, work interference or verbal abuse”. This behavior in the workplace is far more pervasive than we care to admit, even if it is not labeled as such. Here are some stats on workplace bullying based on the results from WBI’s 2017 Workplace Bullying Survey:

  • 61% of Americans are aware of abusive conduct in the workplace
  • 19% of Americans are bullied, another 19% witness it
  • 61% of bullies are bosses, the majority (63%) operate alone
  • 46% report worsening of work relationships, post-Trump election
  • 6.4 million Americans are affected by it
  • 70% of perpetrators are men; 60% of targets are women

The impact of workplace bullying is felt not only by the targeted employee; it also adversely affects witnesses of the act and the organization. The stress of bullying can manifest into health problems: hypertension (60%), strokes, heart attacks, IBD, colitis, nausea, rapid heartbeat, tremors of the lips, hands, etc. It can also create emotional responses such as fear, guilt, depression, and anxiety. These health issues can cause targeted employees to miss several days of work, have reduced productivity or leave the company due to the issues with the bully. The organization suffers from the loss of a previously productive employee, which can affect their overall bottom line. The resulting turnover also impacts the organization as it must then train new employees. There is also a loss of productivity as they allow a learning curve for the new employee to be brought up to speed. The team dynamics/camaraderie can also be affected as the bully attempts to ice out or isolate the target. Other employees may feel afraid to socialize with the target so that they do not become the next bullying victim.

Our being aware of workplace bullying isn’t enough; employees, along with management, must become fully engaged in addressing the issues head on to reduce or eliminate incidents of workplace bullying.

  • Realize Our Collective Power: Management and employees cannot remain silent. We must bring bullying situations to light, even when the perpetrator is a member of management. While we may think that the bully is well-liked or is above the law, we should realize that when everyone works together, we can each be advocates in the fight against bullying - to identify bullies, to protect the bullied and to intervene and stop bullying behaviors.
  • Recognize Enabling Patterns: Identify ways you and your organization may be enabling bullying (ex. too much competition in the office, not addressing reported issues, showing favoritism to certain employees, brushing off inappropriate behavior in the office and in meetings, etc.).
  • Open Door: Only 50% of people who see workplace bullying will report it, but 90% of people say that workplace bullying has a negative effect on the entire company culture. Employees may fear to report bullying incidents due to embarrassment or fear of retribution. Offer an anonymous reporting process and implement policies to actively investigate and address reported incidents.
  • Zero Tolerance Policies: Develop policies around bullying incidents (how to report, who will investigate and the consequence). Be sure to regularly communicate these policies to your employees. Bullies feel less emboldened when they know there will be strict consequences.

According to the Workplace Bullying Institute, workplace bullying is an epidemic. Only in recent years have state governments attempted to address the issues in the forms of safe work environment bills. Bullying has disastrous impacts on a person’s emotional, physical, psychological and financial health. It also impacts a company’s productivity, employee morale, and bottom line. Organizations have a responsibility to provide a safe work environment for all employees. We must make a commitment to do better and be better. If we see something wrong with an interaction, even if we are not affected, we must say something.

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