Bullying in the Workplace Is Common and Serious
By Stephen M. Pfeiffer, Ph.D.
Workplace bullying recently became news because Miami Dolphin’s lineman, Jonathan Martin, was allegedely bullied by fellow teammates. But Martin’s experience is not an isolated case. The article, “Workplace bullying more common than most think,” by Kristen V. Brown cites data from the Workplace Bullying Institute that in 2010 35% of U.S. workers reported being bullied at work. The article provides the National Institute of Health’s definition of bullying: “Aggressive behavior to another person in ‘a phyical, verbal, or relational manner.’ That includes everything from teasing, name calling and rumor spreading to forcing someone to do something against his will, encouraging others to gang up on a person, or threatening physical harm.”
“Bullies have a need to control people, because something in their own lives is not in control,” according to Gary Namie, a social psychologist and director of the Workplace Bullying Institute quoted in Brown’s article. It’s no wonder, then, that bullying doesn’t end on the childhood playground; it continues into our adult lives and manifests in the workplace.
Bullying in the workplace often manifests as spreading rumors, name calling, or causing someone to feel isolated. Many adults don’t even realize they’re being bullied because they don’t think about bullying happening at the adult level, but it is especially detrimental in the workplace because the bullied person’s livelihood is at stake. The article shows how Bill Lepowsky, a math professor at Laney College in Oakland, California, endured years of bullying by colleagues. His managers spread rumors and false accusations that threatened his job. Such rumors were that he was holding class in the wrong classroom and that he wasn’t attending meetings. As a result, he suffered emotionally. He described his experience as “being a soldier in a foxhole with shells exploding.” He had trouble focusing on his job and was even denied a previously granted sabbatical. Luckily, for Lepowsky, those who bullied him changed jobs and the new chancellor issued him a written apology.
If you are bullyied in the workplace, you should speak up to supervisors and present them with facts and any documentation you may have, such as hostile emails. You should also do your best to remain calm because bullies respond to fear.
Unless discrimination laws apply, however, bullying is not illegal. With no set legal precedents and little recourse beyond a workers compensation claim, bullying victims must rely on the expert opinion of qualified professional experts to assess the extent of such injuries and to help determine whether the bullying has caused psychological impairment. For more information on workers compensation medical-legal evaluations, visit www.pfeifferphd.com.
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