Bullying in the Workplace

Normally when we hear the word “bullying” we might think of fights on the playground or high school tormentors. Unfortunately, however, it is also an all too common behavior in today’s workplace among adults. In fact, recent studies show that most people will be exposed to bullying at some point during their working lives. It is also one of the most neglected behaviors as well. Bullying is not something to be taken lightly, but the more companies educate themselves and choose to be proactive in the prevention of bullying, the greater chance we have of reversing this trend.

What Constitutes Bullying?

Bullying may occur in many different ways, overt and covert, direct and indirect. Some of the behavior that is most frequent and often intentionally hurtful may be yelling, insults, hostile glares, false accusations of mistakes and errors, excessively harsh criticism and other conduct meant to intimidate and belittle.

Not all bullying is in-your-face behavior, but that doesn’t mean that more indirect, covert bullying is not just as equally harmful. More indirect bullying may include spreading lies and rumors meant to discredit a person’s reputation, sabotage of another’s work, social exclusion and the silent treatment.

Many times, bullying occurs by a boss or supervisor towards his or her subordinate, but bullying can occur between any two people that share a work environment. Bullying encompasses a power dynamic, that may stem from organizational hierarchies or interpersonal dynamics, that has crossed the line and become abusive.

The Harm it Causes

One of the reasons bullying is often ignored may be that people do not realize how serious the effects can be. Psychologically, the bullied victim may experience stress, depression, mood swings, loss of sleep and feelings of shame, guilt, embarrassment, and low self esteem. Some people have even developed symptoms synonymous with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

The effects of bullying, however, are not limited to psychological harm. Some targets also experience physical consequences as well, such as stress headaches, high blood pressure, digestive problems, increased risk of cardiovascular illness and impaired immune systems.

Another reason bullying often gets neglected is that people may feel that they don’t need to get involved with individuals’ personal relationships, and they incorrectly believe that only one person may be affected. Bullying, however, may negatively harm multiple people, including the company as a whole. Other people affected include – co-workers who witness the bullying and grow fearful and intimidated themselves, the target’s family when the targeted victim brings the stress and depression home, and the company in general. The organization may see lower team morale, decreased productivity, absenteeism, poor customer relations, and high employee turnover, not to mention possible litigation stemming from the abuse and increased worker’s compensation claims.

Prevention and Response

There are three main ways in which a company can be proactive and effective in dealing with workplace bullying so that they are not only preventing it from occurring in the first place, but also properly handing it if and when it happens.

-- Leadership and Culture: It is important that an organization’s leaders send a strong clear message that bullying will not be tolerated. They should establish a culture and environment that promotes open, honest, and mutually respectful communication.

-- Education and Policies: Again, to stress a proactive mentality, there should be employee education programs in place and company policies that all employees are made aware of.

-- Enforcement and Response: The policies, however, cannot merely be lip service. It is critical that when a situation arises, the organization takes prompt and effective action, enforcing the policies it has set forth. This will not only appropriately handle the current circumstance, but it will also let the other employees know that if an incident should arise, the leaders will take complaints seriously and when necessary, take swift action.

Workplace bullying is a common occurrence with widespread ramifications, and it needs to be addressed. If you are feeling harassed, bullied, or ignored at work, or you recognize the signs of bullying in your workplace, please don’t hesitate to contact me at Stephen@PfeifferPhD.com or at my website www.pfeifferphd.com.

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