What is workplace bullying anyway? The Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI) defines bullying as “abusive conduct” and workplace bullying as “repeated mistreatment, abusive conduct that is threatening, humiliating, or intimidating, work sabotage or verbal abuse.” WBI calls it an “American epidemic.” The organization’s findings in 2014 report 27 percent of people have current or past direct experience with abusive conduct at work, while 72 percent of employers deny, discount, encourage, rationalize, or defend it. Bosses were found to be the majority of bullies.
Reasons For Bullying--It is basically about control. The WBI provides the following: "The target refuses to be subservient or controlled. The bully envies the target’s competence. The bully envies the target’s social skills, being liked or having a positive attitude. There is a whistleblower retaliation. There is a hostile workplace culture where bullying leads to promotion. The bully simply has a cruel personality or there’s substance abuse involved."
Signs Of Bullying--The WBI provides the following: "Look for departments with high turnover rates or absences. Beware of multiple complaints and grievances against a person, because bullying behaviors are patterned and continue unless consequences are provided for the bully. Look for departments where employee response to management’s assessments of employees is consistently refuted by a number of different workers."
Alexandra Robbins recently wrote an article on how most nurses have been the victims of bullying by doctors. The article, Doctors Throwing Fits, highlighted the findings in her new book, The Nurses: A Year of Secrets, Drama, and Miracles with the Heroes of the Hospital, which follows four nurses, but includes hundreds of interviews by others across the country. They discuss many things, including the hardest part about their job in dealing with bully doctors. Dr. Pauline W. Chen first raised awareness about bullying in the medical profession with her New York Times article, The Bullying Culture of Medical School, published in 2012. This news might come as a shocker for some of you, but it was not for me.
Last year while presenting my dissertation at the 55th Annual AERC Adult Education Research Conference at Penn State Harrisburg, I attended the session Workplace Bullying: Implications for Adult Educators, presented by Dr. Kathy Bonnar, assistant professor of counselor education at Concordia University Chicago, and Dr. Judy L. Skorek, program director, clinical mental health counseling at Adler School of Professional Psychology (Chicago). When Bonnar and Skorek revealed the top two professions that face the most workplace bullying, people were somewhat surprised. Can you guess them? The medical profession ranked No. 1 and education ranked No. 2. Government workers, according to a 2014 CareerBuilder study on bullying, were “nearly twice as likely to report being bullied (47 percent) than those in the corporate world (28 percent).”
Who Is The Bully?--The WBI provides the following description: "Someone who tries to dominate another in every encounter. They usually rank above the target and it doesn’t matter his/her background, status or position. There’s an inability to deal with his/her own feelings of inadequacy and self loathing that has nothing to do with the behavior of the target. Deep-seated flaws are unleashed on the target before attack and the bully has no reason to empathize with the plight of his/her target so the bully continues because she/he can."
Always keep your eyes open because bullies are manipulative serpents. These people will block a transfer to a different department and/or attempt to set up conflict between you and your colleagues. Dr. George K. Simon's book, In Sheep’s Clothing: Understanding & Dealing with Manipulative People, explains how bullies do things like taking credit for others work, lying about targeted employees performance to others that are higher ups, attempting to manipulate or monopolize the target’s higher ups perceptions through lies and isolation, shaming, marginalizing, maligning, degrading and finding constant fault. It doesn’t matter where you are employed. Bullies are on the prowl and lurk in most every profession.
I read a profile story recently about someone that made me cringe. It was beautifully written, yet sadly painted the portrait of a textbook-classic model of a bully. People were abuzz about the article for a minute but things soon quieted down. What saddens me most about the article is that nothing will probably happen to this person. Bullies never take responsibility for their action and are sometimes, it appears, given a license to behave the way they do because no one seems to confront them. Employers must realize how bullying makes the workplace toxic for everyone. The truth, however, can hurt so many choose to look the other way. We all know that bullying takes place as much as it is allowed in a company’s culture. Bullies knowingly make a conscious choice to target and ultimately control another. Control, once again, is the operative word here.
Who Is The Target?--The WBI provides the following: "The target has a strong sense of integrity and justice. This person is courageous and isn’t afraid of the bully. The target tends to see things for how they could be and are discouraged when the unnecessary and counterproductive needs and insecurities of a bully frustrate workplace productivity."
Targets of bullies have paid dearly for standing up to these folks, because the abuse doesn’t simply wreak havoc on a person’s life at work. The stress goes home and can lead to depression and/or anxiety disorders such as panic attacks and post-traumatic stress disorder. CareerBuilder’s study on bullying showed 28 percent of workers have felt bullied, while 19 percent cave in to the pressure and go so far as to quit their job. Most bullies may be the boss, but some co-workers have played an integral role in the shenanigans. These people I refer to as sidekick imps. Reports have overwhelmingly shown that co-workers know of their targeted fellow colleagues but say nothing. These people don’t realize how much silence is just as problematic.
Bully-prone places of employment, according to research, hope to instill fear in its employees. “Executives give higher priority to personal friendships than the legitimate interests of the business,” says Dr. Gary Namie, director of the WBI, in the journal article Workplace Bullying: Escalated Incivility.
Bullying Comes With A Price--Bullies impact the bottom line and everyone pays for it. There are costs associated with employee attribution and unemployment benefits, because people who are trained and experienced leave the organization. There’s also low employee morale-lost incentive, according to Good Employers Purge Bullies, Bad Ones Promote Them, Schaef & Fassel, The Addictive Organization (1988). Organizational loses include “costs associated with high absenteeism, stress related illnesses, high employment turnover and lawsuits,” according to Liz Urbanski Farrell's 2002 article, Workplace Bullying’s High Cost: $180M In Lost Time & Productivity.
How Do I Make It Stop?
- Nip things in the bud. The study conducted by CareerBuilder showed 48 percent of the workers confronted the bully. Forty-five percent said the bullying stopped, 44 percent said nothing changed and 11 percent said it got worse.
- Put the power of prayer on it. I know a target who prayed for the bully and not even a week later, that person left the company. The bully was so focused on making everyone else’s life unhappy that little effort was placed on trying to learn the job or get it done correctly.
- Find a support system. Once again, co-workers know who is being bullied. I know another person who was bulled and explained how words of encouragement helped this person make it through. “Never let them see you sweat,” is what the person was constantly told. Bullies sometimes get a sick satisfaction out of making someone else’s life just as miserable as their own. Putting down another appears to build the bully’s own insecurities and low self esteem. Don’t give the bully the satisfaction of seeing that she/he is getting to you. That’s what that person wants. It’s all about control.
- Report the bully. Targets of bullying are often encouraged to tell their Human Resources (HR) department, but the CareerBuilder study learned that one-third reported the bullying to HR with 58 percent revealing no action was taken. Don’t despair. There are places where HR takes these sort of allegations seriously. I know of a target who reported a bully to HR and the foolishness stopped. The target said the bully and the imp, both confronted by HR, ran with their tails tucked between their legs.
- Take copious notes and detail incidents. This might work for you or against you. Some people have seemingly laid a bully out on a silver platter for HR to handle, yet the tables were turned on the target, who was later shown the door while the bully remained at the company to terrorize others.
Bullying in the workplace hurts everyone and will continue unless employers truthfully examine their culture to see how they might be contributing to the problem. The first step toward healing is through honesty. Visit workplacebullying.org for more information.
DocM.A.C. signing off. Keep the faith and always trust the process. #OnwardUpward
The Bully-Free Workplace: Stop Jerks, Weasels And Snakes From Killing Your Organization (2011) by Gary Namie, Ph.D. and Ruth Namie, Ph.D.
The Bully At Work: What You Can Do To Stop The Hurt And Reclaim Your Dignity On The Job (2000, 2003, 2009) by Gary Namie, Ph.D. and Ruth Namie, Ph.D.