Workplace bullying can have a serious negative impact on individuals and on companies, but is unfortunately common. Everyone in a company benefits from recognizing and stopping workplace bullying. If you are a bully or being bullied at work keep reading to learn how to stop.
Workplace bullying is when one a person or group of people in a workplace single out another person for unreasonable, embarrassing, or intimidating treatment. Usually the bully is a person in a position in authority who feels threatened by the victim, but in some cases the bully is a co-worker who is insecure or immature. Workplace bullying can be the result of a single individual acting as a bully or of a company culture that allows or even encourages this kind of negative behavior.
Workplace bullying can take many forms:
- Shouting or swearing at an employee or otherwise verbally abusing him or her
- One employee being singled out for unjustified criticism or blame
- An employee being excluded from company activities or having his or her work or contributions purposefully ignored
- Workplace bullies use language or actions that embarrass or humiliate an employee
- Practical jokes, especially if they occur repeatedly to the same person
There are also some things that are usually not considered workplace bullying:
- A manager who shouts at or criticizes all of his or her employees. While this is a sign of a bad manager and makes a workplace unpleasant, it is not bullying unless only one or a few individuals are being unjustifiably singled out.
- A co-worker who is critical of everything, always takes credit for successes and passes blame for mistakes, and/or frequently makes hurtful comments or jokes about others. Unless these actions are directed at one individual, they represent poor social skills, but not a workplace bully.
- Negative comments or actions that are based on a person’s gender, ethnicity, religion, or other legally protected status. This is considered harassment and, unlike bullying, is illegal in the United States and gives the victim legal rights to stop the behavior.
According to the Workplace Bullying Institute, up to a third of workers may be the victims of abuse by workplace bullies. About twenty percent of workplace bullying crosses the line into harassment. The New York Times found that about sixty percent of workplace bullies are men, and they tend to bully male and female employees equally. Female bullies, however, are more likely to bully other females. This may be because there is more pressure on females trying to succeed in male-dominated workplace, and more competition between females for promotions.
Regardless of its source, workplace bullying can have serious negative effects on employees, such as:
- Absenteeism and low productivity
- Lowered self-esteem and depression
- Digestive upsets
- High blood pressure
- Trouble with relationships due to stress over work
- Post traumatic stress disorder
Workplace bullying is also bad for business. Some of the ways that companies suffer due to bullying include:
- High turnover, which is expensive for companies as they invest in hiring and training new employees only to lose them shortly thereafter, possibly to a competitor
- Low productivity since employees are not motivated to do their best and are more often out sick due to stress-related illnesses
- Lost innovations since the bully is more interested in attacking his or her victim than advancing the company, and the victims become less likely to generate or share new ideas
- Difficulty hiring quality employees as word spreads that the company has a hostile work environment
Because treatment by workplace bullies can be devastating to employees and companies, some companies have instituted zero-tolerance policies toward workplace bullying. In these companies, if an employee is being bullied he or she needs to document the bullying and present the problem to the proper person in the company, usually someone in human resources or upper management. Companies with good anti-bullying policies usually hold meetings from time to time to remind employees what workplace bullying is, how to report it, and the consequences for bullying.
In some companies, however, there is a company culture of workplace bullying. Usually companies do not purposefully support bullying, but they may develop a problem with it either through not taking workplace bullying seriously or by developing the habit of placing blame and fault finding instead of solving problems. In these companies, employees who make a case against bullies may find that the bullying only gets worse. In this situation, employees often have to either make the best of the situation or find different employment.
Employees who are or have been victims of workplace bullying should realize that it is not their fault that they are being bullied. If they are suffering negative effects from the bullying they should seek help from a doctor or counselor and, if the bullying is ongoing, from a career advisor who can help them plan a job or career change.
Washington State Department of Labor and Industries, “Workplace Bullying: What Everyone Needs to Know” [online]
Workplace Bullying Institute [online]
The New York Times, Business, “Backlash: Women Bullying Women at Work” [online]