Bullying: When Your Office is the Playground and What to Do about It

Today is National Stop Bullying Day, and while many of us relate bullying to children and playgrounds, it goes well beyond that into our workplaces. Bullying has become a major concern for parents of children, but we must also be aware of how it affects us as employees and employers.

More than a quarter of Americans say they are being and/or have been bullied at work (27% according to a recent survey by the Workplace Bullying Institute). Bullying is four times more prevalent than illegal discrimination; yet there are no formal laws against bullying specifically, at this time. In an article written for Time magazine, by Martha C. White (3/10/14), it is estimated that “Men make up about 2/3 of bullies, and their targets are women 57% of the time. Although women make up only 31% of bullies, their targets are overwhelmingly – more than 2/3 of the time – other women. With bullying by a boss being the most common kind of workplace bullying, making up more than half of all instances.” More than 68% of bullies hold managerial or supervisory positions, and high stress professions like health care, law, and commissioned sales work are more susceptible to bullying.

So what constitutes workplace bullying?

  • Verbal abuse oral or written – yelling at, using foul language directed at, insulting or putting someone down.
  • Offensive behaviors which are threatening, humiliating, or intimidating.
  • Work interference or sabotage that prevents work from getting done.
  • Consistently talking over a particular person at meetings.
  • Falsely accusing someone of errors that a person didn’t actually make, stealing credit for their work, or blaming others for their own shortcomings.
  • Hostile staring or nonverbal intimidation.
  • Unjustly discounting a person’s thoughts or feelings in front of others.
  • Using the “silent” treatment, or purposely failing to follow up with a specific person.
  • Making up rules for specific people; making unreasonable work demands.
  • Disregarding and discrediting satisfactory work despite evidence or constantly picking out their mistakes and bringing them up to others.
  • Harshly and constantly criticizing a person.
  • Starting, or failing to stop, a destructive rumor, gossip, or lies about a person.
  • Encouraging people to turn against a person being tormented.
  • Singling out and isolating one person from other co-workers, either socially or physically.
  • Publicly directing gross and undignified behavior at the victim, or playing mean pranks.
  • Yelling, screaming, or throwing tantrums in front of others to humiliate someone.

In essence, workplace bullying is more than mere incivility or rudeness, it is the repeated health-harming mistreatment of a co-worker or employee which is severe enough to compromise the victim’s health, jeopardize his job, and strain his relationships with others. Bullying can trigger many stress related health problems including hypertension, auto-immune disorders, depression, anxiety, migraines, and post-traumatic stress disorder for the individual. For a company it can mean decreased morale and trust in management, and increased employee absenteeism and turnover.

Bullying doesn’t usually involve physical violence; however, researchers are starting to draw correlations between targets of bullying and incidents of workplace violence. When the bully is fed up and may not be able to take anymore, there is a higher likelihood of retaliation through violence. An estimated 1.7 million employees are injured each year because of workplace assaults, with 28% of all violent crime in the US occurring in the workplace (these are not all the result of bullying).

Currently there are no workplace anti-bullying laws in the United States; however, more than 25 states have proposed variations of the Healthy Workplace Bill, prohibiting workplace harassment not based on a protected class. Many times employers react to laws with internal policies, and that is just what they should do as an employer – before a law even needs be passed. Fifty six percent of companies, according to SHRM, already have an anti-bullying policy as part of their employee handbook, with the responses to bullying including termination, suspension, or anger-management training. An anti-bullying policy needs to:

  • Define bullying
  • Provide a statement as to the purpose of the policy
  • Provide examples of such behavior
  • Have a reporting procedure for victims
  • Define actions/consequences for bullying

If you find yourself regularly feeling intimidated and dread going to work, you may be the victim of workplace bullying. When you find yourself the victim of bullying:

  • Document the date, time and details of the incident
  • Note if another employee witnessed the incident
  • Seek help from Management and/or Human Resources
  • If applicable, document the bully’s impact on business results and success
  • If in an email, maintain a hard copy of the trail of emails

As a client of HR Strategies, we are here to aid you in the creation of all policies, including Anti-Harassment or Bullying, and answer any questions or concerns you or your worksite employees may have.

Contact Us Today or Give us a Call at 770-339-0000


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About HR Strategies

HR Strategies is a private human resource management firm created to enable small business owners to focus on their core competencies, rather than the tedium of running payroll, providing employee benefits, or the many other facets of human resource administration. We allow business owners to concentrate on their passion, without being distracted by countless human resource responsibilities.

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