Bullied at Work

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By Graciela Gonzalez, EAP Counselor

The term “bully” may conjure for you an image of a mean kid in school, but for many adults it’s a co-worker or supervisor that comes to mind. In fact, a global poll conducted by City & Guilds Group found that 52 percent of employees reported they had encountered workplace bullying and felt psychologically unsafe at work. This past May in Japan, Parliament passed legislation obligating companies to protect workers after workplace bullying and abuses of power cases hit a record high for the sixth consecutive year.

Types of bullying behavior

In the work environment, bullies often have specific goals such as withholding information to impede work progress, attempting to raise stress levels by criticizing others, meddling in and manipulating situations or elevating themselves by humiliating others. Workplace bullying can also mimic schoolyard bullying behavior such as stealing or hiding tools and lunches, encouraging segregation or alienation and harassing peers.

Bullies often target colleagues or co-workers based on their gender, age, race, sexual preference, religion or perceived disability. Additionally, bullies may seek out a perceived “type” of individual, including the following:

  • Successful/Skilled – Bullies may target co-workers who receive significant positive attention for their work, go the extra mile or show strong commitment.
  • Well-liked – Bullies may see these people as a threat to their own popularity and social status at work.
  • Caring – Bullies who strongly oppose team building and seek control are often at odds with caring, social and collaborative people. Wanting to call all the shots, these bullies tend to make team players the target of their harassment.
  • Non-Confrontational – Bullies may view introverted, anxious or submissive individuals as suitable victims, since they are less likely to defend themselves.

Impact of “bullying” on employees, organizations

Bullied employees may experience emotional and physical symptoms at work and at home including headaches, chronic neck pain, sleep problems, low self-esteem, self-loathing, anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideation. In a recent article, psychiatrist Dr. Renata Schoeman, said bullies at work can lead to an increase in “conflict, stress, staff turnover and absenteeism,” as well as help reduce productivity and erode corporate culture.

Suggestions for dealing with a bully

Bullying behavior must be addressed. Individuals who are being bullied are encouraged to address the issue and seek help, rather than remain silent and hope the problem will go away.

An individual being bullied at work should consider the following options:

  • Address the situation. Using clear, strong, professional language the employee should tell the bully how their behavior is unacceptable.
  • Document the incident(s). If possible, employees should keep records, emails, pictures that illustrate the bullying behaviors.
  • Check company policies related to harassment, bullying, mistreatment, mobbing (when several employees gang up on one individual), and verbal abuse.
  • Make a formal complaint with Human Resources Department.
  • Report criminal behavior to authorities.
  • Seek legal counsel.

As part of their responsibility to create a safe and healthy work environment, employers need to take a strong stance toward preventing bullying behavior by fellow workers, as well as customers. Companies can begin by developing or reviewing policies related to workplace harassment and bullying, followed by communicating those policies on an ongoing basis. Mandatory training related to recognizing and responding to situations of bullying and harassment should also be conducted regularly for employees at all levels of the company. Finally, employers should consider providing employees access to confidential, emotional wellbeing support, which can aid those employees who have been the target of a workplace bully.

Workplace Options helps employees balance their work, family and personal needs to become healthier, happier and more productive, both personally and professionally. The company’s world-class employee support, effectiveness and wellbeing services provide information, resources, referrals and consultation on a variety of issues ranging from dependent care and stress management to clinical services and wellness programs. To learn more visit www.workplaceoptions.com.