The Bureau Of Labor Statistics estimates that there are about 125 million workers in the U.S. A recent survey from The Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI) says that over 60 million, nearly half of all workers, are victims of workplace bullying.
Many are under the false notion that bullying just affects grade school children and pre-teens, but the reality is that bullying doesn’t stop on the playground or in the high school cafeteria. Many Americans have to wake up every day and go to work with people who are damaging their self-esteem, self-image, and self-worth, with the fear of quitting due to the reliance on a paycheck. For those who suffer from bullying or need help dealing with bullying in their workplace or their business, here are some tips for how to move forward.
What is Workplace Bullying?
Bullying is generally defined as an unwanted and aggressive behavior that involves a real or perceived social, financial, or physical power imbalance. The behavior, once it starts, is often repeated over time. A group of bullies is referred to as a “mob”, where there might be one main bully along with some supporting bullies. Bullying can be social (exclusion, spreading rumors, etc.), as well as verbal and physical. A culture of bullying can form anywhere that human beings interact with each other, including the workplace.
The WBI defines workplace bullying as the repeated mistreatment of one or more people, by one or more perpetrators. It is conduct that is threatening, humiliating, intimidating, interferes with work, and can include verbal or physical abuse. The WBI states that workplace bullying is driven by the perpetrator’s need to control the targeted individual and can be carried out through acts of commission (directly doing things to them) or acts of omission (withholding resources from them).
Negative Effects Of Workplace Bullying
Stress, anxiety, reduced self-esteem, and depression are just some of the major mental health effects that workplace bullying can have on an individual. There have been reports that stress from workplace bullying can directly lead to an employee’s death. There have also been some reported cases of suicide as a result of workplace bullying, and others reporting being on the verge of suicide. Researchers have also verified that workplace bullying significantly increases the rate of suicide thoughts in victims. This is in addition to the potential of reduced productivity, reduced enjoyment of work, and other negative performance effects that employees experience as a result of workplace bullying.
Can You Fight Back Legally?
Currently, there are no laws in place against actual workplace bullying, unless the bullying turns into or includes a form of sexual harassment or discrimination. From a legal standpoint, there isn’t much recourse, although there is hope with efforts from the Healthy Workplace Campaign which has helped introduce various anti-workplace bullying bills with some hope of new laws being formed that directly attack the practice.
Check out this map to get current updates on legislation in your state related to Workplace Bullying.
If You Can’t Fight Legally, How Can You Fight Back?
I’ve been involved in a variety of positions over my lifetime and while some workplace cultures are what author Andrew Faas calls a “stable culture”, which is one where employees are supported, rewarded, roles are defined, and everyone treats each other with respect. But he also identifies other cultures that are dictatorial or disjointed, which is full of unchecked power, jealousy, strife, workplace bullying, harassment, and a variety of other nuisances.
So what if you just happen to end up in an unstable workplace culture? If can’t fight back legally, what are your other remedies against workplace bullying? Here are a couple of ideas to note:
Make Sure It’s Not Locker Room Talk
Here’s the reality, some workplaces are like locker rooms, and the roasting, mocking, verbal attacks, etc., is part of the team’s way of initiating someone into the crew. There might not be any actual harm or malice behind it, so make sure the situation is an actual workplace bullying situation and not just a situation of “tough love” that appears as verbal assaults.
Address It Immediately
If what you are experiencing or what you see taking place is actual workplace bullying, address it directly and head on with the perpetrator the first moment you notice it. If it continues, keep addressing it directly with the perpetuators and documenting it. Once the documentation gets to a certain size, take it up stream to leadership and HR.
Leave The Company
If the culture has gotten to the point where you feel as though you are focusing more on the issues of bullying rather than productivity, growth, and professional development, then it might be time to leave the organization. That being said, this is why you want to always do two things throughout your professional career:
Never Take Yourself Off The Market
You never know when you will end up in a dumb workplace environment and have to take your talents elsewhere, so always keep your skills developed, always network, and never take yourself off the market so that if you must move, the move can be swift.
Live Below Your Means With A Rainy Day Fund
Economic downturns aren’t the only things that threaten job positions, unstable workplace environments are also a potential problem. You should always strive to live below your means, make sure you are saving a high percentage of your income if possible and have a rainy day fund in case you need to live off of savings for a time while you find a more stable and suitable work environment.
The alternative to the above suggestions would be continuing to show up to a workplace environment that is potentially unhealthy and unproductive, all because you are depended on a paycheck. Never take yourself off the market and always live below your means so that you can keep your options open to other positions and opportunities within the marketplace should your current position become toxic.
Workplace Bullying Is Bad Business
If you are a bully or you know of a bully, put a halt to the practice immediately. From a business perspective, you as an entrepreneur or the team you are employed by, are spending resources, time, energy, and capital to employ individuals who are being bullied and said bullying is reducing return on investments while destroying lives.
Workplace bullying is simply bad business, and needs to be put to an end. If you’re aware of bullying going on in your business, take the appropriate steps to make the workplace safe for yourself and your employees.