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Workplace Bullying: How to Recognize the Signs

Often times when the topic of bullying comes up, our first instinct is to associate it with children.  While the media has recently given significant, and much-needed attention to the dangers and impact that bullying has in schools and on school-aged children and their families, little has been given to how bullying affects the workplace.  Workplace bullying is present in a substantial part of the global workforce; since 2010 workplace bullying has proven to be the fastest growing complaint among workers, surpassing sexual harassment and racial discrimination to become the most prevalent on-the-job allegation. (Hanley, GM., Query, T., 2010)

The Workplace Bullying Institute defines bullying as the repeated, health-harming mistreatment of one or more persons (targets) by one or more perpetrators, that assumes one or more of the following forms:

  • Verbal Abuse
  • Offensive Conduct / Behavior (including non-verbal) which are threatening, humiliating or intimidating
  • Work interference – sabotage – which prevents work from getting done

Why It Is Happening
According to some, the recession has led to an increase in the instances of people being bullied at work.  However, many are afraid to report instances of bullying for fear of losing their jobs.  Because most times than not, the biggest perpetrator of bullying is a supervisor or manager.  Most organizations and states do not have strict guidelines in place at this point.

Workplace Bullying:

  • Is driven by perpetrators’ need to control the targeted individual(s) and subordinates are more often the targets of bullying
  • Is initiated by bullies who choose their targets, timing, location and methods
  • Escalates to involve others who side with the bully, either voluntarily or through coercion
  • Undermines legitimate business interests when bullies’ personal agendas take precedence over work itself
  • Is akin to domestic violence – the abuser is under the same roof, and on the payroll

How It Can Affect the Individual
Over one-third of workers in the United States will become victims of workplace bullying during their career, causing them to experience one or more of the following emotions and/or symptoms:  anger, frustration, helplessness, vulnerability, a loss of confidence, depression, panic attacks, and stress. Physiological effects can include: high blood pressure, heart disease, and chronic fatigue syndrome.

The Impact It Can Have on the Organization
The effect that bullying has on individuals in an organization will undoubtedly have a large-scale, negative impact on the organization as a whole.  Aside from a decrease in revenue and productivity, companies can expect to experience: increased absenteeism, increased turnover, increased stress, increased costs for employee assistance programs and recruitment, and increased risk for accidents / incidents, a decrease in morale and motivation.   Also, the potential cost of a lawsuit can become detrimental to the company, and ultimately result in a reduced corporate image and client confidence.  The Workplace Bullying Institute estimates between turnover and lost productivity a  workplace bully could cost a Fortune 500 company an astounding $24,000,000; add another $1.4 Million for litigation and settlement costs.

Hope for a Solution
Unfortunately, no state has passed a law against Workplace Bullying yet.   While several states are currently considering statutes that outlaw workplace bullying, the key to ensuring that these statutes become law is raising awareness about the issue and the impact it has had, and will continue to have on the American Workforce as a whole.  Companies can take control by developing and implementing anti-bullying policies, addressing and documenting alleged instances of bullying when complaints surface, and increasing awareness about bullying and the impact that it has on a workplace.

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Photo Credit: Workers' Compensation Watch