Bullying is Happening at Work
Bullies and bullying have traditionally been viewed as a school problem. Educators, parent groups, and politicians are doing what they can to address the issue.
Unfortunately the problem doesn’t end at graduation. Bullying also occurs at work. In a 2010 Zogby poll commissioned by The Workplace Bully Institute, 35% of workers responded that they had experienced bullying firsthand. At the time of the survey, 9% said they were currently being bullied. Is it acceptable in your workplace for nearly 1 in 10 of your coworkers to feel bullied?
The Impact of Bullying
Upon hearing this stat, some wonder whether 1 in 10 are really being bullied or if they are simply misreading the situation.
On one hand, I would argue that it doesn’t matter. If an employee is complaining about bullying, the negative impacts on that person and the workplace are real. They include:
- Career damage
- Health problems
- Psychological scars
- Lower productivity
- Employee disengagement
A Definition for Workplace Bullying
On the other hand, the concern does highlight one of the key challenges employers face as they attempt to deal with the problem. There is no universally agreed upon definition of workplace bullying.
After considerable research, here is the definition I’ve settled on and use in my bullying prevention workshop.
Repeated, aggressive acts intended to harm others who have difficulty defending themselves.
Here’s why I think it works. First, the concept of repetition is important. It allows for people to make the occasional (hopefully rare) mistake in how they treat their coworkers.
When most of us make those kinds of mistakes, we do our best to learn from them, make amends, and not repeat them. Bullies continue using the same behaviors, often without remorse.
Intention is another important concept. While I may hurt you through my thoughts or actions, it could be explained because I lacked awareness of your feelings or possibly you misunderstood me.
The reason bullying is so bad is because the bully knowingly uses his or her tactics, without regard for the other person. I do think there may well be some “clueless bullies” or bullies who know what they are doing but somehow believe it’s for a greater good. In those cases, the response to those behaviors should look a lot like the response to intentional bullying.
Finally, the definition reflects a power disparity which gives the bully some sort of advantage over the target. Bullies aren’t stupid. They don’t typically target people who they believe can effectively retaliate.
Organizations that want to tackle workplace bullying need to first agree on a definition that works for them. The one offered here should provide you with a good place to start your conversations.
Here are more articles in this series.
- Defining the problem
- Understanding the problem
- Response options
- Change your thinking
- Confront the bully
- Report the problem
- Leave the situation
- Defend your coworkers
I’d also welcome your call to discuss your situation. Grab a slot on my calendar with the link below.