We’re hearing more and more about bullying in the workplace these days, and research shows that it is a common problem. Indications are that it may even be on the rise. This is not surprising, given the current and pervasive sense of job insecurity, as well as organizations’ increased demands for output and productivity while providing less in compensation, benefits, and support (Liz Alt Kislik, Liz Kislik Associates LLC).
Workplace bullies can be peers but—all too often—employees may find that the person bullying them on the job is their boss. Statistics gathered by The Civility Partners LLC show that between 53–71% of workplace bullies are in management. In most cases, victims are fired or transferred and bullies go unpunished.
One problem with bullying is that it is difficult to define. How do you determine whether your superior is truly a bully, or just simply demanding?
The Washington State Department of Labor and Industry defines bullying in the workplace as “repeated, unreasonable actions of individuals (or a group) directed towards an employee (or a group of employees) which are intended to intimidate, degrade, humiliate, or undermine; or which create a risk to the health or safety of the employee(s).”
Managers who are respectful, fair, and set reasonable expectations for performance—although demanding—are not defined as bullies. Aggression is a single act, while bullying involves repeated acts against a target.
In the workplace, bullying always shows up as an exertion of power—whether it’s overt or covert. A bully’s intent is to intimidate, force compliance, or ensure that the subject feels powerless (Kislik).
According to the Workplace Bullying Institute, workplace bullying involves the deliberate and repeated mistreatment of a target that is driven by a desire to control that person. The organization defines workplace bullying as “repeated, health-harming mistreatment of one or more persons (the targets) by one or more perpetrators that takes one or more of the following forms:
- Verbal abuse,
- Offensive conduct/behaviors (including nonverbal) which are threatening, humiliating, or intimidating, and/or
- Work interference—sabotage—which prevents work from getting done.”
Some consider workplace bullying a legitimate management style based on healthy competition. In fact, cultural values such as individuality, assertiveness, and achievement create an environment in which bullying can flourish. But, clearly, bullying behaviors are unacceptable and, if they are happening, they are probably going to continue until something puts a stop to it.
You can take action by:
- Following any workplace bullying policies currently in place
- Taking any necessary precautions to keep yourself physically safe
- Keeping a factual journal with details of the bullying events (including dates, times, places, what was said/done, who was present)
- Maintaining copies of electronic and paper documentation that supports your case
- Having a witness when possible
- Reporting the behavior to the appropriate person(s) outlined by your organization. If the bully is your immediate supervisor, you may have to go to the next level of management or present your case to Human Resources.
- Telling the bully firmly that the behavior is unacceptable and asking him/her to stop (document this)
- Finding someone to vent to or using a separate journal to release emotions
- Seeking outside council (legal or civil rights) as necessary
- Learning more about workplace bullying and creating a greater awareness by sharing what you’ve learned
- Refusing to retaliate
You can regain control by:
- Recognizing that you are being bullied
- Realizing that you are not the source of the problem
- Expecting the bully to deny and misconstrue your reports
- Recognizing that bullying is about control and not performance
- Adjusting your attitude and changing the way you view bullying behaviors
- Exuding confidence and courage and not letting the bully get to you
- Deciding not to be a victim
- Persisting in positive thinking
Have you ever felt bullied by your boss? If you are an organizational leader, can you identify any bullying behaviors in what you consider to be your “management style”? What positive changes, programs, or strategies could your organization implement to combat bullying in the workplace?