The Bullies Have Left The Playground
by Judith Lindenberger
If you have ever experienced an office bully, if your strained relationship makes you feel unproductive, and if you go to work with a knot in your stomach, then you are not alone. In 2013, the Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI) reported that 35 percent of the U.S. workforce has experienced workplace bullying. Bullies yell, spread rumors, roll their eyes, or purposely forget to invite you to meetings. According to WBI, workplace bullying is “repeated, health-harming mistreatment of one or more persons, by one or more perpetrators in the form of verbal abuse, offensive conduct/behavior, and work interference.
Rakesh Malhotra, founder of Five Global Values, writes, “Most bullies portray themselves … as polite and respectful, as they are charming in public.” Bullies often see themselves as the victim and don’t get or care how they make others feel.
“The biggest problem I have at work,” one bully says, “is that I don’t get respect from others.”
When bullies run amok in the workplace, they can cause emotional and psychological turmoil. Dr. Gary Namie, who is leading a campaign to enact the Healthy Workplace Bill, which requires employers to implement policies and procedures to prevent workplace bullying, says victims can suffer from “hypertension, auto-immune disorders, depression, anxiety and … have their work and career disrupted.” According to one victim, “I did not go to the satellite office for months because I did not want to see the bully.”
To learn more about workplace bullying, The Lindenberger Group, a human resources firm based in New Jersey, conducted written surveys and interviews last year with 121 participants, ages 20 to 65, representing companies with 50 to more than 5,000 employees and from a variety of industries.
More than 80 percent of respondents said they believe that bullying is a serious problem, but fewer than 25 percent of companies do anything about it.
Bullying includes swearing, shouting, humiliation, and unwarranted criticism and blame. According to one victim, “I had to do an errand, so I left the office and locked the door. When the bully could not get in, she called me on my cell phone, cursed at me, and threatened to have me fired. The next day another employee showed the bully that she had the key to the office on her key chain. She never apologized. Her response was just ‘Oh, silly me.’”
In the study, more than 50 percent of respondents witnessed or were victims of bullying in their current workplace (the number jumped to 60 percent when citing a previous company).
More than 95 percent of victims reported increased stress, and 90 percent reported lower job satisfaction. Other effects include health complaints (65.4 percent) and lower productivity (57.9 percent).
According to the data collected, respondents said men are bullies more often (55 percent) and women are victims most of the time (77.1 percent). Most victims (59.3 percent) and bullies (68.6 percent) polled are ages 41-60, which leads to an interesting question: Will millennials (born 1977-92), known to “play well with others,” be less prone to bullying?
Another finding is that most bullies (77.6 percent) are at a level above the victim. In the movie The Devil Wears Prada, the bullying boss is described as being “not happy unless everyone around her is panicked, nauseous, or suicidal.”
The majority of respondents (78.2 percent) stated that no actions were taken to correct bullying. However, when action is taken, coaching is the preferred strategy (50 percent) followed by termination (38.9 percent).
Most respondents believe that bullies have psychological issues (88.1 percent), while others see bullying as career driven: to weed out competition (60.3 percent) or get ahead (52.4 percent). One victim states, “Our office bully needs to learn to control her temper and stop throwing people under the bus.”
Eighty percent said they favor laws to prevent workplace bullying but believe that laws have not been passed because employers worry about lawsuits (63 percent) or don’t understand differences between bullying and harassment (59.7 percent). Bullying can be directed at anyone regardless of race, religion, nationality, gender, age, disability, or skin color. Harassment is treating someone differently because of those differences.
More than 90 percent said they think that discipline is the best course of action, 88.8 percent favor policies, 86.4 percent want to know how to report bullying, and 84.8 percent favor training. According to one executive, “It’s important to take complaints seriously and act quickly.
The course of action for human resource professionals is clear: Develop policies, provide training, let employees know how to report bullying, offer coaching, and create exit strategies. The course of action for managers is also clear: Take complaints seriously and follow through with disciplinary action.
Copyright © 2015 by The Lindenberger Group, LLC. All rights reserved.
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