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Is Workplace Bullying Becoming a Bigger Problem?

Workplace bullyingAs we’ve discussed before, workplace bullying isn’t a new issue, and it doesn’t appear to be going away anytime soon. In fact, a recent CareerBuilder survey conducted by Harris Interactive© among more than 3,800 workers nationwide reveals the problem not only isn’t going away — it’s becoming more common.

Thirty-five percent of workers said they have felt bullied at work, up from 27 percent last year. This could mean more workers are feeling bullied – or it could mean more employees are coming forward and vocalizing their situation. The effects of workplace bullying go beyond simply hurt feelings or a bruised ego: 16 percent of workers who say they have felt bullied said they’ve suffered health-related problems as a result, and 17 percent went so far as to quit their jobs to escape the situation.

The Workplace Bullying Institute, which developed back in 1997 to help workers deal with the trauma of workplace bullying, defines bullying as “a systematic campaign of interpersonal destruction that jeopardizes your health, your career, the job you once loved. Bullying is a non-physical, non-homicidal form of violence and, because it is violence and abusive, emotional harm frequently results.”

Bullying affects morale, motivation, work performance and productivity, and can also lead to higher absenteeism, health care costs and turnover — not to mention the psychological toll it takes on your employees.

The WBI also points out that bullying can take three main forms:

  • Verbal abuse
  • Offensive conduct/behaviors (including nonverbal) which are threatening, humiliating, or intimidating
  • Work interference — sabotage — which prevents work from getting done

Since bullying comes in so many forms, it’s often difficult to define bullying by one specific action. When asked to describe how they were bullied, though, workers most often pointed to the following examples:

  • Falsely accused of mistakes – 42 percent
  • Ignored – 39 percent
  • Used different standards/policies toward me than other workers – 36 percent
  • Constantly criticized – 33 percent
  • Someone didn’t perform certain duties, which negatively impacted my work – 31 percent
  • Yelled at by boss in front of co-workers – 28 percent
  • Belittling comments were made about my work during meetings – 24 percent
  • Gossiped about – 26 percent
  • Someone stole credit for my work – 19 percent
  • Purposely excluded from projects or meetings – 18 percent
  • Picked on for personal attributes – 15 percent
How to deal with workplace bullying

Rosemary Haefner, vice president of human resources at CareerBuilder, points out that although workers may define or explain their bullying experiences differently, a common theme usually persists:

 “How workers define bullying can vary considerably, but it is often tied to patterns of unfair treatment. Bullying can have a significant impact on both individual and company performance. It’s important to cite specific incidents when addressing the situation with the bully or a company authority and keep focused on finding a resolution.”


Silent (near) majority

CareerBuilder’s study found that workplace bullying is often kept in the dark: More than half of workers (51 percent) don’t confront their bullies, and the majority of incidents end up going unreported. As it turns out, who the perpetrator is in age or rank at the office may be a major reason for this:

  • Most workers who said they’d felt bullied said their their boss (48 percent) or co-workers (45 percent) were responsible. Thirty-one percent said they had been picked on by customers, and 26 percent pointed to someone higher up in the company who wasn’t their boss.
  • More than half (54 percent) of bullied workers said someone older than them was the bully. Twenty-nine percent said their bully was younger.
Confronting the bully

Although more than half of workers who are bullied never confront the situation, 49 percent do take action. Of those who said they were bullied and did something about it, 50 percent said the bullying stopped afterwards, while 11 percent said it actually got worse and 38 percent said the bullying didn’t change at all.

How bullying is treated at work can have a lot to do with whether employees feel empowered to report a problem in the future. 

Twenty-seven percent percent of workers who felt bullied reported it to their human resources department. Of these workers, 43 percent said action was taken after they reported the situation, but the majority (57 percent) said nothing was done. Employees can and will draw conclusions about acceptable or encouraged workplace behavior from the way they observe your company treating its own employees. So the biggest question is, how does your organization handle bullying — if at all?

Your responsibility as an employer

Do you have a zero-tolerance policy for bullying, or do you choose to ignore the issue and deal with it if and when it happens (and assuming you even hear about it)? How seriously your company views bullying may weigh heavily on not only on how employees handle bullying when it occurs, but also on how often it occurs in the first place.

Consider passing the following three points of action on to your employees and leaders to make it known that your company doesn’t tolerate bullying, help empower employees to take action if they’re bullied, and increase awareness company-wide of what is and isn’t appropriate work behavior.

1. Keep record of all incidents of bullying, documenting places, times, what happened and who was present.

2. Consider talking to the bully, providing examples of how you felt treated unfairly. Chances are the bully may not be aware that he or she is making you feel this way.

3. Always focus on resolution. When sharing examples with the bully or a company authority, center the discussions around how to make the working situation better or how things could be handled differently.

What kinds of steps has your organization taken to prevent workplace bullying or encourage awareness of the problem? Does you have a verbal and written anti-bullying policy?