“”My relationship with the office bully is strained and unproductive. Whenever we interact I get a knot in my stomach.”
If you have experienced something similar, you’re not alone. In 2013, The Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI) reported that “35% of the US workforce has experienced workplace bullying” (http://www.workplacebullying.org/individuals/problem/being-bullied/).
Bullies yell, spread rumors, roll their eyes or “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 …” Gretchen, from the movie, Mean Girls, says: “I’m sorry that people are so jealous of me … but I can’t help it that I’m popular.” Bullies often see themselves as the victim and don’t get or care how they make others feel. Says one bully, “The biggest problem I have at work 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 have “hypertension, auto-immune disorders, depression, anxiety and … have their work and career disrupted.” One victim reports, “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 New Jersey-based, award-winning human resources firm, conducted written surveys and interviews in 2012. 121 people participated, from age 20 – 65, from companies with 50 – 5,000 + employees, and from a variety of industries.
Over 80% of respondents believe that bullying is a serious problem but fewer than 25% of companies do anything about it.
Bullying includes swearing, shouting, humiliation, and unwarranted criticism and blame. One victim reports, “I had to make a bank deposit so I left the office and locked the door. When the bully could not get in, she called me, screamed, and threatened to have me fired. The next day another employee showed her the office key on her key chain. She never apologized. Her response was just ‘Oh, silly me.’”
ur study, over 50% witnessed or were victims of bullying in their current workplace (60% at a previous company).
Over 95% of victims report increased stress and 90% report lower job satisfaction. Other effects include health complaints (65.4%) and lower productivity (57.9%).
Men are bullies more often (55%) and women are victims most of the time (77.1%). Most victims (59.3%) and bullies (68.6%) are ages 41 – 60 which leads to an interesting question … will Millennials (born 1977 – 1992), reputed to “play well with others”, be less prone to bully?
Another finding is that most bullies (77.6%) are at a level above the victim. In the movie, The Devil Wears Prada, Andy says about her boss, “She’s not happy unless everyone around her is panicked, nauseous or suicidal.”
The majority (78.2%) state that no actions were taken to correct bullying. However, when action is taken, coaching is the preferred strategy (50%) followed by termination (38.9%).
Most believe that bullies have psychological issues (88.1%) while others see bullying as career-driven: to weed out competition (60.3%) or get ahead (52.4%). One victim states, “Our office bully needs to listen and manage her temper. She needs to stop throwing people under the bus.”
80% favor laws to prevent workplace bullying but believe that laws have not been passed because employers worry about lawsuits (63%) or don’t understand differences between bullying and harassment (59.7%). 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.
Over 90% think that discipline is the best course of action, 88.8% favor policies, 86.4% want to know how to report bullying, and 84.8% favor training. Says one executive, “It’s important to take complaints seriously and handle things 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. Leaders must create a culture to prevent workplace bullying. And if that doesn’t happen, remember Ralphie from A Christmas Story? His best line in the movie? “Say Uncle. Say it!”
About the authors: By Judy Lindenberger and Travis Johnson. The Lindenberger Group is an award-winning human resources consulting firm located near Princeton, New Jersey with experience in developing policies, conducting training and providing coaching on all types of workplace issues, including bullying. You can learn more about The Lindenberger Group at www.lindenbergergroup.com.