The recent news detailing the plight of 15-year-old Phoebe Prince from Massachusetts and her alleged experience of physical and verbal abuse by her schoolmates has brought daily intimidation by a bully to new public attention. No matter how old you are or where you are in your life or career, abuse by a bully can pose a serious threat to your emotional and physical well-being.
When it happens in the workplace, it creates a dysfunctional environment that can yield high staff turnover, lost productivity and increased litigation, and may jeopardize employee health and insurance costs. Bullies in the workplace are not uncommon. According to research by the Washington-based Workplace Bullying Institute, bullying is four times more prevalent than illegal discrimination and 37 percent of U.S. workers experience it. Think about where you work. Is there a bully among your colleagues? Characteristics of bullying behavior include constant fault finding and criticism of trivial things. A bully may refuse to acknowledge your value to the organization and consistently attempt to undermine your position, status and potential. Bullies may behave in a subtle, manipulative way or they may demean you outright and expose you to verbal abuse or belittle you in front of others.
A bully makes aggressive behavior the norm. At work, they typically try to advance or promote themselves at the expense of a vulnerable coworker who is generally much more capable, but passive and/or somewhat timid. A bully’s target is often reluctant to come forward for fear of retribution; and if the bully is the boss, there is the additional fear of job loss. According to the Workplace Bullying Institute, most bullies (72 percent) do happen to be bosses, 40 percent of bullied individuals never tell their employers, 45 percent of targets suffer stress-related health problems and 24 percent are fired as a result of performance issues such as high sick day absences or on-the-job errors. Bullying is mostly same-gender harassment— 32 percent between men; 29 percent between women.
Shamefully, 62 percent of employers ignore the problem; however, since 2003, 17 states have introduced the Healthy Workplace Bill, including New York; the bill allows a target to sue the bully as an individual and also holds the employer accountable.
What can you do if you are a bully’s target on the job?
• Keep a detailed written record of each incident. Note date, time and place, who else was present and the type of behavior you experienced.
• While under attack from a bully, stay calm. Respond in a clear, coherent manner.
• Confront the bully and tell them to stop. Make the bully aware of his or her own behavior and state firmly you will no longer tolerate their attacks and if they continue, you will report them to management.
• If the bullying continues, break your silence by speaking to someone in a leadership role such as Human Resources or a senior supervisor.
• File a formal complaint or learn what the grievance procedure is at your organization.
• If your employer makes no attempt to correct the bully’s behavior, find a new job. Do not work in an environment that permits or supports such unacceptable behavior.
No position is worth the emotional and psychological angst that can slowly become a part of your daily routine. Don’t become a victim of your job. If you are tired of being bullied by a colleague or supervisor, you have three choices: Fight back, change your own reaction to the bully’s behavior, or change your job.
Nancy Schuman is a vice president at Lloyd Staffing, headquartered in Melville, and is the author of eight how-to books on career guidance and job-search techniques. Lloyd Staffing offers temporary, contract and full-time employment services on a regional and national basis. Send your career-related questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.