Workplace Bullying

December 5, 2011

Workplace Bullying

Bullying doesn’t just happen to kids at school; it is a very real problem in the workplace as well. Millions of days are lost to businesses each year as a result of absenteeism caused by bullying. Bullying results in low morale, lower productivity and high staff turnover. Surveys suggest bullying is responsible for 30 – 50% of all stress related illnesses in the workplace.

Have you ever been bullied by your boss? Have you witnessed a co-worker being bullied by a supervisor? A recent study by the U.S. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health suggests that most incidents of workplace bullying are between employees, rather than perpetuated by a supervisor. Frankly, we find that very difficult to believe. Can it be true that most workplace bullying is by co-workers?

We believe a survey recently publish by the British Trade Union Congress on workplace bullying is highly significant. According to the survey, 2 million workers claim to have been bullied in the six months leading up to November 2005. What is particularly striking about this British evidence for workplace bullying is that it is senior managers, rather than co-workers, who are singled out as the worst offenders when it comes to acts of workplace bullying.

We think bullying by bosses is stupid because it is counterproductive. It is estimated that 18 million working days per year are lost through the effects of workplace bullying in the UK alone.

Are bullying bosses just a British phenomenon? Use the Submit a Story page to tell us what you think.

What is Bullying at Work?

Bullying at work is basically any behaviour that is malicious, intimidating, insulting or upsetting. It is a deliberate attempt by a colleague or boss to undermine, intimidate or control you. Bullying tends to be sustained over a long period rather than being a one off occurrence. Bullies rarely commit a physical attack but instead use more psychological tactics. The emotional problems that the victim experiences can be very hard to deal with. Any of the following can be regarded as bullying behaviour:

Verbal/physical threats
Being humiliated in public or shouted at
Blocking access to training/overtime and other benefits
Spreading malicious rumours
Persistent criticism that is undeserved
Setting impossible deadlines – setting you up to fail
Offensive reference to sex, race, age, etc
Exclusion from meetings or communications that are relevant to your job
A bully may be quite subtle when talking to you in front of other people, but when you are on your own with them, you may be subject to explosive outbursts.

Bullies will quite often try to wear you down by placing unreasonable demands on you. They may accuse your standard of work or accuse you of not pulling your weight.

What can you do about it?

Admit that you are being bullied
The first step you need to take is to acknowledge the fact you are being bullied. If you just try to ignore it, the problem will not go away.

Stand up for yourself
Try not to show the bully that their behaviour has upset you. Try to improve your assertiveness and communication skills. Look at your body language, don’t stoop or hang your head. Stand up straight with confidence and maintain eye contact. If you stand up to the bully rather than just take it lying down, chances are the bully may lose interest and turn their attentions elsewhere. Bullies prey on people that accept their bad behaviour. Don’t give them an easy ride – simply choose not accept the way they treat you. If they speak to you abusively, stand up to them and ask why they are treating you so badly. Tell them how their behaviour is affecting you. If they know that they are always going to have to account for their behaviour, your direct approach will potentially reduce the chances of them bullying you in the future.

Make a case
Gather information about this person. Is it just you they are targeting or are they bullying anyone else? Build a case to show the negative impact they are having on the workplace.

Keep a diary of bullying tactics. Make sure you include specific incidences and record exactly what was said. Specifics are much more useful than vague recollections.

Tell someone
Write a memo to the person concerned stating your criticism of the way you are being treated. Make sure you copy in your Human Resources manager. If you are called into a meeting, request that a colleague or friend comes in with you.

Request that your Human Resources department spell out clearly their policy on bullying.

What if the company does nothing?

Talk to friends
Talk to your friends and supportive colleagues. Don’t try to deal with the problems on your own.

Don’t be embarrassed to seek professional help
If you have been badly affected as a result of bullying, seek professional help. Your family doctor can refer you to counsellors and psychologists. Bullying causes stress, which can, over a sustained period of time have very harmful effects on your body. Symptoms of prolonged stress include tiredness/feeling run down, difficulty sleeping, headaches, heartburn, stomach ulcers, high blood pressure and heart disease.

Know when it’s time to move on
You need to ask yourself whether it is worth the stress of staying on. Some bullies will not back down and will continue to make your life hell. Is your job really worth it? If it is just the individual that is the problem, then the problem may be worth tackling, but in some cases the organisation may have a ‘bullying culture’. Why would you want to continue to work in an organisation that supports bullying?

Take some time out and make a list of what you are good at. Document your achievements and update your CV. Take this opportunity to push your career in a more fulfilling direction. Your health and sanity are much more important.

Need a nickname for your bully?

The following is an excerpt from a children’s book, Captain Underpants and the Perilous Plot of Professor Poopypants by Dave Pilkey. The evil Professor forces everyone to assume new names…..

Use the first letter of your first name to determine your NEW first name:
a = stinky
b = lumpy
c = buttercup
d = gidget
e = crusty
f = greasy
g = fluffy
h = cheeseball
i = chim-chim
j = poopsie
k = flunky
l = booger
m = pinky
n = zippy
o = goober
p = doofus
q = slimy
r = loopy
s = snotty
t = falafel
u = dorkey
v = squeezit
w = oprah
x = skipper
y = dinky
z = zsa-zsa

Use the first letter of your last name to determine the first half of your NEW last name:

a = diaper
b = toilet
c = giggle
d = bubble
e = girdle
f = barf
g = lizard
h = waffle
i = cootie
j = monkey
k = potty
l = liver
m = banana
n = rhino
o = burger
p = hamster
q = toad
r = gizzard
s = pizza
t = gerbil
u = chicken
v = pickle
w = chuckle
x =tofu
y = gorilla
z = stinker

Use the last letter of your last name to determine the second half of your NEW last name:

a = head
b = mouth
c = face
d = nose
e = tush
f = breath
g = pants
h = shorts
i = lips
j = honker
k = butt
l = brain
m = tushie
n = chunks
o = hiney
p = biscuits
q = toes
r = buns
s = fanny
t = sniffer
u = sprinkles
v = kisser
w = squirt
x =humperdinck
y = brains
z = juice

Thus, for example, George Bush’s new name is Fluffy Toiletshorts. Bill Clinton becomes Lumpy Gigglechunks, Tony Blair becomes Falafel Toiletbuns and Saddam Hussein becomes Snotty Wafflechunks.

How to Spot Workplace Bullies and Creeps
By Kim Droze, Special to LifeScript
Published November 06, 2007

Jerks are like bathrooms: Every office has them. They’re the insensitive clods whose actions leave colleagues feeling stung. And they’re rampant in today’s workplace. Now a book aptly titled The No Asshole Rule: Building A Civilized Workplace And Surviving One That Isn’t (Warner Business Books, 2007) offers help for those with co-workers from hell. In this LifeScript exclusive, author Robert Sutton shares guidelines for identifying the office jerks and mastering effective strategies to deal with creeps, tyrants, egomaniacs, and other undesirables…

They come in all shapes and sizes. They cover every age range and both genders. They hold entry level, management and executive positions. They are the office jerks – the people who demean and demoralize their fellow workers, according to Stanford professor and organizational psychologist Robert Sutton.

In his new book The No Asshole Rule, Sutton addresses the age-old problem of social tension created by workers who inflict misery on others. Blue-collar or white, no workplace is immune.
“There’s demeaning behavior and [there are] crazy people at every level,” Sutton tells LifeScript.
However, the “boss from hell” figure, like Meryl Streep’s tyrannical magazine editor in the 2006 movie “The Devil Wears Prada,” is all too real. According to Sutton, the higher up the corporate ladder you look, the more jerks you find.

“A lab study showed that those in positions of power become more focused on satisfying their own needs and less focused on the needs and reactions of others,” Sutton says. “People also start acting as if the rules don’t apply to them.”

What role does the pecking order play? “It does tend to roll downhill,” says Sutton of bullying and other bad behaviors. “Fifty to 60 percent of abuse [involves] higher-status people whomping lower-status people. At least 35 percent is peer to peer, and 30 percent of the people kick up.”

“When you start looking at occupations like universities, law firms and hospitals with very powerful professionals, there tends to be more kicking down,” says Sutton.

The Makings of a Meanie
Although it’s usually a cinch to figure out who the office bully is, Sutton has compiled what he calls the dirty dozen – a list of 12 tactics jerks use. They include:

1. Making personal insults
2. Invading a colleague’s “personal territory”
3. Making uninvited physical contact
4. Using threats and intimidation, both verbal and nonverbal
5. Using sarcastic jokes and teasing to couch insults
6. Sending withering e-mails
7. Making status-related jabs to humiliate victims
8. Publicly shaming others or using “status degradation” rituals to humiliate people
9. Rudely interrupting
10. Launching two-faced attacks
11. Throwing dirty looks
12. Treating people as if they are invisible (in other words, ignoring them)
Jerks use a variety of approaches, Sutton says. There are the blatant bullies who scream, yell and insult others. Then there are the closet terrorists with more subtle styles.

These covert operators inflict their harm through political and social systems. They’re the textbook two-faced backstabbers – civil on the surface, but underhanded when it comes to launching an attack. Because they’re skilled and restrained enough to strike when their victim isn’t looking, they’re harder to stop.

Bad for Business?
As the old saying goes, one bad apple can spoil the bunch. An office bully can shatter morale. And the damage goes beyond emotional bruising. Office jerks can actually cost companies money.

Sutton gives the example of “Ethan,” a high-earning salesperson who worked for a Silicon Valley company. Although Ethan was one of the top producers in the corporation, he was temperamental, belittled his co-workers and often fired off scathing e-mails at night, Sutton says.

Needless to say, no one wanted to work with Ethan. He couldn’t even keep an assistant, which forced his employer into a long search process to find a qualified candidate.

After spending five years mediating between Ethan and several of his colleagues, the company decided to find out how much his antics had set them back. They tallied up the time Ethan’s direct managers, HR professionals, senior executives, and various counsel spent dealing with issues related to his behavior; added it to the cost of recruiting and training an assistant for him; factored in the overtime costs associated with his last-minute demands; and calculated the cost of his anger-management training and counseling.

All told, Ethan’s outrageous behavior had set the company back a whopping $160,000.

Fighting Back: The Best Ways to Battle BS
It’s a company’s responsibility to create an ass-free environment, Sutton says. Hence, all employers should enforce a “No Asshole Rule.”

Firms can take plenty of measures to protect themselves. Among them: having a written policy of acceptable and unacceptable workplace behaviors, weaving the rule into hiring and firing policies (what constitutes a fireable offense), getting rid of jerks who slip through the cracks, treating the weasels like villains rather than heroes, and teaching constructive confrontation to those who are being jerks.

In reality, though, the burden of battling a bully may fall upon you. So how do you deal?

1. Do your best to ignore it.
Most likely, if you’re dealing with an office jerk you’re already trying to do this. In which case, you may need to step up your efforts. “If you can’t get out, learn not to care,” Sutton recommends. “Practice indifference. Learning not to care is as important as it is to be excited about what you’re doing.”

2. Build a case against the jerk.
What if you’re mad as hell and can’t take it anymore, but you can’t quit? “If you’re in a situation where you’re feeling constantly abused, you don’t want to make accusations without facts or you’ll end up in trouble,” Sutton says. “Systematically document your case so you’re in much better shape.”

3. Consider quitting.
It’s the most extreme option and not something to take lightly. However, being subjected to verbal or emotional abuse makes you more likely to get physically and mentally ill – not to mention miserable. It can also turn you into a jerk; you may stoop to a jerk’s level by adopting the tactics you’ve been subjected to in order to defend yourself.

And victims aren’t the only ones who suffer. One British study revealed that 73% of people who witness verbal and emotional battering suffered increased stress and 44% worried they might meet the same fate.

Hostile workplaces often have high turnover. Research shows that 25% of victims and 20% of witnesses to bullying quit their jobs. Unfortunately, many people don’t have the luxury of walking away from an abusive job.

A critical defining characteristic of workplace bullying, according to the WBI definition, is that it harms the health of the targeted individual. Health endangerment distinguishes bullying from routine office politics, teasing, roughhousing, prickliness, incivilities, and boorishness.
1. Anxiety, stress. excessive worry (76%)
2. Loss of concentration (71%)
3. Disrupted sleep (71%)
4. Feeling edgy, irritable, easily startled and constantly on guard (paranoia) (60%)
5. Stress headaches (55%)
6. Obsession over details at work (52%)
7. Recurrent memories, nightmares and flashbacks (49%)
8. Racing heart rate (48%)
9. Needing to avoid feelings, thoughts, and situations that remind you of trauma or a general emotional “flatness”(47%)
10. Body aches–muscles or joints (45%)
11. Exhaustion, leading to an inability to function (41%)
12. Compulsive behaviors (40%)
13. Diagnosed depression (39%)
14. Shame or embarrassment that led to dramatic changes in lifestyle (38%)
15. Significant weight change (loss or gain) (35%)
16. Chronic fatigue syndrome (35%)
17. Panic attacks (32%)
18. TMJ (jaw tightening/teeth grinding) (29%)
19. Skin changes, e.g., shingles, rashes, acne (28%)
20. Use of substances to cope: tobacco, alcohol, drugs, food (28%)
21. Asthma or allergies (27%)
22. Thinking about being violent towards others (25%)
23. Suicidal thoughts (25%)
24. Migraines (23%)
25. Irritable bowel syndrome (colitis) (23%)
26. Chest pains (23%)
27. Hair loss (21%) (Scroll down to continue reading)
28. Fibromyalgia–inflamed joints and connective tissue (19%)
29. High blood pressure/hypertension (18%)
30. Ulcers (11%)
31. Angina (11%)
32. Heart arythmia (5%)
33. Heart attack(s) (3%)

Source: Workplace Bullying Institute