Workplace bullying has reached epidemic proportions. A 2007 poll showed that 37% of workers are currently, or have been, the target of bullies at work. Another 12% have witnessed bullying in the workplace. That adds up to more than half of the U.S. workforce that has been impacted by bullying.
Bullying can make the workplace a living hell, and can lead to turnover as targets quit their jobs in frustration or fear. Targets of bullying can experience a sort of post-traumatic stress disorder, and in rare instances is linked to suicide and workplace violence. Interestingly, there has been little attention paid to workplace bullying in the United States, as many bullying activities can "fly under the radar" of workplace harassment (i.e., the targets are not members of protected groups; the harassment is more subtle). It is striking to me that there has been so little research on workplace bullying.
I practically stumbled on the concept of bullying recently from discussions with colleagues and a recent post. But looking back on my own work career, I can see many instances of bullying behavior that I observed (fortunately, I've never been a target - so I guess that puts me in the lucky portion of workers). In our earlier blog discussion, readers posted a number of sources for information on bullying, and I've found the work of Drs. Gary and Ruth Namie particularly useful in helping me understand it.
Although peer-to-peer bullying is quite common, bullying can be particularly harmful when the bully is your boss - a person in power. Bullying leaders' goal is to control the people they are targeting. To control, the bully mistreats, shames, and tries to humiliate the target (bullying researchers use the term "target" rather than "victim," in order to avoid having targets' view themselves as helpless victims; There are ways to combat bullies!).
Based on the Namies' research, here is a test to see if your boss is a workplace bully.
1. Does your boss blame you for fabricated "errors"?
2. Are you given unreasonable job demands or goals?
3. Does your boss threaten you with pay cuts or being fired?
4. Does your boss insult you and/or criticize your abilities? Does this happen in front of others?
5. Are you excluded by the bully and his/her "henchmen" or given the silent treatment?
6. Does your boss yell, scream, or curse at you?
7. Does your boss inconsistently enforce rules?
8. Does your boss deny or discount your accomplishments and/or take credit for your success?
In a future post, we will discuss the bully's motivation, and we will provide guidelines to help combat workplace bullying. But the first step is to identify bullying for what it is - an unreasonable and horrible attempt to control others and to cause psychological harm. The first step in dealing with bullying, is to recognize it for what it is, to realize that you are not to blame, and to protect yourself from harm.
Here are some valuable resources:
Gary Namie & Ruth Namie (2009). The Bully at Work: What You Can Do to Stop the Hurt and Reclaim Your Dignity on the Job (2nd ed.), Naperville, IL: Sourcebooks.