Workplace bullying is occurring in the U.S. at an alarming rate. A 2010 survey of Americans showed that 13.7 million people said they were currently being bullied, and nearly three times that number said they had been bullied in the past. This is a huge problem that is only beginning to get attention because so much of it occurs "under the radar screen," and there are no laws to protect targets of bullying.
Step 1: Recognize Bullying.
Leaders need to be informed about bullying, about the huge costs, including both the physical and psychological effects on targets of bullying, and the negative impact on workplace climate and productivity. While some bullying occurs in the open (although people are subject to the "bystander effect" and typically tolerate it), much bullying happens behind closed doors, so leaders need to assess the incidence of bullying in their workplaces.
Step 2: Intervene.
This is difficult and takes courage on the part of the leader, but strategies such as telling the parties to "work it out" or telling the victim to "tough it out," don't work. Successful intervention in the case of bullying is difficult (and the Namies provide suggestions on how to do it), but it is an instance that really tests the mettle of the leader.
Step 3: Stop Rumors.
Starting and sustaining negative rumors about targets (the Namies suggest never calling a target of bullying a "victim") is a big part of the bullying process, and is one of the reasons that bystanders don't intervene (particularly if the rumor suggests that the target is the "problem"). Leaders need to be tapped into the workplace grapevine to be aware of these negative and unfair rumors, and put a stop to them.
Step 4: Hold Leaders and Organizations Accountable.
In order to make a true commitment to stopping workplace bullying and protecting targets, organizations need to create anti-bullying policies and leaders need to enforce them. Ideally, it can be part of a larger "safe workplace" initiative—one that protects the rights and dignity of all workers. It is a policy that will pay off for the organization as it becomes more productive and a healthy and happy place to work.
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Here are some additional resources for dealing with bullying:
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.