Workplace Bullying and Disruptive Behavior:
What Every Employer and Employee Needs to Know
WHAT IS WORKPLACE BULLYING AND WHO IS AFFECTED?
Workplace bullying refers to repeated, unreasonable actions of individuals (or a group) directed toward an employee (or a group of employees), which are intended to intimidate, degrade, humiliate, or undermine; or which create a risk to the health or safety of the employee(s).
Workplace bullying often involves an abuse or misuse of power. Bullying behavior creates feelings of defenselessness and injustice in the target and undermines an individual’s right to dignity at work.
Bullying is different from aggression. Whereas aggression may involve a single act, bullying involves repeated attacks against the target, creating an on-going pattern of behavior. “Tough” or “demanding” bosses are not necessarily bullies as long as they are respectful and fair and their primary motivation is to obtain the best performance by setting high yet reasonable expectations for working safely.
Some bullying situations involve employees bullying their peers, rather than a supervisor bullying an employee. The term “mobbing” refers to a group of coworkers targeting another worker. Supervisors should intervene immediately to address and stop mobbing behaviors.
In a prevalence study of U.S. workers, 41.4% of respondents reported experiencing psychological aggression at work in the past year representing 47 million U.S. workers (Kelloway, 2010). The research found that 13%, or nearly 15 million workers, reported experiencing psychological aggression on a weekly basis.
Examples of bullying:
- Unwarranted or invalid criticism
- Blame without factual justification
- Being treated differently than the rest of your work group
- Swearing directed at you
- Exclusion or social isolation
- Having someone scream at you or humiliation
- Excessive monitoring or micro-managing
- Being given unrealistic deadlines
Corporate/institutional bullying can manifest itself in different ways:
- Placing unreasonable expectations on employees, where failure to meet those expectations means making life unpleasant (or dismissing) anyone who objects;
- Dismissing employees suffering from stress as “weak” while completely ignoring or denying potential work-related causes of the stress; and/or
- Encouraging employees to fabricate complaints about colleagues with promises of promotion or threats of discipline.
- Failure to meet organizational goals;
- Increased frequencies of grievances, resignations, and requests for transfers;
- Increased absence due to sickness; and
- Increased disciplinary actions.
If you are aware of bullying in the workplace and do not take action, then you are accepting a share of the responsibility for any future abuses. This means that witnesses of bullying behavior should be encouraged to report any such incidences. Individuals are less likely to engage in antisocial behavior when it is understood that the organization does not tolerate such behavior and that the perpetrator is likely to be punished.
HOW BULLYING AFFECTS PEOPLE:
Victims of bullying experience significant physical and mental health problems:
- High stress; post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Financial problems due to absence
- Reduced self-esteem
- Musculoskeletal problems
- Sleep and digestive disturbances
- Increased depression/self-blame
Here is how we can help:
Regain control by:
- Recognizing that you are being bullied;
- Realizing that you are NOT the source of the problem; and
- Recognizing that bullying is about control, and therefore has nothing to do with your performance.
Take action by:
Keeping a diary detailing the nature of the bullying (e.g., dates, times, places, what was said or done and who was present); and
Obtaining copies of harassing / bullying paper trails; hold onto copies of documents that contradict the bully’s accusations against you (e.g., time sheets, audit reports, etc.).
Expect the bully to deny and perhaps misconstrue your accusations; have a witness with you during any meetings with the bully; report the behavior to an appropriate person.
Create a zero tolerance anti-bullying policy. This policy should be part of the wider commitment to a safe and healthful working environment and should have the full support of top management;
When witnessed or reported, the bullying behavior should be addressed IMMEDIATELY;
If bullying is entrenched in the organization, complaints need to be taken seriously and investigated promptly. Reassignment of the bully may be necessary;
Structure the work environment to incorporate a sense of autonomy, individual challenge/mastery, and clarity of task expectations for employees – Include employees in decision-making processes;
Hold awareness campaigns for EVERYONE on what bullying is. Encourage reporting;
Ensure management has an active part in the staff they supervise, rather than being far removed from them;
Encourage open door policies;
Investigate the extent and nature of the problem. Conduct employee attitude surveys;
Improve management’s ability and sensitivity towards dealing with and responding to conflicts; and
Establish an independent contact for employees (e.g., Human Resources contact).