Have you ever been bullied by a boss, coworker, or another employee? Chances are, you may have been. Research by the Workplace Bullying Institute has revealed that 35% of the U.S workforce has reported being bullied. That’s an estimated 53.5 million Americans! And that’s bad news for both employees and organizations. Employees who have been bullied suffer tremendously from stress, somatic disorders, anxiety, and even Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). In fact, in some cases, the effects of bullying were comparable to PTSD from war or prison camp experiences. The organizations themselves don’t escape so easily either. High turnover, low employee morale, and medical and insurance costs are just a few of the detrimental effects an organization must face. In fact, many European countries have adopted laws against workplace bullying, often called mobbing in Europe, costing organizations millions of dollars a year.
Ok, so still not sure if you have ever been bullied? Well, there are many definitions of workplace bullying (wpb) but a widely accepted one is harassing, offending, socially excluding someone or negatively affecting someone’s work tasks. In order for the label bullying (or mobbing) to be applied, it has to occur repeatedly and regularly (e.g., weekly) and over a period of time (about 6 months). Having a bad day at work and yelling at an employee, though not excusable, is not considered bullying. Bullying is a more divisive, targeted behavior that is usually aimed at one particular employee for a long stretch of time.
Bullying can come in many different forms such as intimidating, threats, physical abuse, verbal abuse, and even covert bullying—giving an unrealistic deadline to an associate for the purpose of belittling or embarrassing them.
But people can’t really be that mean can they? Gulp!!! In the years that I have studied the subject, I am more convinced it’s not just the bully who is responsible. It’s an institutional issue and really a global issue. In fact, workplace bullying has been identified as one of the major contemporary challenges for occupational health and safety around the world. In the U.S alone, it has been found to be four times more prevalent than sexual harassment in the workplace.
I used to think bullying behavior was just a leadership flaw. But it’s much worse. Research has shown the culture of an organization may breed or allow for this behavior to thrive. Many different cultures see exuberant amounts of bullying instances, including the military, para-military (police, fireman) and commercial kitchens—Hell’s Kitchen anyone? If you’re like me, you don’t want Gordon Ramsay critiquing your cooking and you definitely don’t want him as your boss. But why does bullying seem more acceptable or permissible in these environments?
Unfortunately, some of these questions are yet to be fully answered, but hopefully soon these gaps will be filled and we will have a more comprehensive picture of bullying. Both the organization and the individual have a responsibility to mitigate this behavior and should actively seek ways to provide a safe environment for employees to work. Although wpb may seem to suddenly be on the rise due to the economy, social factors, etc., it may be that we are now just revealing what has already been at work for quite some time.
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