When people hear the word “bullying” they often think of a schoolyard or playground where children sometimes struggle to intimidate or exert power over one another. This type of behavior also occurs between adults in the workplace. When a coworker or supervisor physically or psychologically intimidates another in order to get their own way, bullying has occurred. The threat may be expressed or implied, but in either case, the bully wishes to play on fear as a means of getting what they want. If someone speaks to you in a way that makes you feel threatened, if it’s rude and unwelcome, then you are being bullied. This is true even if it’s being done by a supervisor.
Let’s take a moment to look at the persons involved:
• The person doing the bullying: This person is wasting and misusing paid company time on non-company activity. This can causes a ripple effect which then reduces the productivity of other workers. There are many reasons why people do this to their coworkers. In some cases the people who are doing the bullying sometimes feel they are the ones being mistreated or slighted by being left out of the social circle. In other cases, the motive is simply to be in control.
• The people being bullied: Victims of bullying often prefer to avoid their tormentor rather than face the problem. They are distracted at work, anxiously spending time “looking over their shoulder.” Obviously, their time would be better spent focusing on the task at hand. As morale slips, they dread coming in to work. They may develop attendance problems or even seek employment elsewhere in order to avoid the unwanted stress.
• The management team: Supervisors may be unaware of the situation or will sometimes overlook bullying in order to avoid conflict. Managers should have a stake in maintaining a safe and healthy environment for their employees to work in. Human Resource officers are constantly seeking ways to keep employees engaged. They know good employees are hard to find, expensive to train and difficult to replace on short notice. While there are many reasons for employees to quit their jobs, bullying in the workplace should not be one of them
What to do
If you are bullied by a coworker, the first step is to tell them to stop. Let the person know you will file a report if it doesn’t stop. If this brings further bullying or threats of harm, follow through and request help from management in writing. If the person doing the bullying is a supervisor, keep a record of each event and make sure to differentiate between occasions where the supervisor is doing their job and instances where your safety or personal dignity is being infringed. As with sexual harassment, go to the next level if help is not forthcoming. Top management does not want you to be bullied. Your morale is important to them and they are aware that bullying can lead to unwanted complaints and legal challenges.
Remember that bullying is a form of abuse. If it is clear to you that someone is being bullied, offer them your support. If your company or organization has an Employee Assistance Program, consider talking with an EAP professional for help and guidance. A safe and secure work environment is something everyone will benefit from.
John Starke is a licensed clinical social worker and employee assistance specialist at the Center for Mental Wellness, which is affiliated with Capital Region Medical Center.