Workplace Bullying on the Rise: How Dangerous Is It?

Source: Thinkstock

Source: Thinkstock

Bullying has become a public heath concern as it is being seen at schools, online, and even in the workplace. In fact, there have been several surveys pointing out the terrible trend being seen in the workplace: the rise in bullying. And while it sounds counterintuitive that a professional environment with grown adults be the perpetrators of bullying, that is exactly the case.

A recently published VitalSmarts report found some surprising and unsettling findings — a whopping 96 percent of respondents surveyed are reporting that they have experienced workplace bullying. Workplace bullying — which has been dubbed the “silent epidemic” by Psychology Today — has become such a prevalent concern that twenty-six states have introduced Happy Workplace bills to combat the trend.

In general, bullying has been associated with many diverse health issues including: depression and anxiety, increased feelings of sadness and loneliness, changes in sleep and eating patterns, and loss of interest in activities that the recipient of bullying once used to enjoy.

Unlike cyber- and school bullying, workplace bullying is a little more difficult to identify. After all, in a professional environment, it is rare — although not impossible — for two coworkers to get into a physical altercation. In the case of workplace bullying, studies have found that it is seldom random and bullying actions can include: reputational attacks, gossip, physical intimidation, browbeating and threats, being falsely accused of mistakes, being subjected to the silent treatment, being the subject of unfair gossip or assaults on your reputation, having professional performance belittled or diminished in front of peers, and having someone steal credit for your work.

And if you think bosses are the only perpetrators of bullying, then think again! Workplace bullies can be your superior, someone you manage, or someone you provide a service to. In fact, according to CareerBuilder, 48 percent of workers were bullied by their superiors or supervisors, 45 percent confessed to being bullied by their coworkers, and 31 percent reported being bullied by their customers.

Suffice to say, most companies are not adept with dealing with bullies in the workplace. The VitalSmarts report found that a mere 51 percent of respondents worked for a place that had a policy to keep bullying at bay, 7 percent know of an individual who used it and 6 percent said the policy was not effective.

In addition to the lack of public awareness and the ineffective bullying policies (when they actually exist) is the fact that most bullies are office politics mavens, according to the findings published in the Journal of Managerial Psychology.

“There can be a very thin line between a bully and a leader,” warns Whitney Johnson in a blogpost on Harvard Business Review, “Bullying is a Confidence Game,” to The Guardian. “[R]ather than doing what a leader does, which is to build on our strengths and compensate for our weakness for a greater purpose, the bully exploits our weaknesses and uses our strength for their own gain.”

So, what can be done about workplace bullying?

1. First and foremost, remember that in workplace bullying it is rarely random. Try to identify the root cause of the problem. I may not be your fault, but knowing what instigates the ‘bully’ can help you manage.

2. Directly speak to the individual making you uncomfortable. Remember not to throw low blows and hold grudges against the person — simply focus on his/her behavior. In the case of speaking up, sooner is always better than later. This means immediately, and calmly, letting your peer know that you’re not okay with their behavior if they bring something up in a public setting and otherwise addressing an issue within 24-48 hours.

3. If all attempts have failed, then speak to an HR representative. Chances are, you’re not your bully’s only victim so speaking up can, at the very least, highlight an issue with an employee.

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