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Dealing with workplace bullying

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Regardless of whether we experienced bullying behavior in our youth, most of us assume that we are in the clear once we reach adulthood and enter the workforce. Unfortunately, bullies are just as common in the workplace as they are in the schoolyard. If you should find yourself in the sights of your office bully, there are steps that you can take to stop the behavior.

Workplace Bullying Statistics

According to the Workplace Bullying and Trauma Institute, 19% of Americans are bullied in the workplace, 19% witness bullying behavior, and 61% are aware of abusive conduct occurring in their workplace. More than 60 million Americans are affected by workplace bullying in some way. In some cases, the bullying goes beyond intimidation and verbal abuse to physical violence. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, approximately 2 million people report some type of workplace violence each year. Sadly, 29% of the victims of bullying remain silent, and as many as 25% of cases of workplace violence go unreported. This may be due to the fact that the targets of the bullying often perceive their employers as unable or unwilling to do anything to stop the behavior or that any action by the employer or co-workers will only make the problem worse. Not only does aggressive behavior in the workplace negatively affect morale and productivity, 40% of the targets of the behavior experience anxiety, panic attacks, and other stress-related health problems.

What Is Workplace Bullying and Who Are the Bullies?

Bullying behavior typically consists of three elements:

• unwanted aggressive behavior,
• observed or perceived power imbalance between the perpetrator and the target, and
• repetition of the behavior.

The behavior can be direct, such as a boss or co-worker who makes demeaning remarks about you or your work to your face. It can also be indirect, such as a co-worker who spreads rumors about you behind your back. Bullying can take a number of forms, including physical intimidation or outright abuse, verbal abuse, harm to personal relationships or reputation, or even damage to property. With the prevalence of social media and our tendency to share every aspect of our lives online, cyberbullying has become increasingly common among youth as well as adults. Approximately 70% of workplace bullies are men and 61% are bosses. Women and Latinos are the most common targets of bullying.

What You Can Do About Workplace Bullying and Workplace Violence

Addressing bullying behavior is never easy and requires a significant amount of personal courage. The following are steps that you can take to stop a workplace bully in his or her tracks:

  • Stand your ground and exercise your right to tell the perpetrator to stop the bullying behavior. Describe in clear, unemotional terms the behavior that you are observing, how it affects your work, and how you will respond to the behavior in the future. For example, “I’, asking you to stop leaning over my shoulder to read my email. Much of my work involves confidential information, and your behavior makes me feel as if I have to hide my work, which slows down my productivity. Please do not come into my cubicle uninvited. If you do so again, I will have to ask you to leave.” You may find it helpful to rehearse the conversation with a friend or family member first.
  • You should document any incidents of bullying behavior, including the date, time, and the names of any witnesses. This will help your boss or human resources department take action if the behavior continues.
  • Look for emotional and/or physical support. Depending on the circumstances, this may involve asking a trusted co-worker to accompany you as you eat lunch in the breakroom or walk to your car, discussing your situation with a friend who can provide you with an outsider’s perspective, or seeking professional counseling.
  • Be prepared to take action and utilize your company’s chain of command if the bullying behavior does not stop. This may involve reporting the behavior to your boss, human resources department, or a company ethics hotline. If you are a member of a professional association or union, these groups may be able to offer guidance as well.

If the above actions do not stop the bullying, you may have to resort to legal options to address the behavior. The police can be called if needed, or a workplace violence attorney can help you evaluate your legal options, such as restraining orders or charges for harassment or assault. In California, any injury (whether physical or psychological) can also be covered by workers’ compensation, and a work comp attorney can help you file the appropriate paperwork so that you obtain the benefits to which you are entitled. Of course, you should call 911 immediately if you feel that there is an imminent threat of violence that could result in harm to yourself or others.

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