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See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Say No Evil – The Rise of Workplace Bullies

Bullying is not a child’s behavior isolated to the schoolyard.  Bullying can take many forms and is not gender, ethnicity, age, or position-specific.  While most bullies are supervisors or “bosses,” bullying from coworkers, subordinates, clients, and customers occur.  Most would define bullying as repeated harassment or offensive or socially excluding behaviors.  Gary and Ruth Namie (1) define workplace bullying as “repeated, health-harming mistreatment, verbal abuse, or conduct which is threatening, humiliating, intimidating, or sabotage that interferes with work or some combination of the three.”  While bullying is not a new behavior, its recognition and intolerance have become a significant concern in the workplace.  Studies on the topic are showing that workplace bullying is increasing and a 2017 US Workplace Bullying Survey(2) showed that 61% of Americans are aware of bullying in the workplace. 

As a leader or manager, what can you do to address this crisis?  Blindly avoiding the issue or conflict is detrimental to everyone involved, including the organization.  For the bullied employee, there is a loss of job security and safety, job satisfaction, productivity in the workplace, and a host of mental health ramification, including depression, panic attacks, and family disruption.  For the employer, there is a high financial cost due to the employee’s decreased job productivity, missed days on the job and in many situations vacating their employment.  The employer then incurs the cost of recruiting and rehiring with a period of decrease production.   In addition to the financial cost to the organization, recurrent incidents erode the company’s reputation and human resource assets.  The website Glassdoor, (www.glassdoor.com) allows current and former employees to anonymously review and comment on a company’s policies, work environment, salary and strengths, and weakness. 

The first tool to combat bullying in the workplace is a recognition that it can and does occur in many organizations.  This awareness allows for measures to be put into place to address incidents early and prevent it from becoming a systemic problem.  In a 2018 Forbes article entitled “Five Ways to Shutdown Workplace Bullying,” Mark Murphy (3) lists the following points:

  1. Know what a bully looks like
  2. Establish a clear definition of “workplace civility”
  3. Provide organization-wide training
  4. Address bullying when it happens
  5. Develop a script for talking to bullies

There are now numerous tools and readily accessible resources to help leaders and organizations navigate and combat this increasingly prevalent issue.  With awareness, knowledge and action will come success for overcoming bullying in the workplace.   This will create a healthy work environment empowering the professional growth of employees, leaders, and the organization. 

References: 

  1. The Bully at Work: What You Can Do to Stop the Hurt and Reclaim Your Dignity on theJob– June 1, 2009. By Gary Namie Ph.D. and Ruth Namie Ph.D. Sourcebooks, Inc. Naperville IL.
  • Five Ways to Shutdown Workplace Bullying.  https://www.forbes.com/sites/markmurphy/2018/10/21/five-ways-to-shut-down-workplace-bullying/#2fb8ed6fe711 Mathews

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