It's no secret that insensitive, mean-spirited people exist. They are in homes, social settings and in the workplace. On the playground, we call these people bullies.
What is workplace bullying? It is repeated, hurtful interpersonal mistreatment of another, and it takes place through a multitude of forms, including unjustified criticism, trivial fault-finding, humiliation, and constant attempts to undermine a person and his or her position. Bullies are also pretty good at taking credit for other people's ideas. Bullying is usually an accumulation of many small incidents, although yelling and making humiliating remarks in front of others is common; offensive words are rarely used, and the bullying tends to take place behind closed doors.
Who are these bullies? Generally, they are insecure people trying to grab control. Some bullies are already in control but feel a need to tighten their grip on people working for them. Most bullies are people who think that they are always right (100%), and they tend to over monitor people's efforts. Their way is not an approach among a variety of approaches; instead it is the only right approach among a variety of approaches to doing something. Bullies are equally likely to be men or women, and they often choose capable, well-liked employees as their targets. The number of supervisors who bully others is especially distressing. One study found that more than 80 percent of bullies are supervisors.
Bullied employees waste between 10 and 52 percent of their workday defending themselves and networking for support. Victims often feel unmotivated and may ultimately take sick leave to recover from stress-related illness. Bullying often results in lowered productivity, and it causes stress-related health and safety problems.
Although recent studies show that workplace bullying is more prevalent than sexual harassment and racial discrimination, bullying is far less acknowledged because it is much more difficult to identify. Few people are aware about the occurrence of workplace bullying and tend to dismiss the behavior as an undesirable "supervisory style" or a "personality conflict" rather than acknowledging it as unacceptable behavior. Even the person being bullied may not realize they are being bullied for weeks or months-until there's a moment of enlightenment.
What can supervisors do?
- Take a look at your own behavior and give serious consideration to indicators such as employee turnover, number of complaints, upward feedback, etc.
- Keep your eyes and ears open. If you notice someone on your staff is displaying a pattern of bullying behavior, talk with the person about your observations.
- Treat seriously stress claims and reports of bullying behavior.
- If possible, separate the bully from the complainant.
- Consult Human Resources for additional information.
Playground bullies and workplace bullies have something in common: the bully will continue his or her behavior as long as the behavior is permitted.
Whether or not you agree with these findings, one thing is clear: people work better when they are treated fairly.