Workplace bullying is a topic that needs to be addressed. So let’s start with definitions. What exactly is this? It is a persistent pattern where individuals mistreat others. This maltreatment can be in the form of physical, mental, and emotional harm. It can be present as verbal, nonverbal, psychological, and abusive patterns which lead to humiliation. However, other forms of workplace bullying are more insidious and covert. Workplace bullying can happen at any stage in management or an office. It can come from management or employees.
A few examples of bullying include making fun of somebody and dismissing it as being a joke. Sometimes work bullies purposely sabotage their coworkers by giving them incorrect information, not giving them the necessary information at all, and being unclear were their actions. There also can be concerns with the valuations as employers may excessively manage others’ performance and give overly harsh or unjust criticism.
Research by Chan et al. (2019) showed that more than one in three employees reported having experienced workplace bullying. It was found to be particularly linked with being female, drawing a higher income, and greater psychological distress. Furthermore, actual statistics are shocking: results from the Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI)/Zogby Interactive 2021 survey found that 30% of adult Americans report being bullied at work, a drastic rise from 19% in 2017. This is equivalent to approximately 48.6 million Americans, with a 67% chance of losing a job when targeted for bullying. It is estimated that the skills of millions of workers are lost to employers all because of bullying. Managers comprise 40% of those being bullied, and remote workers are being bullied at a higher rate than the rest. Bullies are both men and women – and same-gender bullying accounts for 61% of all cases of bullying. Surprisingly, the 2021 survey had respondents who admit being the bullies themselves, accounting for 4% of the surveyed population.
According to a survey way back in 2007, when employers are informed and notified of these cases, 62% reportedly do nothing or even make matters worse. These high levels of inaction possibly lower the morale of businesses.
It is essential to know that giving criticism to an employee is not necessarily workplace bullying. There is a time and place for employees and employers to be honest with each other. They need to have respect for hopes that there will be remediation in destructive behaviors. Some people argue that society has become a place where everyone is rewarded for primary responsibility. It is that everyone gets an award or participation sticker type of mentality. The difference between workplace bullying is that the correction is not constructive, and it comes from a place of anger, distress, jealousy, and a myriad of other emotions.
Since bullying is so prevalent, management must understand bullying. Organizations must have clear policies and know how to identify bullying and strategic consequences when these behaviors reoccur. There should be a zero-tolerance for mocking people based on their age, gender, religion, sexual orientation, abilities, or any other reasons.
The challenge is when the bullying is coming from upper management. Bullying occurs when the business allows and even accepts and encourages bullying behavior. This may include unrealistic product production goals, forcing overtime, and other unrealistic expectations. Employees must understand that there are times when they are faced with a tight deadline, and it is not the fault of management that this has occurred. When companies are, and businesses are struggling to keep the books in black, it is so that they can keep employees working. Those employed must understand that the world has changed, competition has risen, and more and more businesses are failing.
The other issue I like to bring up is the fact that specific jobs are, by definition, are highly challenging and not necessarily the most nurturing. It is essential before an individual takes on a job position that they are aware of the job’s demands. It is also critical that employees have clear job expectations for their prospective employees. There are situations where there is an apparent mismatch in an employee’s personality and the general expectations of individuals in that field. I do not believe that everyone is capable of doing every job. Some jobs require extreme grit, persistence, and the ability to take constructive criticism. These jobs are typically in areas where significant life-altering events may occur or when the stakes are high for companies to lose substantial financial resources.
I believe that the mismatch between personality and type of employment magnifies the perception of workplace bullying. There are cultural differences that impact the way individuals talk to each other in certain cultures. It is the norm to speak loudly with lots of hand gestures and emphasis. This might be considered an average period; however, if you put somebody who is not their cultural norm, they may take this type of interaction as threatening or bullying. Again, this pours down to why cultural competence and wealth are essential. One has to know how each other’s background can affect how they interact with others so that certain situations are not taken personally.
Back to competency, it is essential to note that some employees may struggle to achieve minimum performance indicators in a workplace; management must identify these individuals quickly and responsibly; the individuals need to be showing that they are valued first. However, there are concerns about their performance, I believe. I believe it is the employer’s responsibility and, to a lesser degree, the employee to find ways in which employees can be trained to reach searching milestones. Unfortunately, this is not always possible, and the end of the employee-employer relationship quickly comes. I believe this is where the concept of hiring slowly and hire fast comes into place. It is best to let underperformers go as indeed in the workplace; one bad apple does spoil the whole bunch.
Another type of bullying can be in the form of sexual harassment. Sexual harassment can be seen as far as unwanted comments made to somebody, questions about their sexual lives, inappropriate staring or gestures towards a person, and his unwanted physical contact. Unfortunately, this type of behavior does happen in an employee, and for months; however, it often goes unreported. Some of the reasons are many, but one common reason is fear of job loss and fears that they would not be believed and embarrassed.
From my experience, I do not believe that workplace bullying behaviors happen out of a vacuum. They do not suddenly appear in somebody’s behavior. Typically, the bullies have had a history of maladaptive coping strategies, which often can be found from childhood or young adolescence. So this raises the point of the importance of parents and families communities and teachers stressing the importance of teamwork, respect, personal responsibility, to name a few. An individual who bullies others may have a history of getting what they wanted when they wanted it. Also, an interesting point to note is that these individuals’ toxic behaviors are often rooted in their insecurity. Because they do not have enough self-worth or respect, so they resort to tearing down others to make themselves feel better.
People who bully others are not genuinely happy, and there is often a disconnect in realizing this. Sometimes their elevated sense of self and grandiosity impacts their ability to evaluate their lives. These workplace bullies exhibit toxic behaviors, often manifested in other social situations such as home life and the community. Therefore, we need to be mindful of our emotions and understand why we feel or act a certain way. By understanding the why or the root cause, one can find the necessary steps to change these unwanted behaviors.
In workplace settings, there must be transparency and accountability. Regardless of seniority and tenure, respect is a must. Workplaces must have clear guidelines as to the set desired work culture they wish to have. As mentioned previously, different workplaces have different cultures. For example, a fire station would have a more diverse workplace culture than a daycare. Regardless of the workplace, there must be respect for each other and teamwork; otherwise, bullying might become a problem at that establishment.
- Chan, C., Wong, J. E., Yeap, L., Wee, L. H., Jamil, N. A., & Swarna Nantha, Y. (2019). Workplace bullying and psychological distress of employees across socioeconomic strata: a cross-sectional study. BMC public health, 19(Suppl 4), 608. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12889-019-6859-1
- Cable, J. 2007. Survey: Half of Americans Have Experienced Workplace Bullying. EHS Today. Retrieved from https://www.ehstoday.com/archive/article/21904663/survey-half-of-americans-have-experienced-workplace-bullying.
- Workplace Bullying Institute. (2021). 2021 WBI U.S. Workplace Bullying Survey. Retrieved from https://workplacebullying.org/2021-wbi-survey/