Smell the Coffee: Bullied at work
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Back in February of last year, South Charleston Middle School's Tolerance Club put on an emotional assembly that focused on what can happen when bullying reaches the level where the victim commits suicide. It's something that's become so prevalent among teenagers a new term has been coined to more aptly describe it: bullycide.
Even though bullying is hardly new, technology has enabled the ugliness to reach new levels of cruelty. Embarrassing photographs and videos enter cyberspace at warp speed. Gossip no longer depends on whispers and phone calls to spread now that it has reply all.
The sad part is that bullying doesn't end with the distribution of diplomas. Turns out there are just as many bullies in the workplace as there are in the schools. According to a 2010 survey conducted by the Workplace Bullying Institute, "35 percent of the U.S. workforce (an estimated 53.5 million Americans) report being bullied at work." An additional 15 percent have witnessed abuse.
Tactics of the workplace bully include verbal, psychological, physical abuse and humiliation. Unlike school bullies, those in the workplace often operate within the established rules and policies of their organization, with the majority of reported cases being perpetrated by management.
"You're put in such an awkward position when it happens right in front of you, especially when you know the abuse is thoroughly unwarranted," said an emailer, who asked to remain anonymous. "When I tried to intervene in the past, all it served to do was to focus the attention my direction."
Clinical psychologist Gary Namie, co-founder of the Workplace Bullying Institute, defines bullying as being "the domestic violence of the workplace."
"Humiliation is frequently used by bullies as a means of controlling the targeted victim to keep them off-balance and insecure," reports the Workplace Bullying Institute. Other tactics include discounting the victim's opinions or making false accusations about mistakes while in front of others; using the silent treatment to freeze out the target, and making up rules on the fly that apply only to the person who is being singled out.
It has only been in the past few years that companies have begun to recognize bullying's financial costs on the workplace. According to scholars at The Project for Wellness and Work-Life at Arizona State University, "workplace bullying is linked to a host of physical, psychological, organizational and social costs."
Leaving the place of employment is often the only option for the victim of bullying because there are few laws that protect against it, yet those who attempt to endure are often under so much stress that it has significant negative effects on both mental and physical health.
"The effects of bullying are often so severe that posttraumatic stress disorder and even suicide are not uncommon," wrote assessment and rehabilitation consultant Noreen Tehrani. The physical and mental damage left from bullying is similar to that of battered women and victims of child abuse.
Organizations need to recognize the costs involved with keeping a bully on staff. There's a loss of productivity for the victim and other staff members who are also affected. There are medical and sick leave expenses from stress-related health issues. According to the American City Business Journal, a survey of 9,000 federal employees indicated that 42 percent of female and 15 percent of male employees reported being harassed within a two-year period, resulting in a cost of more than $180 million in lost time and productivity.
Nobody likes a bully, but what can be done? Suggestions for how to deal with them are all over the board -- and often not realistic. With a job market like the one we have now, making a change isn't something most bullying targets are able to do.
Which makes words like "bullycide" one we grow more accustomed to hearing.
Reach Karin Fuller at firstname.lastname@example.org.