Bullying at Work: The Ultimate Guide To Handle It
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Dealing with bullying at work? If so, you’re not alone.
Bullying at Work: A Statistical Breakdown
According to the Workplace Bullying Institute, 30 percent of American adults reported being bullied at work in 2021. This means that 76.3 million U.S. workers experienced workplace bullying last year alone.
Anyone can become a target for bullying. However, the likelihood of being affected differs along gender and racial lines. For example, a majority of both bullies (67 percent) and targets (51 percent) are males. Female bullies target other women 65 percent of the time. And the rate of bullying for Hispanics is higher than for other races (35 percent).
Why Does Bullying at Work Go Unreported?
Workplace bullying causes stress. It also affects the self-esteem and work performance of those targeted. Unfortunately, many employees who experience bullying still hesitate to report it or take legal action.
The reasons for hesitation are complex, but may include:
- fear of retribution
- fear of victim-blaming or being seen as the “real” problem
- lack of confidence in the reporting system
- little evidence that reports are acted on
- lack of support from fellow employees
Are you currently experiencing bullying at work? If not, have you ever witnessed workplace bullying in action?
No matter your answer, it’s important that you understand the definition of bullying. You should also familiarize yourself with the major types of bullying. Additionally, you need to know how bullying impacts the overall work environment.
After all, evidence suggests that we must all band together to end workplace bullying.
What Exactly Is Workplace Bullying?
Bullying is separate and distinct from other toxic workplace behaviors. It has its own dynamic, so it should be handled with a different approach than other kinds of harassment.
Workplace bullying is “a type of aggression wherein there is an imbalance in power.” In other words, the bully “holds the power” over their victim.
As mentioned above, victims often hesitate to report bullying because they fear retribution and lack confidence in the reporting system. Can you guess why they feel this way? That’s right: the basic power imbalance between victims and their bullies.
Bullying at Work: An Example Scenario
Consider the following scenario: Angela’s team leader bullies her at work. He treats her rudely and makes disrespectful jokes about her weight. Additionally, he often singles her out for the hardest and least rewarding tasks.
When Angela spoke up and questioned him in the past, he publicly berated and shamed her. Moreover, he doubled down on his bullying behaviors.
Angela feels discouraged. After all, standing up for herself backfired. Even worse? The silence of her coworkers showed her that she couldn’t count on their support or advocacy. And if she reports the behavior to human resources? She could risk her job and livelihood.
No wonder Angela feels stuck. Short of advocacy or intervention, her situation is unlikely to improve.
How to Identify Bullying at Work
Want to protect yourself — and your coworkers — from bullying at work? Start by learning to recognize the three basic types of bullying and their signs.
The 3 Types of Workplace Bullying
The many forms of workplace bullying fit into three general categories. We break down each type below, so keep reading to learn more.
1. Physical Bullying
Despite its name, physical bullying doesn’t have to involve physical contact to impact a victim. Make no mistake: pushes, shoves, punches, slaps, and shoulder shoves do qualify as physical bullying. But this type of bullying also occurs when a perpetrator uses their size or strength to intimidate a victim.
Here are some examples of physical bullying:
- towering over someone
- moving threateningly into someone’s personal space
- hovering closely after someone has stepped away or asked the perpetrator to step back
2. Verbal Bullying
Verbal bullying is much more common than physical bullying and can be totally demoralizing. It includes yelling, shouting, belittling, and tearing down the victim. Verbal bullying also includes direct threats like the use of racial slurs. Finally, it includes derogatory comments about someone’s physical appearance — or even ethnic and religious slurs.
It’s important to note that verbal bullying isn't always face to face. It also includes gossip and slander. Verbal bullying is closely related to social bullying and can be more subtle than other forms. Nevertheless, it can be very detrimental to the victim. For example, it can have long-term impacts on their mental health.
3. Social Bullying
Social bullying involves using the power of the group dynamic against a victim. It is closely linked to verbal bullying.
Some examples of social bullying include:
- giving the victim more or harder work than others
- purposefully excluding the victim from social interactions and relational benefits
- targeting the victim for public ridicule and shame during meetings
Cyberbullying is a form of social bullying — and, unfortunately, it isn’t limited to high schools. It is increasingly common in virtual workplaces, especially given the rise of remote work over the last few years.
Examples of cyberbullying include:
- sending or sharing insulting emails and messages about the victim
- excluding the victim from group communication channels
- publicly ridiculing the victim’s social media posts
Now that you’re familiar with the types of workplace bullying, keep reading to learn the signs.
Workplace Bullying and Harassment: Warning Signs
Think you or a coworker may be in trouble?
Here are a few red flags that point toward bullying at work:
- your colleagues constantly lie to you
- your work is intentionally undermined and/or sabotaged
- peers at your level receive preferential treatment
- requirements and expectations constantly change
- someone else always takes credit for your work
- you receive destructive criticism, not constructive criticism
- questions and concerns are dismissed rather than addressed
- you get the “worst” of everything (tasks, scheduling, break times, vacation days, etc.)
- you must fight off crude treatment and/or sexual harassment
This list isn’t exhaustive, but it does provide benchmark behaviors common to bullying.
Suspect that you or a colleague is being bullied at work? Don’t delay taking the necessary steps to report it.
How Does Bullying at Work Affect Your Mental Health?
A hostile work environment can lead to low morale, poor self-esteem, and poor job performance. After all, it’s hard to perform at your best when your work is constantly undermined and your behavior mocked.
Unfortunately, the cumulative effects of workplace bullying don’t stop when you clock out. According to Verywell Mind, bullying can cause physical and psychological health problems in its victims. These problems include:
- high blood pressure
- panic attacks
- trouble sleeping
Indeed, reports suggest that bullying victims take higher levels of antidepressants and antipsychotic medications than other employees. Their experiences with bullying can also leave lasting marks on their emotions.
How to Handle Bullying at Work
Workplace bullying is not okay. It’s a serious matter with both personal and corporate implications. Fortunately, there are tools available to handle bullying at work.
Resources to Handle Workplace Bullying
Are you an avid reader? Check out The Bully-Free Workplace: Stop Jerks, Weasels, and Snakes from Killing Your Organization by Gary Namie. This practical guide moves past short-term solutions. Instead, it offers preventative measures that will lead to long-term fixes.
Prefer to listen? We recommend the Workplace Bullying Institute’s podcast. Informed by research, this podcast addresses the issue of bullying from many angles. With 39 episodes currently available, you can find good advice for any bullying issue.
Additionally, several organizations are addressing workplace bullying in an impressive way. Take Empower Work, for example. They’re on a mission to “create healthy, equitable workplaces where employees are valued, supported, and empowered.” Additionally, they offer consultations with a trained peer counselor via confidential text messaging. Need advice about how to handle bullying at work? This could be a good place to start.
We also appreciate an organization called the Culture Cure Society. They position themselves as the “leading toxic workplace resolution service and community.” Moreover, they aim to help those who feel lost, undermined, and trapped in a toxic work environment. On their website, you’ll find consultations and online courses to help:
- restore your self-confidence
- strengthen your sense of well-being, and
- plan an exit strategy from your current place of employment.
Finally, we want to point you toward the STOPit App. This app is designed to help end workplace harassment. It streamlines the process of reporting bad behavior at work — so that it can be addressed proactively by the company.
No one should have to live with bullying at work. Hopefully, we can join together to rally behind a common cause and stop workplace bullying.
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