October 16 through October 22 is Freedom from Workplace Bullies Week, sponsored by the Workplace Bullying Institute. Thank God this organization exists. Someone needed to shed light on this growing problem in the USA, especially in this economy. Why? Because I’ve seen so many hard working and talented people who are unemployed, while a Workplace Bully gets to keep his job. Or I see people stay in jobs and take the abuse, out of fear they won’t find another. And in my opinion, that’s wrong on so many levels.
Who’s getting targeted? According to WBI, it’s usually the veteran employees who are skilled, well-loved by customers and/or co-workers and have talents the bully doesn’t have. Not to be confused with a schoolyard bully who targets the weak, the workplace bully goes after the strong and talented. The bully feels threatened. Some of the mind games I’ve witnessed include increased surveillance, written reprimands, and either given impossible workloads that can’t be achieved, or work is taken away and they are given nothing to do. Bullies also promote division among the staff and warn workers to stay away from the targeted employee. According to the WBI, 35% of workers are bullied.
The bullies are cunning manipulators. They make it look like the target is a problem employee when quite the opposite is true. Most of the targets are honest, hard working, and ethical, and feared to be a whistle blower. At one place I worked, I questioned treatment of a co-worker, and was reprimanded with a note in my file as warning to stay out of it. Another time the bully tested my honesty by telling me to pad my time card with additional hours because I was a good worker. (How stupid do they think I am?) Bullies are connivers, and do all they can discredit the target or any witnesses who take a stand on bad behavior or malfeasance. When this happened to me, my supervisor said, “consider this a teachable moment,” but still protected the bully. He was part of snakes in a viper pit that allowed the problem to continue.
HR looks the other way, since it’s not considered harassment. Bullies cover their tracks very well too. And if you out the bully in a public forum, the bully can and most likely will threaten legal action for defamation, libel, slander or whatever. When the problem escalates, usually there is a monetary settlement for the target, but the bully stays in power. The worst part is, many bullies who work for the government or a non-profit answer to no one, and it’s really, really, hard to get rid of them. The higher up the food chain you go, the more you see how well protected the bully is.
Sad isn’t it? Tax dollars and donor contributions funding a psycho workplace.
The Workplace Bullying Institute has several ideas on how to enact legislation to take on this issue. I hope it works.
Victims/Targets of bullying have a few avenues to pursue (as compared with victims of sexual harassment) when subjected to obvious acts of aggression, spreading malicious rumors, excluding someone socially or from certain projects, undermining or impeding a person’s work or opinions, unjustified exclusion from certain projects, removing areas of responsibility without cause, insulting a person’s habits, attitudes, or private life and intruding upon a person’s privacy. Others include being rude or belligerent, destroying property, assaulting an individual, or setting impossible deadlines. In the United States, although bullying is recognized as detrimental to occupational health, there is little political or corporate interest in stopping it.
Workplace bullying has severe consequences, including high employee turnover. An employee who suffers any physical or psychiatric injury as a result of workplace bullying could bring a claim of negligence and/or a personal injury claim against both the employer and the abusive employee as joint respondents in the claim. If the law does not persuade employers to deal with workplace bullying, the economic reality will persuade them. Training sessions can help when combined with a conﬁdential reporting structure.
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Maxwell Pinto, Business Author