Workplace bullying is defined by verbal, physical, social, or psychological abuse perpetrated by your employer, manager, or another colleague (or a group of individuals) at work, according to the Australian Human Rights Commission, an independent third party which investigates complaints about discrimination and human rights breaches. Workplace bullying can occur in any type of workplace, ranging from offices and shops to cafes and government organizations. This can also occur to volunteers, work experience students, apprentices, interns, and casual and permanent employees.
Workplace Bullying In the US (2017)
Research director Gary Namie, Ph.D., of Workplace Bullying Institute, the first and only US organization dedicated to combatting workplace bullying, found that 19% of 1,008 adult Americans had suffered from abusive conduct at work, with 15% saying they had seen it happen to others and 4% saying they knew that it had happened to others.
19% had witnessed abusive conduct at work, with 0.3% admitting that they themselves were the perpetrator, 16% saying they had not experienced or witnessed it, but they believed it happens in workplaces, and 9% said the same though they believed that non-harmful routine interactions are what others deem as “mistreatment.”
63% were aware of bullying in the workplace, with 37% saying they had no personal experience of knowledge of, or an opinion about, workplace mistreatment. Gender-wise, 70% of perpetrators were male, while there were only 30% of female perpetrators. 66% of all targeted workers were females.
Regarding the impact of bullying on the targeted person’s health, 18% answered “Yes though it was not apparent to others” and 22% said “Yes and it was apparent to others.” Only 40% said yes, 28% “not sure”, and 32% “not health harm.” 60% doubted the health impact of bullying on the targeted person.
When asked, “To what extent did the targeted person make the mistreatment known,” 12% said the targeted person did not tell anyone outside work and 17% did not tell any employer representative or manager. Sadly, 29% of targets remained silent about abusive conduct. 35% of targets only told their colleagues and 18% only informally notified their employer. 53% of targets informally reported experiences.
13% decided to file a formal complaint with the employer, 3% resorted to filing a formal complaint with government agency, and only 2% filed a lawsuit. Alarmingly, only 18% of targets formally reported experiences.
When asked what the employer did after learning about the abusive conduct, 23% said the employer investigated the complaint, entailing positive changes for the target, while 46% said the employer investigated the complaint inadequately, but no change had been done. 26% said a complaint was filed but the employer did not do anything and 22% said the employer did not learn about the misconduct. Only 34% of respondents were not sure.
When asked what stopped the abusive conduct, 25% said “it has not stopped,” 23% said the target voluntarily left the job to escape more maltreatment,12% said the target was forced to quit when work conditions were deliberately made worse, and 8% said the employer terminated the target.
54% mentioned that the target lost their job and 11% said the target was transferred to a different job or location with the same employer. 17% said the perpetrator was punished but kept their job, 11% said the perpetrator was punished, 8% answered that the perpetrator voluntarily left their job. Only 36% of perpetrators had lost their jobs.
Who Does the Bullying?
Crystal Raypole of Healthline, an online medical information and health advice, stated bullying comes from superiors (ex: managers) and colleagues. Bullying from managers might abuse their power by writing negative performance reviews that are not justified, shouting or threatening you with firing or demotion, or denying time off or your request to be moved to another department.
If you are working with people at the same level, bullying might involve gossip, criticism, or work sabotage. It can occur between colleagues who work closely together or across departments. However, co-workers in different departments may be more likely to perpetuate bullying by sending emails or by spreading rumors. Lower-level employees can also bully those in a higher position. For example, colleagues may continue to disrespect their manager, refuse to do any of their tasks, spread rumors about the manager, or do things to make them feel incompetent.
What Should You Do When You Are Bullied At Work?
It is common to feel powerless and unable to do anything to stop the target from bullying you. If you try standing up to the bully, they may threaten you or even told no one will believe you. If the bully is your manager, you may not know who to tell. But you can do something against workplace bullying. The first action you should take is to document all bullying actions in writing—date, time, where the bullying occurred, and other individuals who were in the room.
If you received threatening notes, comments, or emails, keep them even if they are unsigned. If there are documents that can help prove bullying like overly harsh commentary on your work, denied PTO requests, and more, be sure to keep them somewhere safe. You can also report the bullying to your office’s human resources department.
You can speak to your direct supervisor, though it is possible to report bullying to someone higher than your supervisor if the latter is unhelpful or is your bully. Confront the bully and bring a trustworthy witness like a colleague or supervisor to ask them to stop. If you feel comfortable about standing up to your bully, be sure to do it in a calm, polite, and direct manner.
Reviewing your employee handbook or even state/federal policies may help you take action against bullying. Further, you can seek legal guidance from a lawyer, who can offer advice about the situation even if legal action may not always be taken. Consider reaching out to your colleagues or your loved ones for support. A therapist can also provide you with professional support and aid you in finding ways to cope with the impacts of bullying while you take other measures to end it.
Workplace opportunity occurs in cafes, offices, government organizations, and more. It can happen to anyone from co-workers and volunteers to managers. Bullying should be penalized and workplaces should offer psychological and emotional support to targets of bullies.