Bullying doesn’t stop in the school yard. So, as October is National Bullying Prevention Awareness Month, we’ll take a look at where many of those bullies go when they grow up – the workplace.
Bullying at work affects 65 million workers each year, according to the Workplace Bullying Institute’s 2014 survey. Twenty-seven percent of employees report being the victims of workplace bullying now or in the past, and 72 percent reported being aware of workplace bullying.
Bullying at work is a problem that can cost workers their jobs, and it can cost companies through employee stress, productivity loss and lawsuits, to name a few. Here, we’ll look at common types of bullying at work and what can be done to prevent this harmful activity.
Common Forms of Workplace Bullying
They think they’re the funny guy (or gal), and often it’s true. Everyone can have a laugh when a banana shows up in the place of a handset on someone’s phone. But when that same person finds their stapler stuck in Jell-O and their desk covered with Nic Cage headshots the next few weeks, the prankster has found his or her victim and what was once kinda funny can very quickly become quite mean. Not every prankster is a bully, but it’s important for them to stay on the right side of the sometimes thin line between funny and mean.
Saboteurs are the sneaky ones who make your job harder than it has to be, and finding ways to prevent you from succeeding – often with a smile, which makes it even worse. You think they’re a trusted colleague, and don’t realize they’re poisoning the relationship by misremembering or omitting details, or pushing you out of important projects or calls so they can take credit for your work or ideas.
Call them critics, haters, down-talkers -- this particular brand of workplace bully is always quick with the criticism. They’ll hold their targets to irrational – or even impossible – standards, finding any and all flaws in their work. And they aren’t shy about letting you and your colleagues know about it.
This one doesn’t need a lot of explanation.
- Hairy Eyeballs
They’re the ones always glaring at you and looking you up and down, dripping with disdain and judging you … hard. No matter what you say, the expression on their face says it was a bunch of bull, because they see you as their competition – a nemesis even – despite the fact that you’re in different departments.
- The Freeze Out
Similar to cliques, many workplaces have gatekeepers of sorts, who purposely exclude others from social events, like lunches or happy hours, so that their targets never quite feel like they fit in. The freeze-out can also take highly competitive forms, wherein employees are intentionally excluded from brainstorms and meetings.
- Loud Voices
Every office has at least one of these. And if you know who yours is, then it’s probably you. They’re the ones who are always the biggest voice in the room, borderline shouting at times. They’re loud, obnoxious and humiliate others – either by being overtly rude or speaking over them in meetings so as to dismiss what they’re saying.
While yellers and critics are obvious with their bully tactics, gossips are content to work behind the scenes. They’ll whisper in the game room and spread rumors on coffee runs. Sometimes it’s interpersonal stuff others it’s performance-related, both are hurtful and can damage reputations.
- Puppet Masters
The puppet master takes many forms. It could be the fratty sales guy who treats his team like pledges to be hazed, or it could be the queen of the call center lording over a game of musical chairs in which reps compete for the chance to go home early. Or even the boss who makes you bring him or her coffee every day. There’s nothing wrong with a little healthy competition; it can even be good for some teams and functions. But employees should never be made to feel like they’re doing something for their boss’ amusement.
This type of bullying can take many forms. Could be a boss who demands your project plans are color-coded according to alma mater’s colors or a co-worker who goes on and on about how overbearing her mother-in-law is and you better agree. If you don’t eat it up, you’re shunned.
Stopping Workplace Bullying
As the Workplace Bullying Institute’s study points out, 72 percent of employees are aware of workplace bullying. That’s millions of workers with millions of opportunities to do something about it. Here are a few strategies to help stop bullying at work.
- Call It Out as Uncool
Bullies are often after a reaction, either from their targets or their audience. Don’t give them the satisfaction of your discomfort or your laughs. When you spot bullying at work, stand up for the victim and call out the bullying as uncool behavior. You can be sure that’s not the reaction the bully was hoping for … and it might just make him or her think twice next time.
- Find Strength in Numbers
Bullying rarely comes from the bottom up – 56 percent of workplace bullying is perpetrated by bosses, according to the WBI survey – and it can be difficult to confront someone in a position of power. If this is a problem in your workplace, find allies among your co-workers who might have witnessed bullying or even been victims themselves. Going to HR or a manager can be easier to do when you have strength in numbers.
- Support a Culture of Inclusiveness … and Consequences
As business leaders, stomp out bullying but putting in place strong workplace policies that do not tolerate abusive behavior – and enforcing them. Simultaneously, support a culture of inclusiveness where employees are encouraged to engage in social activities, form affinity groups and form relationships with one another. In addition to building informal support systems among employees, this type of culture of inclusiveness can spur the type of cross-functional collaboration and innovation that lead to great business results.
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