A youngster who surrenders his lunch money to another child’s threats and an employee who is publicly and continually demeaned by his boss may both be experiencing the same phenomenon: bullying. While the term “bullying” is often associated with children, it is very common to see the same type of behavior in a work setting.
Not all negative workplace behavior is bullying, however. People can be unhappy with their job or have some control issue and become hurtful to fellow employees. They might spew their frustration on whoever provides the excuse, regretting it later on. If confronted with their shortcomings, they may acknowledge that they overreacted and may even apologize if confronted. In these scenarios, they are attempting to cope, rather than specifically targeting another person.
What, then, is bullying in the workplace?
It is repeated, deliberate, disrespectful behavior, which harms the target, by one or more people toward another for their own gratification.
Let’s look more closely at that definition.
First, the behavior that the bully uses is deliberate. The bully intends to hurt her target and is very focused, repeatedly attacking the same person…
Second, the behavior consists of aggressive action, such as humiliation, intimidation and undermining or passive-aggressive actions. These are some examples of passive-aggressive bullying:
- Repeatedly scheduling surprise meetings to catch the target off-base
- Repeatedly ignoring the target in a meeting
- Repeatedly playing off the target against one or more other employees
- You’ll see from the points above that we stress repeated behavior as bullying. Random actions, although hurtful, are not necessarily bullying.
Third, you will notice that we use the word “target” rather than “victim.” “Victim” implies that the person being bullied is less powerful than the bully. We believe that the bully’s target has control–they just may not know how to use it.
A fourth element in the definition is the bully’s gratification–what he gains from his bullying behavior. Bullies are basically insecure people who need to convince themselves regularly that they are stronger than others in order to prop up their wobbly self-image. They do this by targeting someone they believe they can overpower, gaining pleasure from winning at someone else’s expense.
One element deserves some extra consideration:
What harm does the bully’s behavior have on the person being bullied? If you’ve ever been bullied, you may know the effects. They begin with surprise and a gnawing sense of discomfort; proceed into anxiety and self-doubt and progress into depression if the bully’s behavior is not stopped.
Studies on bullying in the workplace show that bullies impact the organization, too. Loss of productivity and lack of communication are two effects. At its extreme, a bully’s behavior prevents the give-and-take that make for a healthy, creative, goal-achieving workplace.
We know that people want to be treated with respect. Workplace bullying demeans the individual and destroys the trust needed to do high quality work.
We want to help you to eliminate bullying from your workplace.
Together we can make the workplace a welcoming environment for you and your co-workers alike.
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