In the past few years, bullying, both in its more “traditional”form and cyber bullying, has gotten a lot of attention. There have been news stories, social media campaigns, events, and even documentaries dedicated to the eradication of bullying. While all of these steps are positive, they all portray the victims of bullying as a similar set of individuals. In all the cases getting attention, the individual being bullied is a child, teenager, or young adult. However, did you know, that adults could be the victims of bullying as well? In fact, it may be more common than you think.
Not to be confused with domestic violence, adult bullying probably most often takes place at work. According to PBS, “Research has found that as many as a quarter of American employees will experience some form of bullying at work,”(2011). This bullying can happen to anyone regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, or position on the corporate ladder.
Workplace bullying is different than simple constructive criticism like you might expect to receive from a supervisor. Constructive criticism aims to improve your work, polish you skills, and in general produce a positive result. Bullying, on the other hand, is focused on a person not one failed task. Signs of workplace bullying include being (PBS, 2011):
- Excluded from work (ex. meetings) and work-related social events (ex. holiday office party).
- Actively avoided by coworkers (ex. coworkers pointedly get up and leave when you enter the break room).
- Given the “silent treatment”- this can include having your emails or calls ignored.
- Treated disrespectfully including coworkers showing up late for meetings you called or being the victim of malicious rumors.
- Yelled at (in private or in front of coworkers).
- Put down or spoken down to (i.e. calling your intelligence into question).
- Sabotaged or being the victim of inappropriate or harmful pranks.
- Given a bigger workload and/or shorter deadline than coworkers in similar positions.
Keep in mind that one of the above signs occurring one time does not constitute workplace bullying. Workplace bullying will be a pattern of the above signs that occurs over a period of time.
Just as workplace bullying can happen to any person, it can happen in any company whether the company is an established corporate giant or a small start up. The Ivey Business Journal has pinpointed some workplace culture characteristics that may contribute to bullying (PBS, 2011):
- A company that is obsessed with results regardless of the costs or how those results are achieved.
- A reward system based on aggressiveness.
- Company policies that only address the bare minimum legal requirements.
- A company that utilizes fear as a motivator.
Workplace bullying is very real. It happens to adults across America everyday. On the surface, it may seem relatively harmless; however, it can have very extreme consequences including anxiety, panic attacks, depression, PTSD, heart attack, and stroke (PBS, 2011). If you are the victim of workplace bullying, you should not ignore the problem and hope that it will get better. Ignoring the problem may make the physical and psychological symptoms worse.
Unfortunately, for quite some time, the media largely ignored workplace bullying. Finally it is beginning to get some much-deserved attention. In fact, there are a growing number of resources to help victims including workshops. Some states are even exploring legislation to better protect victims. If you are the victim of bullying, it is important to report it to a higher-up or HR personnel. When reporting the incidents, try to remain calm in order to logically convey what has been happening. It may be helpful to document events as they happen such as saving emails you send to supervisors reporting the incidents or noting specific incidents on a calendar. If supervisors are unable to help you resolve workplace bullying, it may be appropriate to consult a lawyer. Whatever you do, do not let workplace bullying go unchecked.