If you’ve never been subjected to or witnessed workplace bullying, you may be unfamiliar with the term. It can also go unnoticed because its perpetrators often try to keep their actions discreet to avoid being caught. In essence, workplace bullying describes any repeated effort to physically or mentally harass an employee. These actions could be taken by one peer toward another or could stem from a boss or person with more authority and power within the company.
Workplace bullying creates a risk for great emotional or physical damage to a person. Those affected will usually develop poor mental health as a result, which can lead to both physical and emotional symptoms. Employees and especially managers should be on the lookout for any signs that workplace bullying could be occurring within the company. When any concerns are brought to the attention of managers or other higher-ups, they must be taken seriously and investigated.
What Can Workplace Bullying Look Like?
- Using demeaning, verbally abusive language
- Spreading rumors or gossip around the office that one knows to be untrue
- Using threats to gain something in return
- Withholding the tools someone needs to get a job done correctly and on time
- Targeting or singling out a specific person
- Criticizing an employee without justification or proper cause
- Excluding one person from events, meetings, outings, etc. (both in and out of the office)
There are many reasons a person might be subject to workplace bullying. More often than not, victims are chosen because they’re a threat to someone else in the company. Victims might be extra talented in their field or are well-liked by the majority of people in the company. On the other hand, bullies are normally dissatisfied with their own work, insecure about their talent, and fearful the victim will outshine them in some way (such as receiving a promotion over them). They may be unliked by most people within the company and bully out of jealousy.
On the other hand, some bullies are admired by their colleagues and bosses, and no one would ever suspect that they’re harming someone. These cases of workplace bullying are even harder to spot and therefore can be more dangerous. The victim may suffer in silence even longer because he or she thinks no one will believe them. This is why it’s important to take any concerns brought forward by any member of the staff seriously. Anyone is capable of being bullied, and anyone is capable of being a bully.
It’s also true that victims could be chosen by factors like gender, race, and sexuality. For example, a woman might feel like she needs to intimidate a new male employee in the office out of fear he will appear better equipped to lead the team, or vice versa. Keep in mind that harassment differs from workplace bullying, and discriminating based on sex, race, religion, or national origin is illegal.
Symptoms of Workplace Bullying:
- Lowered self-esteem
- Paranoia or feeling on edge
- High stress or anxiety
- Feelings of depression
- Trouble falling or staying asleep at night
- Changes in eating patterns (as well as weight gain or weight loss)
- Becoming socially isolated from friends, family, and other coworkers
- Physical symptoms like bruises
- Suddenly dreading having to go to work
- Taking frequent sick days to avoid going to work, etc.
So, how can one tell if it’s actually workplace bullying? After all, there are people who tease others to try and make friends or have a darker sense of humor. There are also cultural differences to consider, making it harder to spot bullying. Some cultures hold humor in a positive light and even use it as a coping mechanism (such as Western culture does), while others frown upon it. As a general rule, though, workplace bullying is meant to cause harm. It is a pattern, and the bully doesn’t care whether or not the victim is harmed by their behavior or words.
When someone teases, on the other hand, they normally will feel bad if they hurt someone and will stop right away if the person expresses feelings of being harmed. Another factor to consider is the power differential between the bully and the victim. It’s much more common for two colleagues to joke around with and tease one another than it is for a boss to tease his employee. The larger the power gap, the more likely the teasing is actually workplace bullying.
What to Do if You’re Being Bullied:
- Don’t blame yourself; there’s nothing you could’ve done to prevent it
- Tell the bully to stop and explain why their behavior is inappropriate
- If you don’t feel comfortable speaking to the bully, tell someone else
- Continue to keep track of all the instances of harassment (write them down)
- Seek help from others, such as colleagues, HR, or corporate
- Talk to a therapist if needed
Workplace bullying affects everyone. Many victims will end up leaving the organization if their concerns aren’t addressed, which can create a high turnover rate if the bully remains employed and consistently picks new victims. The culture created by a workplace bully is damaging. Instead of an environment in which everyone trusts one another and works as a team, a culture of fear and resentment is born. This leads to less productivity among the staff and higher stress levels. Lower revenue, fees from legal action, and more sick day call-ins are just some of the numerous effects employers might see.
It’s important employees and employers alike pay attention to what’s happening around the office, even having regular check-ins with their staff. The more the employees trust their colleagues and bosses, the more likely workplace bullying is to be spotted in its early stages and brought to the appropriate person’s attention. At the end of the day, action is key. If you know someone is being bullied, get others involved. The bully and the victim should also be kept away from one another, at least until the investigation is over. Staying alert to your surroundings is how workplace bullying situations are spotted and put to a stop. You could be the difference between prolonging or stopping such a thing.