EAP Corner, Wholeness Healing Today

Bullying in the Workplace

I often think how grateful I am to be done with the challenges of being a kid and away from the bullying that can occur while growing up. I have great empathy for anyone dealing with that strife as it can be rough. But growing up doesn’t mean we are not going to still be faced with situations of bullying. Bullying in the workplace is a real situation and more common than we might realize. Fifty-four million Americans have experienced bullying at work. (Heathfield, 2017). Workplace bullying can look very similar to the bullying we see with children.

Workplace bullying is defined in a 2017 National Survey from The Workplace Bullying and Trauma Institute. This definition is “repeated, health-harming mistreatment of one or more persons (the target) by one or more perpetrators. It is abusive conduct that is: threatening, humiliating, or intimidating and causes work interference – sabotage – which prevents work from getting done, or verbal abuse.” (Workplace Bullying Institute, 2017)

If you are wondering if you are a target of bullying at your workplace, consider what some of the behaviors and symptoms are that you might see or experience. You feel nauseous at the thought of going to work as the work week begins. You feel intimidated at work. You notice whispering and find yourself feeling outside the group. You are left out of employee meetings or gatherings. There are rumors about you. You are the target and butt of jokes. You get yelled at or called names. You are the target of someone picking out your mistakes and bringing them up repeatedly. Or you experience more passive behaviors such as talking over you at meetings or stealing credit for your work. (Workplace Bullying Institute, 2017)

People who are targets of bullying in the workplace are not the same type as those being bullied in the schoolyard. Most likely, in the workplace, “targets” are people who pose a threat to the bully. Targets in the workplace tend to be the veteran and most skilled person in the workgroup. They are independent and often the “go-to” worker that new employees turn to for guidance. They are better liked, have empathy, and often have more social skills and greater emotional intelligence. They cause more of a threat to others because they stand out in their positions. As you consider this, consider the cost to the business and the bottom-line when the brightest and most talented employees are being targeted. Also consider the additional cost to business and the bottom-line when you factor in those employees who
witness the bullying.

Bullying doesn’t just affect the targeted person; it creates a toxic environment for everyone. Our work environment is important and has impact on our quality of life. Work is our home away from home as we spend the majority of our life at work. Having an environment that is safe, welcoming, and accepting makes going to work easy and lays the groundwork for us to do our best work. Working in a toxic environment, however, impacts productivity, profitability, and office morale.

Sixty-one percent of Americans are aware of abusive conduct that is taking place in the workplace. Eighty-one percent of employers are perceived as doing nothing about a situation in a survey taken by those affected by bullying. (Heathfield, 2017) This means that you, as that targeted person, may need to figure out how to handle this. Please see the next article, Dealing with a Workplace Bully,  for information about what to do if you are in a bullying situation at work. The cost of bullying in the workplace is high. Costs are calculated by the weeks, months or years that the bully has been actively operating. Affected workers are the individuals targeted and all the people aware of it. Witnesses are often affected as much as the targeted person. Costs include turnover, lost opportunity, lower productivity, absenteeism settlements, workers compensation and disability insurance claims.

The bottom line is that bullying impacts the targeted people and the witnesses to it. This affects the business. Bullying makes the environment and the workplace stressful. Stress impacts health. If you are the targeted, taking this matter into your own hands is critical. Put your health first. Check in with your doctor to make sure your health is not being affected by the stress. See a therapist who can walk the journey with you of teaching you coping mechanisms to manage the stress of the environment, coaching you in talking to your employer and restoring your own self-image back to the person you are when you are walking in your self-assured shoes. If you are an employer, you are the person who can make the changes in the environment that need to happen.

Works Cited
Heathfield, S. M. (2017, September 30). How to deal with a bully at work. Retrieved from The Balance.

Workplace Bullying Institute. (2017, Sept 30). Retrieved from http://www. workplacebullying.org/individuals/problem/definition/.

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  • Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker
    Licensed Independent Mental Health Practitioner

  • Janie Pfeifer Watson, LICSW, is the founder and director of Wholeness Healing Center, a mental health practice in Grand Island, Nebraska with remote sites in Broken Bow and Kearney. Her expertise encompasses a broad range of areas, including depression, anxiety, attachment and bonding, coaching, couples work, mindfulness, trauma, and grief. She views therapy as an opportunity to learn more about yourself as you step more into being your authentic self. From her perspective this is part of the spiritual journey; on this journey, she serves as a mirror for her clients as they get to know themselves—and, ultimately, to love themselves.


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