For a striking number of Americans, bullying has moved beyond
the walls of the schoolyard to the top rungs of the corporate
ladder. Although concrete numbers are scarce, it's estimated
that one in six workers is a victim of workplace bullying
-- more than the number of those affected by sexual harassment
or racial discrimination. And worldwide, bullying in the workplace
has reached epidemic levels in some countries, according to
the International Labor Organization.
Although anyone can become a victim, in the United States
80 percent of the time the person being bullied is a woman,
according to an online survey by The Workplace Bullying &
Trauma Institute (WBTI).
One in six U.S. workers are targeted by bullies at
Contrary to what many believe, those who are bullied at work
are not vulnerable, weak or thin-skinned. Instead, people
who are targeted are usually the ones that others perceive
as tough competition: go-getters, those who do well at their
jobs, are personable, well-liked and competent.
As for the bullies, "It's about control. It's what all
bullies want: control," says Gary Namie, Ph.D., founder
of the Campaign Against Workplace Bullying. "Despite
the mask of bravado, they are tiny, insecure people."
Three Reasons for Workplace Bullying
According to WBTI, most bullies do so simply because they
can. They seek out someone who is eager to please and non-confrontational,
and perhaps also a threat to their authority (71 percent of
bullies are bosses). More specifically, most cases of bullying
can be explained by these three scenarios:
The workplace environment is cut-throat, and the bully
is seeking to eliminate competition.
The bully is manipulative and seeks to take advantage
of a perceived opportunity to get ahead.
The workplace environment rewards aggressive behavior
with promotions, rewards, etc.
And while bullying is typically associated with men, workplace
bullies can be men or women. WBTI found that 58 percent of
bullies at work are women.
Bullied at Work? Your Health Will Suffer
Even under the best circumstances, work
is stressful. There's office politics to decipher, deadlines
to meet, co-workers to contend with
but add to this
the energy-draining tactics of a workplace bully at your neck
and your health will suffer.
Stress-related illnesses, including panic attacks, chronic
fatigue syndrome, weight changes, ulcers, high blood pressure,
insomnia, headaches, racing heart and more, are common among
Do you constantly feel anxious and agitated at work?
Is someone always interfering with your job? You may
be the victim of a workplace bully.
Further, according to Namie, 41 percent of bully targets
become depressed, and 31 percent of targeted women and 21
percent of targeted men are diagnosed with post-traumatic
Meanwhile, increased costs in health care, more absenteeism
and lost productivity mean that workplace bullying costs companies
big bucks. One survey of 9,000 federal employees, which found
that 42 percent of women and 15 percent of men had been bullied
over a two-year period, found the abuse led to over $180 million
in lost time and productivity.
Are You Being Bullied? 12 Tips to Find Out
"We are all lambs being led to the slaughter, we really
are. Some of us are more sensitive to it than others,"
said Chauncey Hare, a clinical psychologist in California,
co-author of "Work
Abuse: How to Recognize and Survive It," and once
a workplace bully victim himself.
There is a difference between typical work-related stresses
and those that occur from bullying. If you experience any
of the following on a regular basis, you may be the target
of a workplace bully, says WBTI.
Your work is never good enough for the boss
Your boss makes you feel humiliated
You constantly feel anxious and agitated at work,
and dread the start of a new workweek
Your co-workers have been told to stop socializing
Someone is constantly interfering with tasks you
are trying to complete
You are yelled at in front of others, but punished
for yelling back
Human resources and other bosses say there is "nothing
they can do" about the bully's behavior
Your requests to transfer positions or office locations
You constantly feel stressed about work, even when
you're at home
You feel exhausted on your days off and uninterested
in activities you once enjoyed
Your family suggests you "leave work at the
office" and your doctor asks about what could
be causing your new health problems
You start to think you somehow caused the bullying
How to Stop Workplace Bullying
The following three steps are most effective when it comes
time to confront a workplace bully, according to "The
Bully at Work," by Gary and Ruth Namie.
Acknowledge, and Name, the Abuse. Often when a
target speaks to human resources about their bullying
problem, they're told there's nothing that can be done
because no physical or illegal abuse has taken place.
Naming the behaviors you are confronted with (bullying,
emotional abuse, etc.) is the first step to realizing
that the bullying is real and should be stopped.
Research Your Options and Take a Few Sick Days.
Namie recommends tending to your mental and physical health
while on leave, and beginning research into your legal
options. Talking to an attorney may be helpful (Is discrimination
involved? Can a forceful letter be sent to the bully?),
as may be reviewing internal company policies that apply
to your situation.
During this time you should also gather statistics: how
much has this bully cost the business in turnover rates,
absenteeism, lost productivity, etc.? And finally, start
searching for a new position, as targets of workplace
bullying have a 7 in 10 chance of losing their job (either
by choice or by termination).
Confront the Bully. Approach the highest level
person in the company possible, and present, from a factual
perspective, your case for why the bully should leave
his or her position. The key is to stick to your research
and not let your emotions get the better of you; you may
be giving the company just the reason it was looking for
to dismiss the bully.
However, if the employer sides with the bully, you may wish
to find a new job. Staying in an environment where bullying
will not be dealt with, and in which you cannot remove yourself
from the bully's influence, will likely cause your health
Only you can make the final decision, but you can use 12
Signs it is REALLY Time to Leave Your Job as a guide.
to Detect Potentially Violent People in the Workplace
Emotionally Hazardous Work Environment: Is it Worth the Price
Workplace Bullying & Trauma Institute (WBTI)
Oregonian June 25, 2006
Business Journal: Workplace Bullying's High Cost