Bullying has grown much bigger than a few mean-spirited taunts from kids on the playground. It has become a type of emotional and verbal warfare that is fought at any age, in any social circle and in virtually any setting (workplaces included). And sometimes the consequences are devastating, as we saw with the tragic stories in 2010 of beleaguered teens taking their own lives to escape the near-constant mocks and insults.
What’s even clearer is that bullying is not some sort of harmless “acting out” that can be brushed aside. Because of electronic mediums and networks like email, texting, Facebook, YouTube videos and more, bullying can become much more pervasive than we ever imagined. We even have a term for it: cyberbullying.
Putting some political muscle behind the issue, President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama hosted the first-ever White House Conference on Bullying Prevention last Thursday, March 10. It brought together educators, experts, politicians and other concerned individuals to explore how bullying affects American communities and what can be done to minimize it.
"If there is one goal of this conference, it is to dispel the myth that bullying is just a harmless rite of passage or an inevitable part of growing up," Obama said in a speech.
So what about bullying in the workplace? Is it really that big a deal? Unfortunately, yes! And we’re learning that it’s just as likely to be delivered by females as it is men. According to a nationwide poll by the Employment Law Alliance, 45 percent of American workers say they’ve experienced workplace abuse, and 40 percent of these bullies are women (with women bullies picking on other women more than 70 percent of the time).
Left unchecked, bullying can deal a dangerous blow to workplace productivity, as well as the individual’s health, causing headaches, loss of appetite, high blood pressure, insomnia, depression and panic attacks.
To deal with being bullied at work, Dr. Michelle Callahan in an article at huffingtonpost.com recommends:
- Don't get emotional. Bullies take pleasure in emotionally manipulating people. Stay calm and rational to diffuse the situation.
- Don't blame yourself. Acknowledge that this is not about you; it's about the bully. Don't lose your confidence, or think you are incapable or incompetent. They are usually beating you at a mind game, not based on your actual work performance.
- Do your best work. The bully's behavior will seem more justified if you aren't doing your best work, or if you do things like come to work late, take long lunches, turn in work late, etc.
- Build a support network. Instead of allowing the bully to make you retreat into your office, work on building your relationships with your coworkers so that you have support and the bully doesn't turn them against you as well (although she will try and may even be successful).
- Document everything. Keep a journal (on your personal computer or in writing, but never leave it in the office) of what happened when (and who witnessed it) so that if you need to escalate this problem to Human Resources, you have the information you need to make your case. Keep emails and notes.
- Seek help. If you think you're being bullied, it's time to start talking to others who can help you manage this situation. Try a mentor, advocate, seasoned/experienced friend, even a legal advocate who specializes in bullying and inappropriate or discriminatory behavior in the workplace.
- Get counseling. It will help you deal with the stress, especially if the bullying is already affecting your physical and mental health. You have to take care of yourself.
- Stay healthy. Maintain a healthy and balanced lifestyle outside of work to help you cope with the madness at work. Work out, get a good night's sleep and eat a healthy diet.
- Educate yourself. Learn everything you can about bullying, your company's policies on inappropriate behavior and occupational law regarding this kind of experience. The more you know, the better your chances of successfully dealing with this situation.
- Don't expect to change the bully. Real behavior change is difficult and it takes time. You have no control over a bully's willingness to accept that they have a problem and to work on it. You can do your best to manage the situation, but it's really the company's responsibility to be observant and responsive to the needs of their workers and the general work environment.
Regarding the 10th suggestion, there are many things you can do as an employer to support a more inclusive corporate culture and prevent bullying and other types of harassment. On-site training can go a long way toward spreading the message that workplace bullying will not be tolerated – at any time and in any form.