Bullying at work: don’t let it happen to you

Much has been said about bullying in primary schools, secondary schools and universities, but it’s a little known fact that this phenomenon also occurs in companies and workplaces. In fact, bullying in the workplace is so common that you may even have experienced it or witnessed it.  

But what exactly is workplace bullying? When you think of bullying, the first image that comes to mind is that of a burly student threatening a nerd or the typical cruel, gossiping girls taunting someone who’s less popular. The reality is that many adults suffer daily bullying in the workplace.

According to the Workplace Bullying Institute, an organization based in Washington that was created to help employees who endure bullying, the term can be defined as an abuse severe enough to compromise the health of an employee, endangering his career and straining relations with family and friends.

In other words, bullying in the workplace is the abusive behavior that makes employees feel uncomfortable and that has a negative impact on the lives of employees within and outside the workplace.

This type of bullying includes personal threats, derogatory comments, public humiliation, intimidation tactics, verbal abuse, excluding you from meetings or discussions, excessive demands, impossible deadlines or unreasonable requests.

Usually bullies in schools and workplaces are those who, due to their own insecurities, tend to intimidate and humiliate their “targets”, hoping to gain or maintain a certain power and status.

But specifically in the workplace, bullying occurs from managers or executives to their employees, with the difference that at school you could talk to the teacher or a trusted counselor, while here the risk of losing your job is at stake.

This phenomenon also occurs among co-workers at the same level, and even though the same tactics are employed -harassment, insults, abuse-, their purpose is to advance their careers and not allow others to stand out or get promotions or raises.

It’s hard to believe that bullying occurs in the grownup workplace. However, this abuse of power is more common than believed.

This type of bullying is the aggressive, repetitive and continuous behavior from one co-worker to another with the aim of humiliating, discriminating and weakening the person.

These behaviors cause embarrassment, discomfort and health problems in the victims. Jokes, comments, direct taunts, accusations or sabotage are behaviors that may often seem harmless, but can be early signs of abuse.

These are not isolated cases

A study revealed that 8% to 12% of the population suffers violence in their workplace, women being the leading figures with 78%. In Europe, studies show that more than 12 million people suffer from this psychological harassment.

Verbal and psychological abuse, persecution, discrimination, interference, inequality and vulnerability are the most frequent forms of intimidation.

How does it happen?

  1. Labor abuse: any behavior that harms the self-esteem and dignity of a person. This can be understood as tactics of physical or moral intimidation, public humiliation, verbal abuse, slander which adversely affects the moral integrity and good name, derogatory comments, ignoring or excluding the person.
  1. Persecution and work interference: reiteration or indisputable randomness in the functions and final product of work. This consists of disqualifications or excessive workload, sudden schedule changes, deprivation of tools, resources, documents or instruments for work, destruction or loss of data, loss of correspondence or electronic messages.
  1. Discrimination: differential treatment based on race, gender, religion, political preference or social situation.
  1. Employment inequity: assignment of functions that do not correspond to the professional level of the worker or functions that endanger his integrity and security.
Stop Bullying_human resources_jason hanold

Image courtesy of Nilufer Gadgieva at Flickr.com

The consequences for victims

Victims of bullying may develop conditions such as lack of motivation to work, shirking, decreased productivity, restless sleep or sleeping problems, depression, stress, aggressive behavior, anxiety or even physical impairments.

While in schools it’s a matter of immaturity by the stalker, at work, psychological violence is motivated by envy, jealousy or competition.

When it occurs in the workplace, bullying is also known as “mobbing” and it can be identified by being a repeated and constant harassment over a given period of time.

Those who are victims of mobbing are usually people of a quieter nature -just like children or young people who suffer bullying- responsible, with achievements and can represent a “threat” to the labor interests of the bully.

It is common for the abuser to initiate aggressions against someone because he feels overshadowed by this person. They are mocked and their work is sabotaged.

The profile of the abuser reveals someone with a low self-esteem, insecure, afraid of losing their job or being replaced, with a passive-aggressive behavior.

What to do if you’re a victim of mobbing?

If the harassment continues for six months, there’s no doubt that it’s mobbing. The first step is to identify that this is the case and then try to confront it right away.

It is important to try to talk rationally with the aggressor, without falling into provocations and in the kindest way possible. If this does not work, it’s essential to denounce it with your boss.

However, in some cases, mobbing can occur in descending order, from a hierarchical position. If the boss is the aggressor, you must resort to Human Resources and expose the case.

As it is not a crime, a legal persecution cannot be initiated against the aggressor. However, it is important that companies respond, because it is the welfare of employees they’re dealing with, and a happy employee is a productive employee.