Are You Being Bullied in the Workplace?

When we hear the word bullying, we are likely to think of something done by kids in a school.  Unfortunately, it’s also something which is done by adults at work and the consequences can be destructive.  Indeed, there is a growing awareness that hostility, i.e. bullying, in the workplace (WPB) is an unacceptable employment hazard. Just as we now realize that inhuman physical working conditions (e.g. sweatshops) are unacceptable, we are coming to understand that psychological abuse by a boss or supervisor is not tolerable.

Although underappreciated, WPB is a serious problem which is creating emotional, relational and even physical difficulties for many workers. Today we’re going to talk about what it is and why it’s so harmful. We’re also going to show you how to spot WPB and tell you what you can do about it.

What is Workplace Bullying?   WPB is a form of psychological abuse that creates a hostile workplace environment. It occurs when a employer, boss or supervisor maliciously, unreasonably and repeatedly mistreats a subordinate. It is similar to harassment but usually comes under the guise of a work related issue.  WPB may take the form of physical intimidation or yelling but it also can be unrelenting and undeserved criticism and verbal attacks.  (It can also take place among peers when on attempts to impose dominance over another but we’ll take that issue up another time.)

From another aspect WPB can be understood as environmental pollution. Or, it may be seen as a symptom of a form of mental illness, (i.e. a form of personality disorder which exhibits inordinate anger, paranoia and control issues) from those who have positions of authority. However you wish to conceptualize it, WPB is a form of psychological abuse which needs to be eliminated.

Why is bullying a problem? You’ve hear it said that if you tell a lie often enough, folks will think it’s true.   WPB is abusive because often folks, especially those with low self- esteem, don’t recognize that it is going on and they tend to accept the mistreatment and blame themselves.  Individuals can come to believe that the unjustified denigration or disapproval is deserved rather than correctly identify it as irrational and unacceptable. Absorbing  so much undeserved disapproval can result in not only a miserable work environment but contribute to anxiety, depression and other emotional disorders.

How to know if you have a bullying boss?  Identifying actual WPB can be a little tricky and requires honest self-reflection on the part of the person who is feeling abused. It is important to understand that the charge of WPB is not an excuse for poor work performance. When a question of mistreatment arises, start by examining your own attitude, behaviors and performance.  Be honest, how is your work and how are you getting along with your co-workers? Do you complain a lot? Is your work sub-standard?  How do you react when you receive criticism?  Does the boss have a good reason to be critical?

After a thorough self-examination, ask some questions about the nature of the criticism you’ve received.  Here are some questions to help you distinguish WPB from normal criticism:

  • Are the complaints specific, clearly defined and work related or are they vague, unclear or unrelated to your duties or workplace policies ?
  • Are criticisms made respectfully or are they in the form of personal attacks or made with language and tone which are inappropriate for a business environment?
  • Is criticism done in private or in front of co-workers?
  • Have you been given assistance and time to correct mistakes or make improvements or has no plan for remediation been offered?
  • Has your boss expressed appropriate recognition when progress is made or do the attacks continue?  (Does it seem like the only time you ever hear from him/her are when s/he complains or attacks? Do you feel you just can’t win?)

One other question:

  • Are you the only one who has these kinds of problems or do other people have similar experiences?

What can you about it ? Each situation is unique and there is no “one size fits all” advice that works.  Nonetheless, there are some basic steps everyone who dreads going to work because of a bad boss should consider:

  • Stop blaming yourself.  If you have honestly examined yourself, your boss and your work situation and concluded that you are being bullied, acknowledge it and realize that it’s not your fault and, in fact, problems with your mood, other relationships and your work performance may be due, at least in part, to the hostility.
  • Document and keep records of unreasonable treatment.  If, at some point, you wish to confront or take action against the hostility, you will need documentation to back up your allegations.
  • Consider your options. Dealing with workplace bullying is not simple and there are no easy answers.  Depending on your financial situation, the marketplace and over all employability, you may or may not decide to look for another job.  However, you need to consider, in detail, the implications and practical issues you will have to deal with depending on whether you remain silent, confront and try to improve the situation or leave it.

Also, It is possible to remain in a bad situation and not confront it, if you are able to not blame yourself for the attacks and emotionally detach from them.  This option is not for everyone but it is important to know that becoming aware of this problem does not dictate a specific response. You have options and will need to choose what is best for you and your situation.

One final note.  There is good news.  Awareness of workplace bullying is growing.  Currently, twenty five states have anti bullying laws  and there are anti-WPB bills circulating in both the New York Senate and Legislature.  That said, laws are not enough to eliminate this problem.  It is important to remember that, over the years, our sense of what are acceptable working conditions has changed and improved.  Issues such as the number of hours a person could be forced to work or worker safety has resulted in week-ends off and OSHA.  We now know that bosses are not entitled to physically or emotionally abuse their employees any. Just as companies are not allowed to pour toxic waste in our rivers and streams, bosses can’t be allowed to pollute the psychological environment of the workplace.   While law and regulations are important it is also necessary that workers understand what WPB is and refuse to accept it.  Simply put, workers are entitled to be treated with consideration and respect while at work.

For more information here are some helpful websites: ,