Bullying: The Silent Workplace Epidemic

Behavior that offends or harms someone is a broad definition of workplace bullying. Mary tells Sandra that Betty is sleeping with the boss, when in fact the rumor isn’t true. Spreading gossip or rumors is one type of indirect bullying. When a vicious rumor is spread with the intent to get a person fired, that is defined as an intent to harm, but few would call that a criminal act worthy of jail time. According to Workplace Bullying Institute, http://www.workplacebullying.org/ workplace bullying is “the repeated mistreatment of one employee targeted by one or more employees with a malicious mix of humiliation, intimidation and sabotage of performance.”

Court cases involving disability, ethnic and gender discrimination, and sexual harassment have had such reasonable success as to cause laws to be enacted to make them criminal acts if proven. However, statistics show that bullying happens more often that verbal abuse or sexual harassment, although, when examined closely, those things are actually forms of bullying. Bullying is three times as prevalent as illegal discrimination and 1,600 times as prevalent as violence at work. Those same studies show one in 10,000 employees are victims of violence in the workplace, but, in this country, one in six employees are victims of bullying at work. A British study shows one in three employees suffer workplace bullying.

The problems revealed in these studies are that bullying usually takes place within company policy guidelines and between the lines of legal activity according to a report by Gary Nami of Workplace Bullying Institute, and by Tim Field of Bully Online.org. That kind of bullying seems trivial when each incident stands alone and out of context, and the problem remains there rarely is any grounds for dismissal or disciplinary action.

Field was in computer systems support and development when he was bullied out of his job, he was a customer services manager in 1994, and was the first to identify the sociopathic serial bully in the workplace. “Most organizations have a serial bully. It never ceases to amaze me how one person’s divisive, disordered, dysfunctional behavior can permeate the entire organization like a cancer,” said Field. “I estimate one person in thirty is a serial bully.”

On his website located at www.bullyonline.org, Field describes in depth the serial bully characteristics. Some of those include,

  • convincing, practiced liar who will make up anything to fit the moment, excelling in deception
    – can be vile and vicious in private but innocent and charming in public
    – has plenty of glib, fine words, but no substance; mostly superficial
    – pours out what people want to hear
    – cannot be trusted, fails to fulfill commitments
    – refuses to be specific and does not give straight answers
    – adept at creating conflict, thrives on conflict
    – quick to belittle, undermine, and discredit anyone who calls the bully to account
    – knows-it-all, arrogant and haughty
    – spiritually dead while professing some religious belief or affiliation
    – mean, and petty, stingy and financially untrustworthy
    – greedy, selfish and an emotional vampire
    – convinced of their own superiority and qualities of leadership but exhibits qualities exactly opposite of leadership including immaturity, impulsiveness, aggression, manipulation, distrust and deceitfulness.

Field goes on to say that the serial bully in the workplace is “more likely to know what they are doing but elects to switch off the moral and ethical considerations by which normal people (live by).”

If you are the victim of bullying, the first thing to combat it is to recognize it for what it is, says Gary Nami founder of the Workplace Bullying Institute.org, too often a bullied person will fall into the trap of believing what the bully is saying is true.

Field says there is usually a grain of truth in the bully’s attack which seems to give it credibility. After recognizing the bully, you must understand what is going on. It is not about you, it is all about control. Criticisms and allegations are a projection of the bully’s failings. The bully is trying to project guilt, shame, and fear which are known tactics of control. It is how all abusers — sex abusers, child abusers, verbal abusers, etc .— gain control over their victims and silence them.

The next step, Field advises, is to find out everything about bullying. There are a plethora of Web sites and books about the subject. Naivete about the bully and the tactics is your greatest enemy, not the bully himself.
Only after you arm yourself can you then take action. Document, document, document, say Nami and Field. Keeping a log or journal about each incident will build the case. Incidents alone can be explained away. But, Field says, the pattern is what is important because it reveals intent. Keep copies of important documentation in a safe place not at work, because it can and will be stolen, and possibly used against you. Carry a note pad and pen at all times, recording what the bully says and does. Make sure you take minutes of all meetings. The bully is expert at deception and can twist what you say into the appearance of damaging evidence. You will be accused of unprofessionalism and a few other things when you do this. Expect it, and don’t let it deter you from your mission.

The bully thrives on playing people against each other. Expect the bully’s boss to disbelieve you and to deny the truth of the evidence you’ve gathered, because it is highly likely the bully has already enlisted support in getting rid of you, Field notes. This is why it is crucial, he says, to be professional and not emotional when presenting your case.

Nami calls it the silent epidemic. He conducted an online survey with a question about employer’s responses when informed about the workplace bully.

“…In light of extant internal anti-harassment and anti-violence policies the response of employers is puzzling. Respondents described the lack of support. Targets who reported the abusive misconduct to the bully’s manager and asked for relief elicited positive, helpful responses in only 18 percent of cases. In 42 percent of incidents, the boss actually compounded the problem; in 40 percent of cases, the boss did nothing which is not a neutral response after specific help was requested. Human Resources and anti-discrimination officers were similarly unhelpful with only 17 percent taking positive steps to stop the bullying.”

Pointing out to the bully’s superior that what you’ve presented is merely the tip of the iceberg of wrongdoing by the bully, and there is most likely financial misappropriation and incompetence, breaches of regulations, health and safety, codes of practice and the like may provoke an investigation. Build yourself a network of support because bullies love to isolate and attack. Expect your co-workers to melt away for differing reasons, most will disassociate themselves because they fear for their job, others just do not like conflict. However, the carefully documented case, the methodically gathered information can save your job and your sanity.

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  1. said:

    This is so true. I actually quit a job because I was being bullied at work. I took the case all the way up to the owner who basically told me to suck it up or leave. I documented every incident, including an out of town trip where she cursed at me, and slammed on brakes at traffic lights to jerk me forward. Office Bullying is real, and I can only hope that laws will be passed in the future to protect people from these issues. It’s unfortunate, because many times the job itself is satisfying but the emotional turmoil and stress makes life unbearable both at work and outside of work. Great article, thanks for making people more aware!

    July 5, 2010
  2. said:

    I am so sorry you went through that! Someone who wasn’t even my boss manufactured evidence against me and when we had the “face-off”, I had proof, sealed in an envelope, which proved everything she said was complete fabrications… my bosses tossed it aside without even reading it! However, what she meant for evil, God meant for good because after I left there, the entire office was investigated for grant fraud and malfeasance. Their names were on television for all to see. Guess who’s name never was mentioned! God protected me, and it was a good thing.

    July 5, 2010

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