Dealing with Difficult People: Workplace Bullying

Workplace bullying is a serious health and safety issue. The targets of bullying may suffer from physical and mental health problems that can last for many years. Bullying behavior also has serious consequences for businesses, including reduced production and failure to achieve workplace goals.

Belinda was an educator, working for Cynthia, creating materials for elementary and secondary students. As Belinda recorded uncomfortable events in her journal, she realized that Cynthia had initiated harsh, mean feedback both professionally and personally—about every third day. Sometimes the feedback had merit, but too many times it resulted in a psychological war that impacted other employees. Nobody was happy. The realization of the third day routine was the tipping point. What Belinda had thought was disciplinary incidents were actually workplace adult bullying stories.

According to Dr. Gary Namie and Dr. Ruth Namie in, Workplace Violence and Disruptive Behavior in Washington Psychiatric Settings, “Bullying is a systematic campaign of interpersonal destruction that jeopardizes your health, your career, the job you once loved.” Emotional and social harm is an outcome, resulting from non-physical emotional violence and abuse. Other people may see it more clearly than the victim. That is when you are facing adult bullying stories.

What did that mean? Belinda was proud that she was a long-term employee who could work for Cynthia. She sent several gifted friends to work for Cynthia, but those relationships lasted no more than a few months. “You are such a saint, putting up with Cynthia,” her friends said. Belinda thought it was a compliment, but it was not. It was a wake up call. Because Belinda’s financial well being was at stake, Belinda chose to be compliant.

According to a public television broadcast, This Emotional Life, which documented adult/workplace bullying. “Different from constructive criticism or conflict, bullying is persistent, it focuses on a person rather than a task.” The victim questions his or her ability to resolve the issue, does not know how to talk about it, how to tell the story, worries about who will believe him or her, may not have the documentation needed, along with a persistent fear that the bullying will escalate until a job is lost, a reputation is maligned, or there is violence and retaliation.

Cynthia’s assigned projects to several writers, projects as important as grade level workbooks—but provided no creative or philosophical direction. Her deadlines would come to maturity in a couple of weeks—all Cynthia wanted was a cut and paste job. Then she wondered why they didn’t work. The only feedback was a standard response, “It’s good, I think we’re headed in the right direction.” That meant Cynthia hadn’t looked at the material. As the project neared completion, she would berate the creators for being so far off track. As a result the employees did multiple rewrites—in a frenzy of hurry. Cynthia was insulting, raging at the writers, individually or collectively. These are not unusual workplace bullying stories.

In a study reported in Workplace Bullying and Disruptive Behavior: What Everyone Needs to Know “U.S. workers, 41.4% of respondents, reported experiencing psychological aggression at work in the past year, representing 47 million U.S. workers” (Schat, Frone & Kelloway, 2006). Their research suggests that 13% or 15 million workers experience bullying in the workplace.

The study on Adult Bullying Stories identified behaviors that were psychologically aggressive. Those include:

1. Unwarranted or invalid criticism

2. Blame without factual justification

3. Being treated differently

4. Being sworn at

5. Exclusion or social isolation

6. Being shouted at or being humiliated

7. Excessive monitoring or micro-managing

8. Being given unrealistic work deadlines

Belinda chose to leave Cynthia’s business, after a disrespectful incident, amid growing realizations that Cynthia was a corporate bully. Belinda found work quickly.

What are your options with these Adult Bullying Stories? First, you need to be clear about what is happening; journal about the incidents over time, perhaps three to six months. Look for repeating patterns of behavior. Second, tell your story in appropriate ways through the appropriate channels. You gather support from your Human Resources department or employee assistance program. Allow your company the first opportunity to make this right. They might not believe your story—for a while. But your documentation will help. Do not give them the originals. Third, corporations are loathe to bring in the police or the attorneys, although employees need to know that is a possibility—if there is violence, substance abuse, or threats. They will focus first on counseling and education. Then corrective action. Fair enough. Lastly, look for another job. Bullying leads to ineffectiveness and loss in productivity in the workplace, along with depression and anxiety. Best to make preparations for your own safety, productivity, and well being.