Do you have a co-worker who makes life miserable for you? A perfectionist who nitpicks and constantly criticizes your work? A co-worker who humiliates you in front of others? A boss who singles you out for unreasonable hours or workloads? Someone who makes you want to call in sick rather than face more abuse? If that sounds familiar, it's because bullying isn't limited to schoolyard playgrounds—it's a genuine problem in the workplace.
According to a 2010 study conducted by Zagat Research for the Workplace Bullying Institute:
- 35% of workers have experienced bullying firsthand
- Bullying is 4 times more prevalent than illegal harassment
- The majority (68%) of bullying is same-sex
- Women bullies target women in 80% of cases
- 62% of bullies are men, overall
- 58% of targets are women, overall
- Ages 30-49 are the most vulnerable (50% currently bullied)
Workplace Bullying: Definition and Symptoms
Bullying is defined as a persistent, unwelcome behavior, mostly using unwarranted or invalid criticism, nit picking and faultfinding. It can involve being singled out and treated differently, being shouted at, humiliated, excessively monitored, or having verbal and written warnings imposed.
There are laws against harassment based on gender, race and age. While illegal harassment may involve bullying, bullying itself is not illegal—yet. Many states have anti-bullying laws under review and there's a growing call for healthier workplace rules.
Experiencing Bullying? Don't Blame Yourself
Some types of bullying are "in your face," others are so subtle that you may not understand why you suddenly feel so inadequate or dread going to work. Many people blame themselves for being bullied—or spend hours trying to sort out what's "true" in what the bully said from what's "false."
"There's a huge difference between honest feedback and bullying," explains Deb Wood, senior EAP consultant for VITAL WorkLife. "There are ways of pointing out mistakes that don't involve threats of being fired or the loss of all your friends. It's important for victims of bullying to know that there's nothing they could have done that justifies what's being done to them."
Common characteristics of bullies are that they:
- Haven't learned responsibility
- Are obsessive and compulsive
- Need a victim
- Have low self-esteem
- Are driven by jealousy and envy
"People who bully are emotionally unhealthy," notes Wood. "Unfortunately, they also have a negative impact on the emotional health of their co-workers." People who are persistently bullied may experience some or all of the following physical, emotional and mental symptoms:
Mental and emotional:
- High stress
- Reduced self-esteem and self-blame
- Obsessing about the problem
- Musculoskeletal issues
- Sleep disturbances
- Digestive problems
Dealing with Bullies: You're Not Alone
There are four primary ways people deal with bullies: doing nothing or ignoring the bully; avoiding the bully; transferring out of the bully's department or getting a new job; or confronting the bully.
Many of the people who choose to accept, ignore or avoid the bully may do so because they aren't aware of the support their organizations may offer, or fear that reporting the bully will do no good or that the bully will retaliate.
According to research from workplacebullying.org, the longer bullying goes on, the more likely co-workers are to align with the bully and enable bullying patterns of behavior to grow. It's not easy asking for help, but suffering in silence won't make the bullying stop and often makes it worse.
The first place most people turn to for help is either their direct supervisor (unless the supervisor is the bully) or Human Resources. Your free, confidential Employee Assistance Plan (EAP) benefit is another great resource.
Dealing with Bullies: Put Your EAP Benefit To Work
Confidential counseling, coaching and support are free to you as part of your EAP benefit. If bullying is affecting you or any member of your family, don't hesitate to call 800.383.1908 and ask to speak to an EAP counselor.
This free, unlimited telephone consultation—available 24/7—is not just for you but for every member of your family. Your benefit also includes free face-to-face counseling with master's- and doctorate-level professionals. All you have to do is ask. We're here for you whenever you:
- Wonder whether what's being said or done is considered bullying
- Feel full of self-doubt and anxiety related to things said or done to you at work
- Would rather call in sick than face another day with your tormentor
- Aren't sure who to talk to within your organization about what's going on
- Want coaching on what to say—or when and how to say it
- Need help deciding whether it's better to tough it out or make a change
"If a bully is making you miserable at a job you once enjoyed, we can help," says Wood. "The important thing to know is that while experiencing bullying is painful—it's also fairly common. We can help you put our experience to work for you."
All About Bullying: Helpful Online Resources
At the VITAL WorkLife website, you'll find hundreds of helpful articles and links to resources that can help you understand, confront and prevent bullying, such as:
- Standing Up to a Bully Boss
- Taming Workplace Bullies
- Top Ten Ways to Set Boundaries
- Co-worker Relations: Diffuse Tension With Tact
- Six Approaches to Conflict
- To find these articles, go to VITALWorkLife.com, click on member login and enter your user name and password.
- On the page that comes up, in the left hand column, click on the "Your Work & Life Resources" button.
- In the shaded area at the top the screen, click on the pull down menu that says "Working." In the middle of the page, click on the topic "Accomplished Employee."
- In the Categories box on the right side of the page, click on either "Communications" or "Dealing with Difficult People" and then click "View All" in the articles section.
Pathways to Well Being call VITAL WorkLife at 800.383.1908 or access resources through your VITAL WorkLife App