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Bullying in the workplace

Photo By: rucker.armymwr.com


Mason Bennett, S&T Editor

With anti-bullying week coming up in November, attention and awareness regarding bullying is usually directed towards schools in particular. However, many would be hesitant to acknowledge the existence off bullying in the workplace, when in fact it is the place bullying most often occurs in a variety of contexts, particularly sexual harassment. So the question arises, why does bullying occur in the workplace? And why so often? Well, the answer, quite simply, is because it can. Any given company or organization exists to make a profit and to attain results. To the employer, a workplace bullying incident inevitably takes time and energy away from profits and results in the short-term. The tear in values occurs, however, when these same businesses prioritize long-term goals over short-term goals, ideally valuing people before profits to maximize efficiency in all domains. This ultimately requires companies to balance compassion for employees and productivity, which unfortunately has proven to be a tall task for many.

Even if a company or organization has a workplace bullying policy, a given bully will still have tactics to move around such guidelines, especially if they are in a position of leadership. Only if companies have an in-depth active plan are they able to effectively prevent and respond properly to bullying, but this is not an easy task by any means. Furthermore, it is sometimes hard to know if a questionable situation in the workplace can be considered bullying. There is a general consensus among many companies that there is a fine line between strong management and bullying. Comments that are objective and are intended to provide constructive feedback are not usually considered bullying, but rather are intended to assist the employee with their work. Again, many workplaces insist on breaking down the semantics of bullying, suggesting that if it isn’t demonstrated through a pattern of behavior with one or more incidents it cannot be considered as bullying. The tendency to clump everything that isn’t considered bullying into isolated quarrels between employees that don’t require further investigation is the other half of the problem when pinning down harassment in the workplace.

According to the most recent research from The Workplace Bullying Institute, 27 percent of employees report to have directly experienced or continue to experience bullying at their place of employment. That averages out to just over one in four employees, a high value occurring at what is supposed to be a professional work environment. From the same study, 72 percent of the American public say that they are aware of bullying in the workplace. Of those polled, 72 percent actively discount, deny, rationalize, defend or even encourage bullying. This is not due to a brainwashed culture of employees who support bullying, it is directly a result of the lack of one coherent definition of what it means to be “bullied.” This is made apparent in further results of the same study, indicating that 93 percent of people would support a bill aimed at changing bullying.

So, if the common working-class American cannot define bullying on top of companies and organizations, how are we to better address it? The Business and Legal Recourses company – a business that aims to help other businesses unlock their full potential – defines bullying as “any unreasonable behavior directed toward an employee, customer, or vendor that is intended to intimidate, that creates a risk to health and safety, or that results in threatened or actual harm.” This clear definition aids in their ability to properly identify and eliminate any unwanted behavior. Definitive policies like these are becoming more and more popular as well, where over half of all companies in the United States have a clear definition of what it means to “bully.”

The final and perhaps most difficult problem to address regarding harassment in the workplace is the current method used to resolve bullying. Nearly three-quarters of the methods used to stop bullying involve actions taken towards the victim. Further, the majority of that 61 percent of those cases involved the victim losing his or her job. An exact breakdown of this value may give more context; 29 percent of bullying was stopped because the victim quit, 19 percent of bullying was stopped because the victim was forced out, 13 percent of bullying was stopped because the victim was fired and 13 percent of bullying was stopped because the victim was transferred. This inevitably is due to the fact that the overwhelming number of bullies are those in leadership positions. From the company’s perspective, it is much more economically productive to eliminate an employee than someone in a management position.

Despite the discouraging idea of bullying occurring in the workplace, there is in fact good news. There are some companies who have chosen to empower their leaders to know how to recognize these situations and also how to deal with them effectively. Companies and organizations who make a commitment to do this see lower turn-over rates, higher morale and higher productivity and loyalty. It might seem impossible, since this is such a subjective issue to address, but methods such as creating definite definitions that are unique to a given workplace are easily executed through increased awareness and willingness to change.