In the current economy, many workers are frightened of losing their jobs, and as a result they may be enduring a continual psychological nightmare of bullying by managers or co-workers.
In addition to causing stress and anxiety for the employee, bullying behaviors deeply impact the health and productivity of an organization. Many companies are not equipped to handle these types of conflicts and may lose good employees as a result.
October — National Bullying Prevention Month — is a good time to address the rules and boundaries of the workplace, and what’s acceptable or not acceptable.
Although definitions of bullying vary, most agree that an act is defined as bullying when:
• The behavior intimidates, offends, degrades humiliates or hurts another person physically or emotionally, possibly in front of co-workers, clients or customers. Bullying can be very overt, such as fighting or name calling, or it can be covert, such as gossiping, leaving someone out on purpose or venting on the Internet.
• It is intentional, meaning the act is done willfully, knowingly and with deliberation. Bullying can be circumstantial or chronic.
• The targets have difficulty stopping the behavior directed at them and struggle to defend themselves.
Bullying involves an abuse or misuse of power and creates feelings of helplessness and oppression in victims that undermines their right to dignity in the workplace.
In the U.S., 20 states are now exploring legislation that would put bullying on the legal radar screen, according to Ronald E. Riggio, in an article published in Psychology Today on March 10, 2011.
A workplace study (Schat, Frone & Kelloway, 2006) found that 41.4 percent (47 million) of U.S. workers reported experiencing psychological aggression at work in the past year. The research found that 13 percent, or nearly 15 million workers, reported experiencing psychological aggression on a weekly basis.
Victims of workplace bullying can experience significant physical and mental health problems.
Since bullying is not the same as harassment, current laws do not frequently apply. Although bills have been introduced, there is currently no federal or state law addressing workplace bullying. It is paramount for employers to create a zero tolerance, anti-bullying policy and encourage open communication as part of the corporate culture.
Executives must demonstrate appropriate workplace behavior such as accepting responsibility, sharing credit, treating everyone fairly and communicating in a respectful, courteous manner. In addition, all executives and managers should be given guidelines on how to prevent bullying, how to deal with a bully and how to help targets of bullying.
Many employees do not have a clear understanding of workplace bullying. Educating employees about these behaviors is essential to preventing it. Workers should know what bullying is, how to recognize it and what they can do to stop it or prevent it from happening.
Complaints about bullying must be taken seriously and investigated promptly. Both employees and employers should keep a record of any bullying occurrences. This can make it easy for people to pinpoint exactly when something happened and why strong action should be taken. Looking back over records will make it easier to highlight problems and come up with effective solutions.
Dr. Daniel Bober is a Hollywood psychiatrist board certified in general psychiatry, child and adolescent psychiatry and forensic psychiatry. He serves as Medical Director of Pediatric Psychiatry at Joe Dimaggio Children’s Hospital in Hollywood.