Say the word "bully," and most people imagine a childhood playground and stolen lunch money. As traumatic as childhood bullying can be, workplace bullying can have an even more significant impact on the psychological and physical health of the victim. It also adversely affects other employees, the organization as a whole, and that all-important bottom line.
The Impact and Cost of Bullying
Lower Productivity -
How it costs the victim. When bullied at work, it's difficult to stay on-task and do one's best work. Bullied individuals likely feel distracted, disheartened, and disempowered. The stress of the situation also may be having physical effects, such as difficulty sleeping, fatigue, digestive problems, headaches, or muscle pain.
For many of us, our work performance closely connects to our self-esteem. We want recognition of our work. If instead, we are ridiculed or bullied, our self-esteem and confidence decline.
Company Costs -
When employees are not working to their full potential because of bullying, they're not helping the organization achieve its goals, and may even undermine the goals they are paid to accomplish. When employees don't perform, there's no return on that investment.
How bullying costs the company -
When teams of employees aren't working well together because of unhealthy relationships and bullying, it may mean that:
• More employees will quit or call in sick.
• Innovation and creativity will be down because people don't feel safe enough to take risks or make suggestions.
• Work will be done inefficiently because team members aren't communicating clearly.
• Employees will take out their frustration and anger on customers.
• The company will have to pay litigation fees and damages to the victim of bullying.
Damaged Relationships -
In a worker's search for sympathy and support, they may turn to gossip or complaining, instead of more productive solutions. Furthermore, that can affect credibility, making it harder for the individual to find resolution or gain any support. Without realizing it, they could also be perpetuating a toxic workplace environment that will undoubtedly breed more bullying.
How to Spot Workplace Bullying -
Bullying is not always easy to spot; there may be a gradual build-up of subtle intimidation or undermining behaviors. Here are some examples to contemplate. Is someone at work continually:
• Criticized or berated in front of the team? Always made to be the scapegoat and inappropriately blamed for disappointing results?
• Assigned tasks in which they are set up to fail, such as things that aren't in their skill set or nearly impossible to complete in the time allotted?
• Threatened with physical violence or unwarranted pay cuts, firing, or disciplinary action?
• Purposefully isolated from the team, being left out of the loop, and not invited to meetings or events?
What to Do If You're Experiencing Workplace Bullying
Acknowledge the situation and take care of yourself -
Drs. Gary and Ruth Namie, authors of The Bully at Work, urge you to be honest about what's happening; don't minimize it. Also, consider taking some time away from work so that you can explore your options, and restore your physical and emotional health. Find an impartial source of support that doesn't have a connection with your company.
Confront your employer -
When you feel strong enough, confront your employer about what's been going on. Nothing will change if you don't. Dr. Namies recommends that when you're approaching your superiors, focus on the costs of the bully to the company. If you focus on the emotional impact on you, you're more likely to be discredited. Present the facts: what was said or done, and the effect on the company's bottom line.
Plan your exit strategy -
Be clear about your bottom line. What needs to happen for you to stay at the job? Does the bully need to be disciplined, transferred, or fired? How long will you wait for things to improve? Will you ask for compensation? Pursue litigation? What are your next steps in finding a new job?
Whether or not you end up with a positive resolution at that workplace, remember that the bully has not taken away any of your accomplishments, skills, or potential for future success at work.