Bullying: The Trait Nobody Wants to Encounter at Work

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This week’s topic, originally posted last October, is about a persistent problem: bullying. Read on for tips on how to identify this trait and the effect it has on individuals and the workplace as a whole.


Are You a Bully?

Who, me? Nope, I just like to have a little fun at work. It doesn’t hurt anyone and if they can’t take it, that’s their problem, not mine…

It’s easy to discount the effect our behavior has on others. We may think it’s perfectly fine to “be ourselves” at work, and if that means delivering some good natured ribbing or teasing, it’s just our personality.

The truth is that how we interact with others can have long lasting effects, both positive and negative. When do our words or actions at work cross the line and become bullying?

We start our two part post on this topic with information gathered from the many excellent web resources on this topic.

What is bullying in the workplace?

The Government of Alberta provides the following definition and information about bullying in their tip sheet: Bullies at Work: What to Know & What You Can Do.

Workplace bullying is a repeated pattern of behaviour intended to intimidate, offend, degrade or humiliate a particular person or group—the bully’s target. Although it can include physical abuse or the threat of abuse, bullying usually causes psychological rather than physical harm.

Who are the most common bullies?

A recent U.S study mentioned in the same tip sheet identifies bullies in the workplace as follows:

  • 71% per cent of bullies have a higher rank than their targets
  • 17% are coworkers, peers or colleagues of their targets
  • 58% are women

Who do they target?

A bully’s target is usually a competent, dedicated person. 80% of targets are women.

Why do they do it?

  • To sideline someone they feel is a threat (the target)
  • To further their own agenda at the expense of others
  • To deny responsibility for their own behavior
  • To mask their lack of confidence and low self-esteem

What tactics do bullies use?

Examples listed on several provincial and federal government sites, including the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) website include:

  • Spread rumours, gossip and untrue innuendo
  • Exclude or isolate their targets socially
  • Make unreasonable demands, constantly change guidelines, establish impossible deadlines and deliberately interfere with the completion of work
  • Discount accomplishments and take credit for ideas or work
  • Withhold necessary information or deliberately give the wrong information
  • Under-assign work or remove areas of responsibility without cause to create a feeling of uselessness
  • Block requests for training, leave or promotion
  • Blame, scold, criticize work ability and belittle opinions
  • Insult or shout down target
  • Use profanity or yell and scream
  • Criticize a person constantly
  • Apply made up rules inconsistently, hand out undeserved discipline or punishment and threaten job loss
  • Intimidate with words or actions such as standing too close, rolling their eyes or making inappropriate gestures
  • Invade privacy by pestering, spying, stalking or tampering with personal belongings or work equipment
  • Physically abuse or threaten abuse

What effect does bullying have at work?

Unfortunately, because most workplace bullying usually does not result in physical abuse, it is easy to discount the negative effect it has on the victim, and in turn, on the department or unit. Here’s what the CCOHS says are some of the side effects caused by bullying:

The target can experience shock, anger, frustration and/or helplessness, an increased sense of vulnerability, loss of confidence, physical symptoms such as sleep issues and loss of appetite, psychosomatic pains, panic and anxiety (especially about going to work), family stress, and tension.

The department or workplace often sees increased absenteeism and turnover; higher stress levels among employees, increased risk of accidents and work-related incidents, plus decreased productivity and motivation. Morale declines, the corporate image suffers and customers notice a change in service levels.

New research by University of Manitoba’s M. Sandy Hershcovis and Julian Barling, of Queen’s University in Ontario, also shows that workplace bullying is hurting employees more than sexual harassment—causing more job stress, less job commitment and higher levels of anxiety.

Further reading

Read The Ten Signs You’re Being Bullied in this Forbes.com article.

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