Taking the bite out of workplace bullies
Simon Cowell's scathing comments to American Idol hopefuls may be the source of guilty pleasure for millions of us, but bullying in the workplace is no laughing matter.
Sun wire services
Bullying at work seems to have reached an all-time high, with 37% of workers reporting having been victimized according to the Workplace Bullying Institute in Bellingham, Wash.
A variety of damaging behaviours fit the bullying mold: intimidation, belittling, demeaning remarks, threats and even physical attacks.
"We've heard first-hand accounts of bullying antics that range from cursing and passive aggressiveness, to actually throwing objects across the room and physical violence," says Alex Somos of Juice Inc. The Guelph, Ont.-based executive communications trainer finds that some work environments encourage bullying. "At many workplaces all of the ingredients exist for bullying."
Somos cites high stress, tight deadlines and long hours -- combined with overwhelming responsibility and less management training -- as leading sources of bullying.
The consequences of bullying can be devastating to employees. A study by the Workplace Bullying Institute found that 64% of workplace victims of bullying are eventually forced out of their job.
"There's no doubt that bullying at work leads to depression, anxiety and low self- esteem," Somos says.
Unfortunately 40% of bullied workers never tell their employers. And when they do, many employers either worsen the problem or ignore it entirely.
While it appears that more bullies are men and most are managers, almost anyone can become a workplace bully. Even people who in the rest of their life appear very calm and relaxed can be driven to bullying if the right -- or rather, wrong -- workplace conditions exist.
"Bullying in the workplace is a complex issue because at times every one of us can be a bully," Somos says.
Solving the problem requires buy-in from the very top of the organization and experts recommend that strict policies be put into place combined with education, understanding and an environment that encourages victims to come forward and the guilty to be addressed.
But Somos cautions against blanket policies like pulling all staff into a meeting. "That just makes everyone feel falsely accused and alienated," Somos says. Instead, he says it's better for a manager to have a one-on-one private talk with the offender.