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Identifying and Addressing Bullying at Work

Updated: Oct 11, 2023

Identifying and Addressing Bullying at Work Bullying, belittling and gaslighting regularly show up in the workplace. These behaviors are tolerated and ignored because we are historically taught not to “rock the boat” and workers are fearful of bringing offenders to justice due to potential job loss, enduring further bullying, ostracization and/or ridicule. Rather than address the problem, employees tend to “put up” with it, suffering behind the scenes.

The 2021 Workplace Bully Institute, U.S. Workplace Bullying Survey found:

  • 30% of Americans have suffered abusive conduct at work.

  • 66% of Americans are aware of workplace bullying.

  • 19% have Americans have witnessed workplace bullying but weren’t the target.

  • 49% are affected by workplace bullying.

What can we do about it?

66% of workers are aware of bullying but many aren’t ready or aware of how to take action against it.

Have you seen bullying at work? Has it bothered you, but you didn’t know what to do or have you sloughed it off? If so, take a minute to read more about what can be done to create a happier and safer workplace.

We tend to assume others feel the same way we do but we don’t actually know how they feel until we ask. Next time, consider being empathetic by finding a private moment where you can ask the victim about what you witnessed. After you witness the behavior, hear someone talking about it or notice someone’s demeanor has changed for the worse, ask them if they are ok. Ask them if there is a way you can help. Through these questions you will find out how the behavior is truly affecting them. Your display of care can even help empower the victim to act.

Privilege Consider if you have a privilege that could help those being bullied. Are you a manager of a team or the head of a department? Do you have direct conversations with those who can condemn the behavior? Do you think your race may play a role in why someone at the top may listen to you over another? Are you new to the team, thus you could play the (very real) '‘new kid'’ card?

Bully Behavior The below may seem commonplace or accepted but they are not OK because they are harmful to everyone involved. Have any of these behaviors happened to you? Have you taken part in any of these?

  • Taking credit for other people's work

  • Minimizing others' concerns

  • Excluding others

  • Intimidating people

  • Criticizing others unfairly

  • Lying to others

  • Coercing people to do things they don't want to do

  • Dismissing someone's efforts

  • Embarrassing people in front of their employer, co-workers, or clients

  • Making snide remarks

  • Threatening others

  • Berating people

  • Yelling

Are you showing these behaviors at work? If you are taking part in these behaviors, your awareness is already a step toward correcting your wrongs. If you realize you are the bully, don’t be afraid to correct your behavior. You will eventually need to change your ways, or you could lose your job.

Keep in mind, it’s a lot easier to accept bullying in the workplace when you see role models regularly bullying colleagues. For example, if The President of the United States is a bully, it makes it easier for the country to justify similar actions. This is why it's so important to speak out and shut down bullying when it arises because it can easily become part of the office culture which is toxic for all workers.

For managers: How to talk to the bully.

One thing managers struggle with is not ‘’making things weird” or treating a formal process (which is needed) like it’s a trial or deposition. Use empathy and thoughtfulness and be willing for things to change in the middle of the conversation when/if needed. Have a plan so that the conversation has a clear end with follow ups. Take complaints seriously and don’t fall into the sunk-cost bias trap; the tendency to continue our current course of action because we’ve invested time, money or energy in it. Yes, it takes time to hire someone new, it takes time to train someone, but it takes more time to regularly lose people due to the actions of one or more bullies.

Read the full report here:

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