Over the last few weeks, anyone not currently without TV, radio, internet access, or otherwise living under a rock has heard about the rash of teen suicides that have been happening due to bullying of LGBT high school and college students. This is horrific, and if anything positive is to come out of all this madness, it will be a greater public understanding of, and resistance to bullying.
I have become interested in learning more about bullying in general over the past couple of weeks; in particular another extremely common form of bullying known as workplace bullying. My reason is purely selfish and personal.
I want to offer information (and, hopefully, help) for those that may be in that very situation.
As I mentioned before, workplace bullying is common: more than 30 percent of American workers have been the target of a bully at work and many more have been witness to bullying. I believe I have been bullied twice before, at an earlier job, and swore to myself I would never end up in the same situation again.
It starts subtly. The bully and the target (the bully’s victim) begin on good terms at the beginning of the working relationship. They are cordial and professional with each other and may even be friendly. Things go well. This period of time is brief; it’s no more than a few weeks before something sets off the bully and he or she begins the process of destroying the target, emotionally and professionally.
If you are the target, you are, more than likely, someone who is competent and well-liked among your coworkers. The bully begins his campaign against you by criticizing your performance, under the guise of helping you improve. You are taken off guard but grateful for the opportunity to develop your skills. So you do what he asks you to do, hopeful that soon, you and your bully will become an awesome team.
The problem is, you never quite seem to improve, at least not enough to please the bully. She begins to find fault with more and more of your work, and to criticize you more and more. Soon, you find that you have been “in trouble” or had a “talking to” every day or nearly every day, and you can’t remember the last time you heard a “thank you” or “good job”. You begin to dread every day that you must drag yourself into the office to face her.
You question yourself. It doesn’t seem to matter at all that you’ve been a valued employee in the past, or that you have a good working relationship with others. You decide that you are a screwup, and you begin to feel that you may be out of a job at any time. You may also decide, particularly if your bully is a supervisor, that you are more easily replaced than he is, and you make the determination that you must change jobs. If you love your job, this is a heart-rending decision to make. During a recession, you may feel trapped in your situation.
As time goes on, you begin to show signs of stress, and may even develop symptoms of PTSD, particularly if your bully is particularly vicious or a yeller, or if you have been abused in the past. You may have trouble falling asleep one night and oversleep the next few days. You may become nauseated when you’re about to walk into the office. As situations become increasingly stressful, you may even begin to experience chest pains.
Your relationships may suffer. Your other obligations may slip. Hell, your job performance itself may slip. You may grow more despondent the longer things go on. You might be incredulous that this is happening to you.
Unfortunately, for a few individuals, the constant anxiety grows into despondency, leading them to ultimately consider and commit suicide. The parallel between school bullying and workplace bullying becomes painfully clear here.
So what is the solution? Bullying is not illegal, unless there is illegal harassment going on as well. Complaining to HR will result in them telling you to “work it out” or talking to the bully, which will just make things worse. Your friends and colleagues will probably not come to your rescue or stand up for you, and if they do, they may very well become targets themselves. And after all is said and done, you may lose your job while your bully keeps his or, in many cases, even earns a promotion!
It’s for this reason that, often, the solution is a job change or transfer for the target or bully. If you love your job and your bully does not seem to be moving towards either of the above, this may place you in quite a quandary.
But all is not lost. The Healthy Workplace Bill has garnered state and national attention since 2003 (more help is needed; if you’re interested in helping a cause they’d love to have you). The UK-based site bullyonline.org is full of great information which may help you (also, in the U.S., see The Work Doctor).