Bullying is a serious problem in American workplaces. According to the Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI), 65 million workers have been affected by workplace bullying, either by being bullied or by witnessing it. In 72 percent of these instances, the behavior goes unpunished — employers made excuses for the bullies’ conduct and failed to take action.
Bullying occurs when one employee, or group of employees, are involved in abusive behavior that is designed to intimidate or threaten someone, or to dismiss their work efforts. It most often manifests as verbal abuse, but more subtle forms, including sabotage, of bullying are also possible. More than half of bullying is conducted by bosses.
Workplace bullying has effects at the individual level, worsening a person’s well-being, and the organizational level, impacting a company’s ability to operate and compete effectively.
The Individual Impact
Being bullied takes a toll on an individual’s mental and physical health, including increased stress that can be compounded by feelings of isolation. Medical Daily reports that workplace bullying victims often experience mental symptoms that can include depression, anxiety attacks, loss of concentration, mood swings and even post-traumatic stress disorder. The physical aspects can appear as:
- Sleep disruption
- Migraine and tension headaches
- Eating disorders
- High blood pressure
- Heart palpitations
- Higher risk for heart attack
Being aware of these signs is important, as victims might not recognize that they are being bullied. They might give the bullies the benefit of the doubt, or place the blame on themselves.
Bullying has a deleterious impact on the victim’s ability to do his or her work. This leads to low productivity, and the tendency to take sick days often.
The Organizational Impact
A corporate culture that ignores or yields to bullies is not one where people want to work. As a result, these organizations might see a higher rate of turnover than the industry average, which has a strong impact on competitiveness because of the loss of institutional knowledge and the downtime required to locate, hire and onboard new employees. Top employees won’t want to stick around.
A reputation for bullying also can impair an organization’s ability to attract workers. With unemployment levels at historically low levels and the ability to research employers through social media sites such as Glassdoor, potential workers have many options and will not be inclined to choose organizations where they feel they might be targets for bullying.
If employees are not performing at their best, the entire organization suffers. Ideas for new innovations and improved processes may never be presented. Clients can be lost. Employees may show an increase in absenteeism, the effects of which can be measured and shared with senior management. And there is always the risk of legal action, which can be time-intensive and costly, especially if the bullying is well documented and the company did little to stop it.
Steps for Victims to Take
WBI has a comprehensive guide for bullying victims on its website. It instructs victims to:
- Recognize that they are being bullied, and not to make excuses for the bully
- Take time off to heal, and possibly work with a mental health counselor
- Research your company’s internal policies regarding bullying, as well as any local, state and federal options. You might want to ask an attorney for help at this point.
- Report the bully, focusing on the business impact more than the emotional aspects.
- If the company continues to side with the bully, be prepared to leave your job.