The Battle Against Bullying in the Workplace

Bullying can do serious damage to a work environment—especially if it's coming from a supervisor. Here's what you should know.

Bullying isn’t just an issue in the schoolyard. Not by a long shot.

In recent years, the outcry against workplace bullying has become louder, with many groups—notably the Workplace Bullying Institute, founded in 1997—shining a light on the issue.

“People are trapped; they don’t have the same alternative jobs to jump to,” WBI cofounder Gary Namie told the Associated Press. “They are staying longer in these pressured, stress-filled, toxic work environments.”

With such incidents hurting morale and increasing stress, it’s important to keep an eye out. More details:

How bad is it? According to a recent study by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), just more than half of organizations reported incidents of workplace bullying. Incidents have largely stayed the same or decreased at most organizations, though 18 percent of respondents said they’ve seen increases. The most common kinds of bullying include verbal abuse, gossip, and threats. (Social-media-based incidents are also on the increase.) And even human resources employees aren’t safe: 27 percent of HR workers reported having been bullied in the past.

Who’s to blame? According to SHRM’s Margaret Fiester, “it’s usually the manager or senior executive who’s just a complete out-of-control jerk,” she told the AP. “Everyone’s going to be walking around on eggshells around somebody like that. You’re afraid to make mistakes, you’re afraid to speak up, you’re afraid to challenge.” And when bullying is coming from the C-suite, it may prove difficult for HR staff to deal with directly. Fiester suggests working with senior management in such situations.

Prevention strategies: WBI offers a useful list of tips, including taking notes, confronting the bully, reaching out to HR staff and supervisors, and—if the situation has not been resolved after going through the proper channels—moving on to another employer.

Association views: One local chapter of the National Association of Government Employees, the Massachusetts-based Local 282, has included language in its collective bargaining agreements that specifically bars such bullying. Lawmakers in a number of states are considering bills that would provide victims with legal remedies, but business groups argue that new legislation isn’t needed. Marc Freedman of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce told the AP that legislative efforts to prevent workplace bullying would leave businesses open to frivolous lawsuits. “We would look at a bill like this as overreaching,” he said.

How are you working to prevent bullying in your workplace? Let us know your take in the comments.


Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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