If you’re breathing then most likely you have been exposed to bullying. As a society, we are all very aware of bullying in schools. When kids face the challenges associated with bullies we encourage them to seek out the help of responsible adults. We talk to our kids about love, acceptance, and tolerance. We tell them to stand up for themselves when appropriate. Many school districts have even established certain protocols which must be followed when handling these often delicate situations.
But what happens when bullying makes a leap from the schoolyard to the workplace? What advice should we dispense and follow then?
According to the Workplace Bullying Institute*, 35% of the U.S workforce has reported being bullied at work. WBI defines workplace bullying as either verbal abuse, offensive behaviors (non-verbal), or other intentional impairments that prevent work from being completed.
I can recall a workplace bully from my professional past. For the sake of this article, we’ll call her Debbie. Debbie would come to work in a sour mood, but she only showed that mood to her peers—never upper management. She’d often say and do inappropriate things that made others uncomfortable. She had specific targets of her rage and could be heard directly insulting her peers at any given moment. It was not uncommon to hear her say, “She doesn’t know what she’s talking about,” or “He messed that up big time,” when referring to another employees work. She took credit for work she didn’t complete and blamed others for mistakes that were her own. She would instigate an argument without warning and often schemed and plotted to the detriment of the team.
I know what you’re thinking. Debbie’s an absolute nightmare. I bet you’re also thinking about the Debbie’s in your life.
Sadly, Debbie is probably still making someone’s professional experience horrible because unfortunately, many states do not have explicit anti-bullying laws that apply to the workplace. And even more tragically, some workplaces encourage aggressive behavior either by facilitating a “by any means necessary” atmosphere or by not adequately punishing malicious behavior.
So what can you do?