Wednesday

Companies self-destruct when workplace bullies run amok!

I have vivid memories of being bullied when I was in the fourth grade. Darrell would line me and other classmates up each morning and extort our lunch money under threat of beating us to a pulp! Darrell had already missed about two grades and towered over everyone. We were thoroughly intimidated. Growing tired of watching other kids enjoying their lunches I came up with an idea. I'll tell my mom about it and she will get him off my back! I knew my dear mother would show me empathy.

Wrong! She gave me one of the worst thrashings of my life and said, "Don't you let that boy take your lunch money. I'm going to call your teacher tomorrow to make sure you eat lunch." Now I was really in a jam, I had to decide who I was more afraid of Mom or Darrell! I didn't get an inch of sleep that night and the next morning went off to school hoping to hide from Darrell. Unfortunately, he caught me before the homework bell and proceeded to pound me for refusing to cough up my lunch money.

During the course of the fight I remember being cheered on by other victims of Darrell's tyranny. Mercifully, the teachers arrived and saved me from further punishment. I looked at Darrell and to my amazement, I had actually bloodied his nose! As we were marched to the principal's office, I was cheered and patted on the back by my classmates. I also got a lot of attention from the girls in my class. I explained to the principal about Darrell's extortion racket and mom's response. He sent me back to class and Darrell was suspended for a week. After that, I never had any more problems with Darrell. We in fact became good friends.

Unfortunately there are "Darrells and Darrellettes" in the workplace who are just as intimidating to fellow employees. Standing up to workplace bullies can be just as frightening for the victims. Workplace bullying can take on different forms such as

psychological abuse
physical abuse
emotional abuse
verbal and non verbal abuse
sabotage of the victims work product


According to Wikipedia workplace bullying, "is the tendency of individuals or groups to use persistent aggressive or unreasonable behavior against a co-worker." From my workplace experience, I have witnessed bullying of customers, vendors, visitors and other interested parties! Bullies in the workplace often take advantage of their power by...

humiliating
insulting
affronting and confronting
intimidating


...the "target" of their abuse. Many times this behavior is played out in front of witnesses to destroy the victim's self esteem. When management allows bullying, trust in the workplace is nonexistent. Studies show that when there is an environment of distrust, employees tend to perform poorly. So bullying is bad for business. when employers are aware of bullying from employees and managers and do nothing to correct it, they share in the negative consequences. Workplace bullies come in all shapes, genders, races and sizes and have a great need for control. Here are the four basic types of workplace bullies.


Yellers

They always have to talk over the target(s).

Blockers

This type likes to undermine the reputation of the target and destroy work product.

Backstabbers

Self explanatory, they work in the shadows spreading ugly rumors and gossip aimed at the target.

Nitpickers

This bully lives to find fault with everything the victim does no matter how trivial. The bully will trash any suggestions by the target for improving workplace performance and efficiency as well.

A national poll conducted by the Workplace Bullying Institute says 37 percent or 54 million American employees have been or are bullied at work. Gary Namie, director of the Institute says, "It’s a silent epidemic". Workplace bullying is also called "mobbing" when two or more managers or employees gang up on a victim. Co-workers who witness bullying have increased levels of low morale and stress. Employees who are the targets exhibit...

insomnia
stroke
depression
migraine headaches
low self esteem
high levels of stress disorder
suicidal tendencies
greater risk of heart disease

Because there are no laws protecting employees from bullying there is no clear definition for it. That makes it hard to distinguish from other behaviors such as sexual and racial harassment. To this point, the federal government has no workplace bully laws. Businesses and organizations by and large don't have policies to prevent it. However, several states have proposed legislation to provide employees some protection. There are some things employees can do to protect themselves.

Learn more about it
Stay calm
Promote your good work
Inform management of the problem(if the bully is the manager go over his/her head)
Understand the bully is the problem not you
Keep good records detailing the bullies behavior over a period on time. This includes names, dates, times, places, witnesses, etc.

Try to get the bully to create a paper trail for you. You would be amazed at how easy it is to get people behaving badly in the workplace to email their negative intent toward you. I have successfully used email that required a response to accomplish this. Keep all the documentation you receive from the bully that helps you prove his/her accusations against you are false.

Finally, if possible always try to have one or more witnesses who aren't intimidated or a part of the bullies "mob" around as witnesses to what is said and done.

Raising awareness and making a stand like the one I did against Darrell are the most effective ways to discourage and prevent workplace bullying. Seeking legal guidance is always an option as well until specific laws are passed to protect employees.

Yancey Thomas Jr. has functioned as a certified and trained mediator in alternative dispute resolution of employment and general civil issues for over 10 years. He is a national panel mediator/neutral through the Cornell University Alliance for Dispute Resolution with emphasis on employment/workplace disputes. As an employee, he has a unique perspective on how to prepare for employment. Yancey's you can learn basic employee rights site offers the job seeker and employee more information on achieving workplace success! Follow this link for more relevant info on workplace bullying.

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