About a third of employees have faced bullying at work – here’s how to recognize and deal with it

Upset depressed black woman leader suffering from gender discrimination inequality at work, diverse men colleagues pointing fingers scolding bullying frustrated african businesswoman at workplace

By Jason Walker, Adler University; Deborah Circo, University of Nebraska Omaha

The phenomenon of bullying, harassment and sexual abuse in workplaces throughout North America is widespread and harmful to both individuals and organizations. In fact, bullying at work affects up to 30% of workers over time.

As practitioners and researchers who study workplace violence, including bullying, harassment and sexual abuse, we define workplace bullying as harmful acts of mistreatment between people that go beyond incivility and cross the line to intentionally causing harm.

Bullying behaviors range from verbally insulting or socially excluding someone to sabotaging the victim’s work, inflicting psychological terror and engaging in sexual abuse or physical aggression. Manipulation and provocation also play a role in bullying dynamics, and cyberbullying has emerged as a new form of workplace harassment. Research suggests the impacts of workplace bullying affect employee health and safety and the workplace overall.

In a grocery store line, if someone invades your space, shoves you aside or threatens physical harm, the police may intervene, potentially resulting in an arrest. However, in the workplace, incidents involving bullying, assault, sexual abuse or other forms of violence are typically addressed through internal investigations. Our research suggests that treating workplace bullying as a matter of public health rather than employment law is necessary to protect those being targeted.

Workplace bullying results in real harms – Targets of workplace bullying often experience serious repercussions, including stress and burnout, along with other diagnosed mental health issues and, in extreme cases, suicide.

Bullying can affect physical health, with symptoms including sleep disturbances, cardiovascular diseases, body aches and pain, loss of appetite and headaches. Targets often describe an inability to concentrate; since they’re spending time worrying about what is going to happen to them next, job performance suffers. The negative impacts can spill over to a target’s personal life and affect their relationships with family and friends.

It’s not unusual for targeted workers to feel uncomfortable coming forward and talking about their experiences. But suffering in silence can lead to an even more toxic climate at work that can undermine your victims’ sense of security, with long-term consequences for their well-being.)  Read Part 2 in next CNC issue for: Personality traits of bullies and their targets; Are you being bullied?; How to respond to an ongoing situation. (The CONVERSATION)