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A Guide to Workplace Bullying

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Michael Metcalf, Author

Bullying is an all-too-common workplace issue. And if reports are correct, it seems to be on the rise.

Workplace bullying is one of the most damaging issues for any organization, as it can affect employee productivity, financial performance, and brand strength. On top of that, there’s no moral justification for letting it happen.

Employees deserve to work in comfortable environments of psychological safety. They should be able to relax, be themselves, and collaborate with others without fear or emotional upset.

Workplace Bullying Statistics in 2021

  • 1 in 4 UK workers have been bullied at work. The same amount also reported feeling left out in the workplace too.
  • One survey of 3,000 American adults found that workers across the age, gender, and education spectrum experience high levels of hostile behaviors at work.
  • 37% of Australian workers report having been cursed or yelled at in the workplace.
  • 1 in 5 American workers have been subjected to some form of verbal abuse, unwanted sexual attention, threats, or humiliating behavior at work.
  • 1 in 8 American workers have experienced direct verbal abuse or threats.
  • 8% of women aged 25-34 report having had unwanted sexual attention in the workplace during the last month.
  • Men aged 25-34 without a college degree report the highest levels of bullying, with 35% having experienced bullying at least once recently.
  • 1 out of 5 students in the US report being bullied, according to the National Center for Educational Statistics.
  • Workplace bullying is estimated to cost Australian businesses more than $6bn per year.

Why is it important to deal with workplace bullying?

It’s fairly easy to understand why this is important. Bullying is a workplace issue that can have tons of negative impacts on employees, management, company culture, and overall productivity.

If bullying becomes widespread enough, stories can leak out to the public and damage your brand – nobody wants to do business with a company of bullies, and not many people want to work in a place where bullies can get away with it.

Workplace bullying can have mild to severe impacts on victims, including:

  • low morale/loss of motivation
  • inability to concentrate or complete tasks
  • lowered productivity
  • social anxiety and avoiding people
  • anxiety and depression
  • stress, PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), and other mental health issues
  • reduced confidence and self-esteem
  • sleep problems
  • other consequences of stress like digestive issues and a weakened immune system
  • more frequent absences from work because of the above issues

If it’s obvious that one person is a bully, others might alter their behavior to avoid their attention. They might be reluctant to do anything distinctive that makes them stand out, or they could shy away in situations that require collaborative creativity. And even when bullies are dealt with by management, there’s a loss of productivity while they have to go through disciplinary procedures, maybe even getting suspended too.

Bullying can cause trust issues within your teams, too; not just directly between the bully and the bullied employee, but across the organization, fostering a culture of secrecy, gossip, and paranoia if left unchecked.

There’s also a measurable financial cost to bullying. If staff leave due to being bullied, there are the obvious costs of replacing them and training new staff. But there’s also the possibility of dealing with costly legal action if things get to a certain point, too. And higher incidences of sick leave and lower productivity will have a financial impact, as well.

No matter how competitive and high-pressure your work culture is, when positive aggression tips over into harmful bullying, you have to act quickly and decisively to stamp it out.

What should I do if I’m being bullied at work?

The first thing to do if you’re wondering how to deal with bullying at work is to tell someone about it.

It’s not always easy to do, of course. You might have a more reserved personality type, or you could have had a bad experience in the past when trusting someone with a personal problem.

But talking is almost always your best starting point, whether it’s with your line manager, a colleague, a close friend, or a family member. Getting it out of your head means you’re under less of a mental burden keeping it a secret, and talking it through will make you feel better. What’s more, you might end up getting some great advice on how to deal with the situation.

It’s also important to keep records of everything. Bullies can spread their deeds out into multiple small-scale transgressions, which individually, don’t seem much. It’s hard to complain about little things without feeling a bit silly – which is the reaction they’re looking for.

But if you note down details of each occurrence, you can build up a timeline that clearly illustrates a campaign of workplace harassment over time. You can take a report like this to management, presenting irrefutable evidence that you’re being victimized. If it’s noticeably affecting your job performance, any competent manager will want to intervene straight away.

Another option is to be proactive and confront the bully yourself – fight your corner.

You might think back to a parent telling you to “stand up for yourself” in the school playground when someone was bullying you – it’s easier said than done. Or how about “just ignore them” – well-meaning advice that’s nigh on impossible to follow when somebody really has it out for you. But if management isn’t being especially helpful, it might turn out to be the most effective strategy.

Instead of going in all guns blazing, you could take a less confrontational route.

You could try letting the bully know how their words or actions made you feel. They’ll already have a good idea, of course, if their actions are intentional, but by putting it all out there, it might cause a wave of guilt causing them to stop.

Try to figure out why they have a problem with you. Offer to lay it all out on the table, apologize for anything you might have done to upset them, and clear the air. This strategy won’t work for every situation and does take a bit of bravery, but it might be the quickest, most effective way to solve your bully problem. You might even end up becoming friends with them.

What are the signs that someone is being bullied at work?

There’s a bunch of different bullying at work signs that you should look out for. When coworkers are having problems with a bully, they might be reluctant to bring attention to it. So here are some of the signs to look out for:

  • They’re absent from work more often
  • They seem dissatisfied, downbeat, and unmotivated
  • They’re not performing so well at their job
  • They make excuses for avoiding work-related social events
  • You hear others gossiping about them

You might see one of these signs on its own, which doesn’t necessarily mean they’re being bullied. There might be a perfectly reasonable explanation.

But if you start noticing a couple of these signs together, something is probably going wrong for your coworker behind the scenes. Reach out, talk to them, and offer to help.

Final thoughts

Bullying and harassment in the workplace is a serious problem that needs to be addressed. Certain social movements from the 2010s onwards have given more people the confidence to speak up when they witness injustice in their organization, but there’s still a long way to go.

Tackling bullying takes a combined effort from coworkers and management. Workers need to be supported both with the presence of official procedures and the confidence that their complaints will be taken seriously.

If workplace bullying goes unchecked, the negative effects on employees, management, and the public reputation of the company can be enormous – so it’s something to deal with swiftly and judiciously.

Read the full article here.

This blog was printed with permission.

About the Author: Michael is a passionate writer and has written for other major publishing sites such as Trello, Unilever, and Timetastic. At F4S, he writes research-based articles and guides covering leadership, management, and everything involving workplace wellness.


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Cyberbullying: What to Do If You’re Being Bullied or Abused During Remote Work

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Many people are enjoying the opportunity to work from home, perhaps for the first time, during 2020. But remote working can be tough if you miss in-person interaction with colleagues. 

It can also be very difficult if remote technology has opened up the possibility of co-workers harassing, bullying, or abusing you. If you were bullied as a child, this can bring back awful memories. You may find it tough to stand up for yourself. You may worry that you have somehow caused the bullying, or even that you deserve it.

Don’t put up with cyberbullying. It can feel difficult to tackle because it may happen in subtle ways or through non-work channels. But in some cases you have specific rights that mean employers must take action.

Here are two specific types of cyberbullying, your rights, and what you can do.

Sexual Cyberbullying

Is a colleague making unwanted flirty remarks in your DMs? Or is there a culture of unwelcome sexual innuendo or sexual advances from colleagues?

Sexual harassment is a form of sexual discrimination. This means it violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

To be considered harassment, sexual cyberbullying needs to meet certain requirements. For instance, it might involve:

  • The implication – or outright statement – that you need to put up with this conduct in order to advance in the organization.
  • Interference with your work performance.
  • The creation of an intimidating, hostile, or otherwise offensive work environment.

Sexual harassment is often from a man toward a woman, but this is not always the case. Men can be sexually harassed by women too, and sexual harassment can also be same-sex.

Racial Harassment

Racial harassment can take a lot of different forms. It might be deliberately designed to seem innocuous, such as “jokes” or name-calling that’s racist.

It doesn’t necessarily need to be obviously racist conduct, though. It could involve someone constantly ignoring your ideas or gossiping behind your back, because of your race.

There’s quite a high bar for racial harassment. The conduct needs to be severe and pervasive, not just unwelcome.

Other Types of Cyberbullying

Cyberbullying in the workplace can also involve things like leaving you out of meetings, making false allegations about you online, sharing photos of you that you wouldn’t want shared, and many other forms of bullying.

It’s important to recognize that cyberbullying doesn’t need to involve work systems. It may not be happening in your email or Slack account (though that’s common too) – it could be on personal social media accounts.

What Can You Do About Cyberbullying?

Even if the bullying or abuse you’re suffering isn’t likely to meet the bar of legal action, you can and should still speak up.

Your company may well have policies against sexual or racist abuse, or against any kind of bullying. They have the power to discipline or even fire colleagues.

Talk to others in your company in private, perhaps through email, through Slack DMs, or on a phone call. You may find that your co-workers are being harassed too.

Talk to your supervisor about what’s happening, and show them what’s taking place.

Don’t let the bullying intimidate you into leaving a job that you’d otherwise enjoy. But equally, if the problems stem from poor management and leadership, consider whether you’d be happier in a different job.

Talk to people you trust outside work – perhaps family members, friends, or even a legal advisor, depending on the extent of the cyberbullying. Sometimes, you may feel that a behavior is “normal” when in fact it’s far outside the bounds of a healthy workplace environment. Getting an outside perspective can help you see what is and isn’t reasonable, and may help you feel supported in standing up for yourself.

It might seem to go without saying – but don’t join in any kind of bullying or harassment of others. Even if you feel it’s warranted because that person has bullied you, don’t be tempted to retaliate. Otherwise, you could be disciplined instead, or the incidents could be dismissed as little more than a “personality clash.”

Above all, don’t be afraid to stand up for yourself and your rights in the workplace.

This blog is printed with permission.

About the Author: Erika Rykun is a content strategist and producer who believes in the power of networking and quality writing. She’s an avid reader, writer, and runner.


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13 Things Every Teen Needs To Know About Workplace Rights

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donna ballmanSchool’s out for summer! Or it will be soon, and many teens will start summer jobs or even their very first real job. Yet schools do little, if anything, to prepare teens for the realities of the workplace. I’m always shocked when I encounter teens whose parents drag them to me after they suffer workplace abuse with no idea they have any rights at all.

So, if you’re a teen entering the workplace or thinking of applying for a job, read this. If you’re a parent, friend or relative of a teen who is entering the workforce, please print this and show it to them.Here are 13 things teens need to know about workplace rights that their school probably didn’t teach them:

1. Minimum Wage: Federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour. However, there is something called the youth minimum wage, which means that for the first 90 calendar days of any new job you can be paid as little as $4.25 per hour if you are under 20State minimum wages may be higher. Here in Florida, the minimum wage is $7.79. Tipped employees may be paid a minimum wage of $2.13/hour as long as their wages including tips equal at least the higher of the state and federal minimum wage. State minimum wages for tipped employees vary. In Florida, it’s $4.77/hour. More details about wages can be found here.

2. Hours: If you are under 16, under Federal law your work hours are limited. You can’t work during school hours at all, and you can’t work more than 3 hours on a school day, including Friday; more than 18 hours a week when school is in session; more than 8 hours a day when school is not in session; more than 40 hours a week when school is not in session; and before 7 a.m. or after 7 p.m. on any day, except from June 1st through Labor Day, when you can work until 9 p.m. Federal law doesn’t limit work hours for teens 16 or older, but yourstate laws may. For instance, Florida law says if you’re under 18 you can’t work during school hours (with exceptions), and that if you’re 16 or 17 you may only work up to 30 hours per week, not before 6:30 a.m. or later than 11 p.m. and for no more than 8 hours a day when school is scheduled the following day, and for no more than 6 consecutive days.

3. BreaksFederal law doesn’t require any work breaks. However, many states require work breaks, especially for workers under 18. In Florida, workers under 18 are not allowed to work more than 4 consecutive hours without a 30 minute uninterrupted work break. For breaks of more than 20 minutes, employers don’t have to pay. Breaks 20 minutes and under are hours worked that need to be paid.

4. Sexual Harassment: If your boss, coworker, customer, vendor or potential boss is harassing you because of your gender or gender identity, that’s sexual harassment, and it’s illegal. This includes unwanted sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, offensive comments about men or women in general, off-color jokes, touching, and other harassment that is either so severe or so frequent that it alters the terms and conditions of your employment. A single offhand comment may not be sexual harassment, but a single incident that is severe could be. As a minor, you have added protection. Any adult sexually harassing you is probably committing a crime, and could be a sexual predator. It is really important that you read the company’s sexual harassment policy when you start working and write down where you are supposed to report it if it occurs. You don’t have to be afraid, and you should not let yourself become a victim. People you can and probably should report sexual harassment to are your Human Resources department at work and your parents. If you’ve been touched, then you may want to contact the police. If you see someone else being sexually harassed, you should report it. Harassers will keep doing it, and their behavior will get worse, unless an adult stops them.

5. Contracts: In most states, if you’re under 18 you can’t be bound by a contract, including an employment contract. You (or your parents) can void a contract you’ve signed while underage. However, once you turn 18, you probably can’t void it anymore. Employment contracts might have provisions saying you can’t work for a competitor for a year or two, waiving your right to a jury trial, confidentiality obligations, and other important clauses. If you are asked to sign a contract, always read it and keep a copy once you’ve signed. If you don’t understand it, talk to your parents or an employment lawyer in your state about it.

6. Internships: While many teens take unpaid internships for the summer, most employers get internships wrong. If your internship is not a real learning experience for you, then you probably have to be paid for the work you do. An internship is supposed to be training similar to that you would receive in a vocational school. Filing, stuffing envelopes, and answering phones should normally be paid. Internship assignments should build on each other so you develop more skills, similar to the way each chapter of a textbook builds on the other. You should be getting training that benefits you, and you should be getting more benefit than the company. If they can make money off what you’re doing, or if you’re saving them from having to pay another employee, you probably have to be paid.

7. At-will: If you live anywhere but Montana, your employment is probably at-will, meaning your employer can fire you for any reason or no reason at all (with some exceptions). They can fire you because they’re in a bad mood, because they didn’t like your shirt, or because you lipped off to them like you lip off to your parents. Exceptions that would make a firing illegal include firing due to discrimination, making a worker’s comp claim, and blowing the whistle on illegal activity of the company. If your boss tells you to do something that isn’t illegal (or sexual harassment), then do it. No eye-rolling, back-talk or attitude.

8. Social Media and Cell Phones: You are expected to work during work hours. That means no texting, emailing, calling, tweeting, instagraming, facebooking, downloading, or surfing at work, unless it’s work-related. If you check your texts, emails, or social media on a company computer, cell phone or other device, the company probably has the right to look at it. If you view or send inappropriate pictures, jokes, or videos, you can be fired for doing so. There is very little privacy in the workplace, and you have few rights. Assume you’re being watched at all times at work and you won’t go wrong. Oh, and remember all those party pics and embarrassing photos you posted before you started applying for work? Employers and potential employers can see them. You probably want to check your social media pages and pull down anything you can that might be inappropriate for an employer to see.

9. Human Resources: If your employer is big enough, you probably have someone who is designated as the Human Resources person or a whole department called “Human Resources.” It may be referred to as HR. This is the place to go for information about work rules, to report sexual harassment or discrimination, and you’ll probably have to go there on your first day to fill out a stack of forms. While they can be very helpful if you have questions or concerns, they aren’t your buddies. Human Resources represents your employer, not you. They aren’t your mom or your best friend, so don’t go to them with every petty complaint, confess you did something wrong, or tell them about the wild party you went to over the weekend. Keep it professional.

10. Discrimination: Discrimination against you for being you isn’t illegal. However, discrimination and harassment due to race, sex, sexual identity, national origin, disability, religion, color, pregnancy and genetic information are. In some states, there are more categories of illegal discrimination. For instance, in Florida it’s illegal to discriminate against you because you’re too young or because of marital status. Whether sexual orientation is a protected category depends on your state and local law. No federal law bars sexual orientation discrimination.

11. Bullying: While your school might have zero tolerance for bullying, your workplace may be a bullying free-for-all. No federal or state law exists that prohibits workplace bullying. However, workplace bullies are very much like school bullies: they focus on the weak and the different. If you need to complain about a bully, make sure you do it in a way that’s protected. If the bully is picking on the weak, are they weak because of a disability, pregnancy, or age? If they’re picking on the different, is the difference based on race, national origin, age, or religion? If you report illegal discrimination, the law protects you from retaliation. If you report bullying, no law protects you.

12. Dangerous Work: It is every employer’s duty to maintain a safe workplace. If you think your workplace is unsafe, you can contact the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to report dangerous conditions and get more information. Certain jobs are deemed too hazardous for teens under 18 to do. A plain English description of the 17 jobs considered too dangerous for minors is here. There’s a different list for agricultural workthat applies to workers under 16.

13. What Kind Of Work You Can Do: Depending on your age, there may be limits on the type of work you can do. If you are under 14, you can work, but your options are limited. You can deliver newspapers, babysit, act or perform, work as a homeworker gathering evergreens and making evergreen wreaths, or work for a business owned by your parents as long as it’s not mining, manufacturing or one of the occupations designated as hazardous. If you are 14 or 15, you can do things like retail, lifeguarding, running errands, creative work, computer work, clean-up and yard work that doesn’t use dangerous equipment, some food service and other restaurant work, some grocery work, loading and unloading, and even do some work in sawmills and wood shops. We’re talking non-manufacturing and non-hazardous jobs only. If you are 16 or 17, you can do any job that isn’t labeled as hazardous.

The Department of Labor has a website where you can get more information about employment laws that apply to teens. An interactive advisor about federal law may be foundhere.

Of course, my book Stand Up For Yourself Without Getting Fired can help anyone new to the workplace since it covers how to handle workplace crises and issues from the interview and application, to your first day and that giant stack of papers, to workplace disputes, to promotions, to termination, and even post-termination.

This article was originally printed on Screw You Guys, I’m Going Home on May 24, 2013.  Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: Donna Ballman is the award-winning author of Stand Up For Yourself Without Getting Fired: Resolve Workplace Crises Before You Quit, Get Axed or Sue the Bastards.  The book won the Law category of the 2012 USA Best Book Awards.  She’s been practicing employment law, including negotiating severance agreements and litigating discrimination, sexual harassment, noncompete agreements, and employment law issues in Florida since 1986.  She also leads her legal team at Donna M. Ballman, P.A.

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