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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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Furious to Curious: 7 Signs You’re Intimidated by Your Employer (… and How to Overcome It)

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Workplace intimidation is often so subtle and insidious that it becomes difficult to identify. This is made worse by the fact that it generally takes on a pattern of bullying actions over a long period, rather than being an isolated incident. When left unchecked, it can become a culture that’s nearly impossible to get rid of. 

The main issue in the workplace is that the person guilty of intimidation wants to control the behavior of the person being bullied. Having your emotions, psychological health, and sometimes even physical well-being controlled by someone is never acceptable. Not even when that person is your employer. 

Being in a position of leadership doesn’t automatically give someone the right to control their employees. True leadership has nothing to do with control, and everything with leading by example, in fairness, and with integrity. 

Below are 7 signs you’re intimidated by your employer:  

1. They Always Have Their Way

If your employer is forever trying to force you to do everything their way, then chances are you’re a victim of intimidation. 

The reason(s) they’re forcing you to do things their way is irrelevant. And the reason for this is that whatever they’re telling you (and often themselves) in an attempt at self-justification is probably not the real reason at all. Instead, intimidation is nearly always driven by a need to feel that their opinion is the only opinion that really matters. 

2. They Play Dirty

Employers who intimidate their workers will often leave no stone unturned if it means achieving their goal. 

These individuals are often sneaky about the ways that they cause their victims harm and discomfort. Of the many tricks deployed by office bullies, the act of ignoring someone is probably the most effective. At the same time, it’s also the least likely to be detected. 

Those who feel the need to resort to intimidation in the workplace do so because of their own shortcomings and insecurities. For this reason, the employer will often follow the path of least resistance and ignore any arguments or input. This makes ignoring others as a bullying tactic especially attractive, as they’re unwilling to own up to their crimes. 

3. Forever Changing Expectations

One sure-fire way to guarantee an employee will never be able to live up to an employer’s strict standards is to constantly move the goalposts. 

Intimidation can often be seen to take on the form of unclear goals and vague directions. The intimidating employer knows how easy it is to create a hostile environment simply by avoiding clear communication. 

4. They Often Interrupt

If your employer is constantly interrupting you when you’re talking, or even chiming in when it’s not their turn to speak, you’re probably being purposefully intimidated. 

An example of this would be to be summoned to a meeting but not afforded the space or the opportunity to give input, ask questions, and make suggestions. Employers guilty of intimidation will often take this route on purpose as it gives them the opportunity to discredit their employees in public. 

5. They Don’t Respect Your Time

Most employees are more than willing to put in extra hours and effort when asked. This is often a reasonable expectation in the workplace.

The point when such a request becomes unreasonable, and a likely weapon of intimidation, is when schedules are constantly changed, often with little to no notice. 

It’s important to realize that your time is just as valuable as your employers. For this reason, it deserves to be honored in a manner that’s considerate and respectful. 

6. They Create A Culture Of Secrecy

A culture of secrecy and exclusion is nearly always a sign of intimidation in the workplace. This can take on several forms when it’s an agenda pushed by an employer. 

Examples include keeping you out of the know about a new project, planning a social event/get-together at the office without you, or even planning something special for occasions like birthdays for select employees only. 

Secrecy is never part of a happy and healthy office or working environment, and is a favorite intimidation tactic. 

7. Selective Micromanagement 

Micromanagement is another favored tactic used to intimidate employees. 

While many managers are repeat offenders in micromanaging because they cannot successfully delegate duties and responsibilities, others may deploy this as a brazen, outright method of intimidation. 

A red flag to look out for is selective micromanagement, where you’re micromanaged more than your fellow-employees for no good reason. This often involves an expectation of constantly upholding impossible levels of performance in the workplace. 

How To Overcome Intimidation

Overcoming intimidation by an employer is a process, and should not be expected to happen overnight. In some cases, it may be best to polish up your resume and move on, but this should only be as a last resort. For the best chance of overcoming the issue, try the following: 

  • Speak to HR about the issues you’re experiencing. Ask them to take steps towards correcting them.
  • Know your rights. A hostile work environment is a form of discrimination. If HR cannot assist, there are legal avenues you can pursue for assistance.
  • Keep clear records of dates and times of all incidents. Create a timeline that shows a pattern and identifies the issue clearly.
  • Confront your employer head on. Tell them that you recognize their actions and be clear about your expectations for the future. 
  • Resist the urge to react negatively. This plays into the bully and gives them the response they want.

Bullying in the workplace is on the rise, and intimidation is a form of bullying. If you know your rights, how to cope with intimidation, and can seek assistance from HR, you can put an end to this undesirable behavior. 

This blog is printed with permission.

About the Author: Lee Anna Carrillo is a community manager at Resumoo, a resume writing service, and career resource database. Resumoo is owned by Ranq Digital LLC, a marketing and media company located in Charlotte, NC.


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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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Workplace Bullying vs. Workplace Harassment: Is There a Difference?

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Teresa Zerilli-EdelglassBack when my workplace nightmare first began in 1992, during an 11-year tenure at New York City Transit that ended in termination on the heels of a hard-fought federal court victory, there was no such thing as “workplace bullying”.  Bullying – or at least the term – was reserved for what one mean-spirited kid did to another in the schoolyard.  However, “bullying” has now become the catch phrase for every mean-spirited act that one human being commits against another, whether in the workplace or the schoolyard — or just about anywhere!

Just at the time when I was finally beginning to realize my American Dream, the harassment began. Over time, with no help in sight, it escalated to epic proportions, causing debilitating mental illness that would eventually render me incapacitated.  What I experienced back then was characterized as “harassment”. Today, this same treatment has evolved into “workplace bullying”, though legally speaking, it is still called harassment.  (Unless I’ve missed something, I’ve never heard of anyone filing a “workplace bullying” claim.) Still, if one is harassed, he is being bullied.  But are these terms legally interchangeable?  Is it just semantics that separates them?  Or do they, in fact, have different meanings.

We have traditionally associated workplace harassment with the unlawful behavior described under the various acts created by Congress to protect workers from unfair employment practices.  Legislative measures (such as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964) exist to protect workers from discrimination against age, gender, race/color, religion, national origin, disability, genetic information, pregnancy, and compensation.  It also prohibits sexual harassment and retaliation.  While this might sound like a fairly inclusive body of protection, do these seemingly well-intentioned laws really cover everything?  Should protection be afforded only to these “protected classes” for the specific violations they are designed to address?

The short answer: no.

An obvious gaping hole in employment law still remains; the door is wide open for a cornucopia of offenses screaming to be addressed.  For instance, what about the fat person, the ugly (or pretty) one, the smelly one or the annoying one?  And how about the once untouchable white guy who gets wrongfully kicked around?  These folks have no real recourse except to complain to their supervisors, who, in all likelihood are ill-equipped to handle such matters.

When I worked for New York City Transit, I witnessed bullying like it was for sport.  In fact, it was the managerial style of choice. When one of “the men” as they referred to themselves, got out of line in any way believed to be even remotely threatening, he would likely pay for it lest he fell back in line posthaste.  God forbid, he resisted for he would be shipped off to the most undesirable location, usually the place no one wanted to be and that would make his life a living hell.  In fact, that same threat was deviously employed on job interviews.  One was pretty much forced to say he was okay with working at any one of the numerous locations in the system, albeit an outright lie.  Then, once he conceded to being the flexible, indispensable best man for the job, he might well find himself in one of our little “Siberias” anyway because, after all, he said he was willing to go there.  A real Catch 22, for sure.

Was this modus operandi unto itself harassment in the legal sense – or was it simply bullying? Well, unless one individual of a particular protected class, let’s say an employee over 40 amidst a group of twenty-somethings was singled out, it wouldn’t be classified as unlawful; however, it is not less wrong and must be treated as such.  Working forever shrouded in fear of retribution is unacceptable.

Since having written Thrown Under the Bus: The Rise and Fall of the American Worker, it is amazing how many folks have felt compelled to come forward to share their workplace horror stories with me.  They, too, attest that it is the bully’s way or the highway – with no help in sight.  I pray that my book serves to lend some insight to ways in which to successfully navigate “the system” without undue repercussion.

In a nutshell, the message is this: workplace harassment has evolved to a new form of the same called ‘workplace bullying’, the catch-all phrase for the ubiquitously inappropriate treatment of anyone and everyone where such behavior rises to the same egregious level of currently actionable legal claims under the law. If you can prove that which you claim to have occurred as having risen to the same degree of unlawfulness as prescribed by Congress, you shouldn’t need to be part of a protected class, just an aggrieved employee of any stripe with a legitimate claim.

Printed with permission

About the Author:  Teresa Zerilli-Edeleglass is the author of Thrown Under the Bus: The Rise and Fall of the American Worker, the provocative true story that begs the question: Is the American Dream ours for the taking, or can it just be taken away?  Ms. Zerill-Edelglass earned a Bachelor of Science degree from St. John’s University in 1989 and an Executive Masters in Public Administration from Bernard Baruch College in 1992. It was in 1988 that the opportunity presented itself for Ms. Zerilli-Edelglass to switch gears from the private to the public sector, one she enthusiastically embraced. No sooner had all of her hard work finally begun to pay off when everything suddenly went up in smoke, laying the groundwork for ‘Thrown’.  Thrown Under the Bus: The Rise and Fall of the American Worker is available online at AmazonBarnes & Noble, and through the author’s website.


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