It's time to take on office bullies, who drive talent out the door

  • Article by: HARVEY MACKAY
  • Updated: September 11, 2011 - 5:11 PM

The playground isn't the only place where you'll run into bullies. Internet bullying has led to suicides. Office bullying is on the rise, and it's a deal-killer no matter what business you're in.

Bullies come in all ages, shapes and sizes -- and on all rungs of the corporate ladder.

Remarkably, bullying in the workplace is among the leading reasons for employees to seek other employment. Even more remarkably, most don't list bullying as the reason they quit.

Instead, they suffer in silence and take their talents elsewhere.

And suffer they do. Scholars at the Project for Wellness and Work-Life at Arizona State University found that "workplace bullying is linked to a host of physical, psychological, organizational and social costs." Their research indicated that stress is the most predominant health effect associated with bullying in the workplace: "Stress has significant negative effects that are correlated to poor mental health and poor physical health, resulting in an increase in the use of sick days or time off from work."

Can any company afford that?

In a CareerBuilder survey of more than 5,600 full-time employees, 27 percent of workers said they have felt bullied in the workplace. Most of them didn't confront the offender or report the abusive behavior.

What form did bullying take? Workers gave examples:

•Comments dismissed or not acknowledged: 43 percent.

•Falsely accused of a mistake: 40 percent.

•Needlessly harsh criticism: 38 percent.

•Forced into doing work that wasn't really part of the job: 38 percent.

•Held to different standards and policies from other workers: 37 percent.

•Made the focus of gossip: 27 percent.

•Yelled at by boss in front of co-workers: 24 percent.

•Belittling comments during meetings: 23 percent.

•Others taking credit for work: 21 percent.

Any of this sound familiar?

Management is responsible for keeping the workplace free of sexual, racial or other forms of harassment and inappropriate behavior. If an issue is reported, reasonable action should follow.

Unfortunately, sometimes the manager is the bully. If that manager has a manager, the victim needs to go to that level. He or she might be doing the company a huge favor by exposing the reason so many good people in that department are heading for the hills.

The victims of bullying have to take responsibility -- it's not safe to assume anyone else is aware of the bullying if they don't report the problem. Bullies are notoriously sneaky. They pick and choose their targets carefully. But that doesn't mean victims are helpless.

Take charge by following these guidelines:

•Recognize bullying when it occurs. Mild teasing or isolated comments, even if inappropriate, don't necessarily constitute harassment under the law. Stand up for your rights by all means, but remember that harassment is more than just unwelcome behavior. Technically, it's behavior that discriminates against gender, race, national origin or some other legally protected characteristic.

•Study your policy. Most organizations have written policies that don't just prohibit harassment but also spell out the steps to take if an employee feels uncomfortable. Check out the procedures for reporting unwelcome incidents.

•Speak up to the harasser. Your first step should be to tell the person that his or her behavior, comments or requests aren't welcome. In some cases, the matter may end there. But don't hesitate to inform management if you can't comfortably confront the other person on your own.

•Document the behavior. Take notes describing each incident to keep details fresh in your memory. This will add credibility to your claim.

•Inform management. Follow the procedure for reporting harassment to the proper person. Your own manager is usually the person to start the process, but if your manager is the one harassing you, you'll have to go up the ladder. Document your efforts to report the behavior: dates, times, what was said and so forth.

Mackay's Moral: If you're being bullied, take the bull by the horns before there's a stampede.

Harvey Mackay is a Minneapolis businessman. Contact him at 612-378-6202 or send e-mail to His column is distributed by United Feature Syndicate.

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