PERSON OF THE WEEK: This week, many office workers will be eager to leave work for the Thanksgiving break – if only to escape a hostile occupational environment shaped by workplace bullying. Needless to say, a disruptive workplace does not help drive corporate profits – and bullying that gets out of hand can lead to any manner of problems. To understand the subject at greater depth, MortgageOrb spoke with Rakesh Malhotra, founder of Chicago-based consultancy Five Global Values, on how to identify and deal with workplace bullying.
Q: There is no official data on the levels of workplace bullying. How is it possible to determine whether this occupational hazard is becoming more prevalent?
Malhotra: Workplace bullying is more than the occupational hazard. Workplace bullying can be defined as ‘repeated, health-harming abusive conduct committed by bosses and co-workers.’ It is a chronic corporate disease.
Prevalence of workplace bullying is evident in the finding of a 2010 survey conducted by Workplace Bullying Institute, which found 35% of the U.S. workforce – an estimated 53.5 million Americans – report being bullied at work; an additional 15% witness it. Half of all Americans have directly experienced it. Simultaneously, 50% reported neither experiencing nor witnessing bullying. Hence, it is a ‘silent epidemic.’
Q: How should a manager or executive respond if someone accuses them of being a workplace bully?
Malhotra: The accusation of being a bully can be difficult to accept. You may believe your actions were unintentional, or a justified emotional response to provocation. Perhaps, you see yourself as the only one in the office qualified to do anything right. However, whatever you have said or done, whether purposefully or not, you have created a culture of negativity for at least one person and you need to honestly assess the situation and your role in it.
Symptoms that show you may be the bully include:
- Verbal abuse or insulting a coworker – remember, one person's ‘joke’ may be another's insult.
- Undermining another employee's work by creating a hostile environment or perhaps by consistently calling their attention to ‘flaws.’ Bullies focus on a person, while constructive criticism focuses on a task.
- Humiliating your employee in front of others.
- Offensive conduct/behaviors, including threatening.
- Work interference or intimidating which prevents work from getting done.
If any of these sound like something that you may be doing, it is important to address this immediately with your victim. You may want to speak with your doctor about getting help, such as counseling, sensitivity training and anger management. It is important to understand the signs and symptoms of a bully in order to help deal with and exterminate the behavior.
If you are a victim, diligently record workplace bullying events. If you choose to make a formal complaint, you will be responsible for providing information should there be charges brought against the bully.
Q: What legal remedies are available for those who feel they've been the subject of workplace bullying?
Malhotra: Unfortunately, bullying in the American workplace, in general, is not illegal. But there are still many things a victim can do.
The first is to realize the signs of a bully and notice if you are being bullied. In many cases, bullies are persecuting another person based on their religion, gender, race or other qualifying issue. Sexual harassment or persecution is illegal in the eyes of the law and in the workplace. and there are legal ways to prosecute the bully. But general bullying is hard to prosecute because there is a lack of legal theory and practice in regard to it.
If the victim is being bullied by his or her employer, then they may look to a helpline or the supervisor's manager in order to address the problem. In many cases, the victim will have to fill out a report stating the exact circumstances surrounding the bullying.
The most important aspect of this is to show the bully that you will not take it. When they approach you in an unfriendly manner, make sure to record the instance and report it to a supervisor or union official. In many cases, documenting specific examples and keeping a record of facts will have an effect on the bully, who may instantly back down.
In cases where sexual harassment or prejudice is exacted, there are many legal ramifications. Again, make sure to keep a journal for reference.
Q: Do you see this kind of behavior abating if the employment market improves and people feel more comfortable about seeking new jobs elsewhere?
Malhotra: In my opinion, workplace bullying is more of moral, social and psychological issue; it is linked with your upbringing, your values, beliefs and your ability to manage workplace relationships and deal with stressful situations. Since bullying incidents are on the rise, these need immediate attention from both employers and employees.