Stories of workplace bullying are commonplace throughout the United States – with thousands of employees miserable at work as a result – says Rakesh Malhotra, who believes that bullying is a character trait that tends to be condoned in this country.
“Consider our national obsession: football,” says Malhotra, the founder of Five Global Values and a world-traveled, values-driven business leader who specializes in organization behavior. “The object of this celebrated game is to get the ball to the other player’s goal, no matter what it takes: trampling, hitting, pushing, screaming. If football is a metaphor for American society, then the winner is the person who pushes others out of the way and wins no matter the cost.”
Malhotra offers these two real-world examples of workplace bullying in U. S. workplaces:
- “When I started there, I was told that someone had been acting in the position and had expected to get the job,” says Mavis. “This person continually undermined me and turned other staff against me. I endured 12 months of hell, and felt as if I was sinking in quicksand.”
- “The misery took over my whole life,” says a male employee at a different company. “I turned nasty and bitter and treated my wife and kids like whipping posts. After many visits to a psychologist, I was able to think of all the positive things in my life. Now I look back and think I wouldn’t want to go through that experience again.”
In general, there are no legal repercussions for non-physical bullying except in specific cases, such as sexual harassment, says Malhotra. Bullies win by controlling situations and people around them. They crave power and the attention that comes from getting what they want.
The Effects of Working with a Bully
Adults have a difficult time performing their jobs effectively when subjected to bullying by a co-worker, says Malhotra. “It takes a toll physically because of our physiological responses to emotional stress,” he adds. “Typically, victims endure feelings of depression, guilt and shame, and they suffer sleep loss and fatigue. In some cases, victims begin to believe the bully’s behavior is warranted, and they develop feelings of worthlessness. They cannot complete tasks at the same level as others in their units.”
Victims of bullying may suffer from panic disorders, post traumatic stress syndrome, agoraphobia and stress-induced high blood pressure. If they leave the job or are docked because of resulting lowered performance, they face economic issues. Some take their own lives.
“The abuse takes a toll on victims in every way imaginable,” says Malhotra.
Are You a Bully?
Being accused of being the bully can be difficult to accept, he acknowledges. 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.
“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,” advises Malhotra.
He offers these symptoms that you may be the bully:
- Insulting a co-worker. 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. Know and understand the difference.
- If you are an employer, ignoring your employees’ suggestions could be construed as bullying behavior.
- Humiliating your employees or co-workers in front of others.
If any of these traits 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, anger management and other seminars, says Malhotra.
If you are a victim, diligently record workplace-bullying events, he suggests. If you choose to make a formal complaint, you will be responsible for providing information should there be charges brought against the bully.
“It is important to understand the signs and symptoms of a bully in order to help the victim and the victimizer deal with and exterminate the behavior,” says Malhotra.