Workplace Bullying Hurts Everyone

This is an obvious statement, yes, but what we’re learning about bullying in the workplace and how it affects the workplace is astounding. And it’s our job in HR to ensure the mental, physical and emotional safety of our employees.

First of all, what is workplace bullying? According to the Workplace Bullying Institute,

Workplace Bullying is repeated, health-harming mistreatment of one or more persons (the targets) by one or more perpetrators that takes one or more of the following forms:

  • Verbal abuse
  • Offensive conduct/behaviors (including nonverbal) which are threatening, humiliating, or intimidating
  • Work interference — sabotage — which prevents work from getting done

Sound familiar? Somewhat like the three prongs of hostile work environment albeit not sexual in nature. That’s because bullying is harassment and the latest information shows that it is just as toxic to the workplace as any form of discrimination or harassment. Per the WPI, mentioned above, those employees who were subjected to workplace bullying suffered mental and emotional harm:

Bullying is often called psychological harassment or violence. What makes it psychological is bullying’s impact on the person’s mental health and sense of well-being. The personalized, focused nature of the assault destabilizes and disassembles the target’s identity, ego strength, and ability to rebound from the assaults. The longer the exposure to stressors like bullying, the more severe the psychological impact. When stress goes unabated, it compromises both a target’s physical and mental health.

Psychological-Emotional Injuries

  • Debilitating Anxiety, Panic Attacks (>80%)
  • Clinical Depression: new to person or exacerbated condition previously controlled (39%)
  • Post-traumatic Stress (PTSD) from deliberate human-inflicted abuse (30% of targeted women; 21% of men)
  • Shame (the desired result of humiliating tactics by the bully) – sense of deserving a bad fate
  • Guilt (for having “allowed” the bully to control you)
  • Overwhelming sense of Injustice (Equity – the unfairness of targeting you who works so hard; Procedural – the inadequacy of the employer’s response to your complaint)

It’s not always the subject of the bullying who suffers consequences. A new study from Sweden shows that those who witness workplace bullying are subject to depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

The number of men who were bystanders to bullying was larger compared to women. However, the proportion of women who were bystanders to bullying and developed depressive symptoms 18 months later was higher in comparison with men (33.3 and 16.4 %, respectively).”

Again, stating the obvious, the best way to avoid such employee impact is to disallow bullying in the workplace. But how? Training managers to manage, not bully, their staff. Encouraging employees to come forward when they are subjected to or witness maltreatment of any sort in the workplace. Putting into place specific policies outlining what workplace bullying is and the consequences for bullying in the workplace. And perhaps, most importantly, advising and assisting company executives in creating and sustaining a culture of creativity over a culture of fear.

Perhaps then, we can all go back to work to do what we were hired to do. Our jobs.