Workplace Bullying

A news story that has hit recently is that of news anchor Jennifer Livingston, who received an email from a viewer that denounced her ability to be a community role model solely based on her size. This story was one of particular interest to me because Ms. Livingston is a reporter in my hometown of La Crosse, WI. Her decision to go public with this email is both courageous and inspiring. Here is her editorial response:

With the talk of bullying, thoughts naturally turn to our children in the schools. But what about bullying in the workplace? Livingston’s example shows that adults are also victimized by this kind of behavior. So, what are the facts about workplace bullying?

In my online searching, I was shocked to find a website for the Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI). Surely the cruel behavior from the schoolyard is largely left there? Sadly, no.

According to WBI, 35% of employees in America— 53.5 million people — have faced bullying while on the job. WBI defines workplace bullying as “repeated, health-harming mistreatment of one or more persons (the targets) by one or more perpetrators… [through] verbal abuse; offensive conduct/behaviors which are threatening, humiliating, or intimidating; and work interference — sabotage — which prevents work from getting done.”

Not sure if you are being bullied at work? Some of the indicators listed on the WBI site include:

  • Others at work have been told to stop working, talking, or socializing with you.
  • You are constantly feeling agitated and anxious, experiencing a sense of doom, waiting for bad things to happen.
  • No matter what you do, you are never left alone to do your job without interference.
  • People feel justified screaming or yelling at you in front of others, but you are punished if you scream back.
  • HR tells you that your harassment isn’t illegal, that you have to “work it out between yourselves.”
  • You are shocked when accused of incompetence, despite a history of objective excellence, typically by someone who cannot do your job.
  • Everyone — co-workers, senior bosses, HR — agrees (in person and orally) that your tormentor is a jerk, but there is nothing they will do about it (and later, when you ask for their support, they deny having agreed with you).

If you find yourself nodding in agreement with the items on that list, you may need to do some soul searching about your current employer and what decisions may need to be made regarding next steps in your career.

Depending on your circumstances, perhaps seeking other employment might be a prudent choice. But how would you ensure that you don’t fall into the same situation?

  1. Learn as much as you can about employers from people who work there and from resources like Glassdoor. While you should keep in mind the possibility of a hidden agenda when talking with someone or reading an online review, you also want to make sure that you don’t totally discount any horror stories that you hear, especially if there are common threads among them.
  2. Remember that you are evaluating the company for a good fit as much as they are evaluating you. When in job-search mode, it’s easy to make it into a competition, to figure out what strategy will help you win the job! But how hollow will that victory be if, six months later, you wake up every morning with dread about the upcoming workday? When interviewing, be sure to ask questions that will help you learn more about the business’ corporate culture and give you a sense of what the day-to-day work environment is like. If the answers given feel evasive, make sure you take those feelings into serious consideration.
  3. Never be afraid to say “no” to a job offer. So many folks feel obligated to take a job when it’s offered. Just because you go on an interview, you are not bound to accept the position. You have free will to make whatever decision is best for you; if you fear that the prospective employer would be worse than your current one, turn it down and move on.

If you are currently being bullied at work, you do have options! The path you choose to take in the wake of the bullying depends on many circumstances, so weigh them all and make decisions that are best for you and your situation.

Just please don’t allow yourself to remain a victim of someone else’s cruelty. As Livingston said at toward the end of her commentary: “We are better than the bullies that would try to take us down.”

Does this article resonate with you? Let’s work together for you and your career!

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