Nearly 94% of employees said they had been bullied in the workplace according to a 2019 Monster.com survey. Over half said they were bullied by a boss or manager and the ways the respondents said they were bullied were aggressive email tones (23.3%), coworkers’ negative gossip (20.2%) and someone yelling at them (17.8%). Office bullies are more common than most people might think. Bullying at work impacts employees mental and physical health, increasing major stress, anxiety, depression, trauma and even high blood pressure, gastrointestinal issues, sleep issues and more. With the rapid technology changes in our society, employees are more likely to report misconduct on social media, causing public protests, consumer boycotts and bad publicity, as well as lawsuits. Employers should proactively prevent bullying in the workplace to avoid any of the issues mentioned above. In this article, we will be breaking down the 4 main types of workplace bullying and how you can address them.
1) Physical bullying
Physical bullying in the workplace is less about obvious physical misconduct (punching/kicking) although that can still happen, but it is more about demanding excessive overtime work on a regular basis, forcing people to travel long distances without breaks or outside of working hours, forcing people to attend meetings late at night or early in the morning on a regular basis, giving employees work to do that their line manager knows they physically cannot do (for age or health reasons), interrupting days off, etc… Depending on the severity of the abuse, physical bullying can cause long damage on the employee and the effects are not only physical, as a victim may suffer from psychological trauma, anxiety and even depression.
2) Verbal bullying
Verbal bullying at work happens when an employee uses abusive language towards a colleague; it can include name calling, insults, teasing, intimidation, homophobic, racist and sexist remarks and offensive jokes. Verbal bullying can include discriminatory language (racial slurs, insults, or degrading language), sexually harassing language (sexual comments, comments about someone’s physical appearance, or discussion of sex), calling someone out for poor performance in front of other colleagues, shouting, blaming a coworker for something they didn’t do, minimizing or dismissing concerns raised at work, etc… The stress that verbal abuse causes can include trouble sleeping, depression, high blood pressure, anxiety, headaches, and even heart disease. Verbal abuse can also negatively affect the business’s bottom line, lowering company morale, increasing absenteeism and damaging engagement, productivity and innovation. For more information on how to avoid workplace bullying, read ‘How to foster true inclusion at work every single day’.
3) Social bullying
Social bullying is the hardest form of workplace bullying to detect. It occurs when an employee spreads false rumours behind someone’s back. A bully at work may encourage others to turn against someone and separate them from a group. Social bullying occurs when an employee persuades a group to exclude someone from collective activities such as a team lunch, a team dinner, a meeting, a project etc... This type of bullying at work can damage an employee’s reputation in the company, and amongst colleagues. For more information on workplace inclusion, follow me on Twitter.
4) Online or cyber bullying
Cyberbullies use online media such as social media to post threatening or offensive content. It can also include text messages, instant messages, social media posts, skype calls or forum comments. Sending an offensive email to a colleague, including any offensive picture and continuing to send similar messages having been asked to stop constitute online bullying. Writing comments on social media about a colleague’s performance at work also constitutes online bullying. Spreading lies and gossip online also constitute cyberbullying. Cyberbullying involves sharing someone's private data online. The psychological effects of workplace cyberbullying on victims can be severe, from reduced productivity, difficulty sleeping, poor physical health, and mood disturbances etc… . One participant in Dr D’Souza study became suicidal after the bullying episode; the IT workers reported anxiety, depression, gastrointestinal problems, and insomnia. “I suffered great trauma; my physical and mental condition were not good,” says one participant.
How to address workplace bullying
Taking action and responding to workplace bullying is the first step in addressing workplace bullying and creating an inclusive work culture. Here are a few ways to do so:
1) Speak up and be an upstander
Staying silent when misconduct happens does not make us neutral, it makes us complicit. Being an upstander as opposed to a bystander is the first step in addressing workplace bullying. Speak to the offender privately and explain what you have observed: “I noticed that you did that and when you did that, it made it hard for us to create an inclusive culture.” Explain how it made you feel and explain that you do not tolerate this type of behavior. You must speak up and clearly articulate your stand. Discover what type of leader you are with this two-minute quiz and find out if you are an upstander at work.
2) Document the abuse
Keep a journal documenting who is involved, what is happening, when it is happening, where it is happening, and why it is happening. Try to document it all in real time and add as much detail as you can around the facts. You will need to be able to give concrete examples of the behaviors. Record any emails, text messages, instant messages, posts and comments to add to your file.
3) Look after yourself outside of work
Workplace bullying can take a toll on you so take care of yourself outside of work. Consider seeking professional help from a therapist if you feel the need for it. Namie suggests trying to find someone who understands trauma. Speak to your relatives about the situation and get some support outside your workplace.
4) Talk to your management
Speak to your management as early as possible, explaining the situation. Document all your conversation in writing, such as through email. If your manager is the bully, think about who you can contact to report their misconduct. Bring your evidence with you, especially the evidence that demonstrates the impact of the bully on the organisation and file an official complaint. Read your employee handbook to find out what the HR investigation process should look like. Be prepared to explore all options. Find out how to deal with a toxic leader at work by watching this video and subscribe to my youtube channel for more videos on diversity, inclusion and workplace wellbeing.
With more employees being quick to report misconduct on social media, causing public protests, consumer boycotts and bad publicity, HR professionals, team managers and business leaders should proactively prevent bullying in the workplace to avoid lawsuits, boycotts and bad publicity. By addressing the behavior of a bully in your workplace with persistence and courage, anyone can neutralize the bully behavior and create an inclusive workplace with a "zero tolerance" for office bullies.