The Adult Bully, Part 2

Have you ever felt as if you were practicing a tightrope act with regard to fitting in at work? In the previous article, The Bully Effect, Part 1, we looked at how bullying affects children. And, many believe that bullying only is reserved for school aged children, however, this couldn’t be farthest from the truth; adult bullying, too, comes in many forms. One of the most commonly known types is seen in the workplace among colleagues, as we will unearth.

Water Cooler Wonders

What is workplace bullying? Essentially, it is the feeling of a co-worker being talked about, ignored, put down, left out of situations or humiliated. Since workplace bullying is done in a subtle way, when men bully, often it is more aggressive or physical. With women, it might seem more backhanded or backbiting, even.

A number of factors can lead to a workplace that is prone to bullying.
A number of factors can lead to a workplace that is prone to bullying.

Who is most likely to be bullied in the workplace? Workplace bullying can happen to anyone. Worst of all, it can take place on the corporate ladder; blue-collar or white-collar; or between any gender. Much research indicates that roughly a quarter of American employees will experience workplace bullying in one form or another. And, workplace bullying is ongoing, it focuses on a person rather than a task, leaving the recipient feeling powerless to put an end to it.

One would think there is a definitive answer as to why these types of behaviors manifest itself in the workplace, but there is not. A number of contributing factors are taken into consideration, though. Take for example, the culture in a workplace, individual styles, personal frustrations and business approaches.

Factors for Bullying

According to the Ivey Business Journal, a number of organizational factors can lead to a workplace that is prone to bullying, which is outlined below:

  • An environment of “making the numbers,” and an obsession with outcomes without first considering the costs;
  • Cronyism;
  • Fear as a dominant workplace emotion and motivator;
  • Recruitment, promotion, and reward systems that focus on “strength of personality” or aggressiveness, while ignoring emotional intelligence and social skills;
  • A focus on the short-term (quarterly results) while ignoring the overall, long-term health of the organization;
  • Codes of conduct that only address narrowly defined legal liabilities;
  • Poor or inconsistent discipline or performance appraisal processes.

Outnumbered by Outcomes

There are some very harmful effects that may go hand-in-hand with workplace bullying. The toll that workplace bullying can take on the recipient can be personally and professionally devastating, thereby resulting in physical illness, varied mental health problems and losing or quitting a once-enjoyable job. Other problems that may occur as a result of workplace bullying are anxiety, chronic fatigue syndrome, stroke, heart attack, panic attacks, clinical depression and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Workplace bullying also can create a hostile work environment (opening the company to a slew of problems, including the risk of a law suit). There is little you can do to change an adult bully, but you can work within the confines of laws and company regulations that are implemented. Also, know there are legal ramifications and penalties that may be imposed for practicing this type of conduct at ones work.

Combating the Problem

What can be done to combat workplace bullying? Short of leaving your job, there are a smattering of resources that may help. With that, U.S. states are stepping-in, to zero-in on this form of inappropriate conduct. As a matter of fact, a growing number of states are enacting anti-bullying bills, also known as “healthy workplace” legislation, that you can familiarize yourself with.

There is a plethora of companies in the U.S. Although not all companies have implemented Google’s “Don’t Be Evil” slogan, more organizations are securing the services of organizational psychologists to offer workshops, consultations, training and education on workplace bullying that you may be able to take advantage of.

For your part, by making an outline of bullying events, you can better illustrate your story in an organized and logical fashion to higher-ups if need be. Just be sure to highlight key points that can provide better examples of the trauma you experienced.

A quarter of American employees will experience workplace bullying.
A quarter of American employees will experience workplace bullying.

The Bottom Line

Ultimately, what should I know about adult bullying? Note that there is very little you can do about an adult bully’s behavior, other than avoiding, ignoring and reporting the abuse to a supervisor.

Why? Adult bullies are often in a set pattern and are not concerned with resolving the issue at hand. Rather, adult bullies are solely interested in domination and power; they want to feel as though they are important and preferred, a task they can only accomplish by bringing others down in the process.

Out of Sorts

Let’s back up a few steps, adult bullies were either one of two things: bullies as children or bullied as children, which causes them to feel the need to exert their power over another. Knowing this little fact may help make their behavior more palpable. Any adult can be bullied at any given time, just as children can be. But, this, however, does not make it acceptable, whether in the workplace or out.

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-Kimberly Williams

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