workplace bullying

Have You Experienced Workplace Bullying?

What It Is, Where It Begins, and How You Can Make a Difference

I imagine that few of us escape childhood without some experience of bullying.  For me, it was sixth grade.  I was new to the rural school and it was the third elementary school that I was attending.  Most of the kids in the class had been together since kindergarten, or that’s how my mind remembers it. 

As an adult looking back, I realize that the teacher did not have very good control over the classroom environment.  Amongst, the bullying that went on in that classroom, there were other events that left scars for many students, myself included.

What I remember most about those days were the responses of adults when I was reporting incidents.

When I told my mom that the girls in school were being mean (singling me out, not letting me participate, not responding to my asking why they were mad at me, and calling names), she would say “just ignore them and don’t say anything back”. 

When the ring leader of the class would get “mad” at someone, all the rest of the students would side with her – probably out of fear of being targeted themselves.

When I, and several classmates, told my sixth grade teacher that one of the boys in the class was pulling up our shirts when we were backstage rehearsing for the school play, he took no noticeable action as the harassment continued.

I had a great deal of anxiety about going to school in the sixth grade.  I can remember days sitting on the school bus, headed to school, and thinking, “She has gotten mad at me for a while.  My time is coming.”

The situation escalated and later that year myself and another classmate were assaulted, IN THE CLASSROOM, by the same boy who was harassing several students during play rehearsals.

When I look back, I realize that my complaints were mostly dismissed.  My mom didn’t take what was happening seriously, nor did my teacher.  I ended up having to go to a trial at 11 years old and testify, in front of a judge, attorneys, and my parents, about where the boy touched me and how many times. And was bullied again by the judicial system that puts victims on trial.

It takes a great deal of courage for children speak out about these kinds of experiences.  When they’re dismissed or made to feel that somehow they’re to blame, they are without resources and often begin internalizing the messages of their bullies.

Here are some stats from the Stop Bullying Now Foundation:

  1. 60% of middle school students say that they have been bullied, while 16% of staff believes that students are bullied.
  2. 160,000 students stay home from school every day due to bullying. (NEA)
  3. 30% of students who reported they had been bullied said they had at times brought weapons to school.
  4. A bully is 6 times more likely to be incarcerated by the age of 24.
  5. A bully is 5 times more likely to have a serious criminal record when he grows up.
  6. 2/3 of students who are targets become bullies.
  7. 20% of all children say they have been bullied.
  8. 20% of high school students say they have seriously considered suicide within the last 12 months.
  9. 25% of students say that teachers intervened in bullying incidents while 71% of teachers say they intervened.
  10. The average child has watched 8,000 televised murders and 100,000 acts of violence before finishing elementary school.
  11. In schools where there are anti-bullying programs, bullying is reduced by 50%.
  12. Bullying was a factor in 2/3 of the 37 school shootings reviewed by the US Secret Service.
  13. Law enforcement costs related to bullying are enormous.  Since 1999, the Office on Violence against Women (OVW) has spent $98 million in assistance to address campus sexual violence. 

But, what about adult bullying?  Did you know that bullying in the workplace is an issue?  Let’s take a look at the characteristics of workplace bullying.

The Workplace Bullying Foundation describes workplace bullying as:  repeated mistreatment including sabotage by others that prevents work from getting done, verbal abuse, threatening conduct, intimidation, or humiliation. 

In the same research study, boss behavior mirrored the adult behavior I experienced in childhood.  Bullied workers report that employers predominantly did nothing to stop the mistreatment when reported (53%) and actually retaliated against the person (in 71% of cases) who dared to report it. 

What about co-workers?  In the same study, targets were asked if co-workers of any rank SAW the mistreatment at least once.  Answer:  95% said “yes”. 

What did (at least one of the) co-workers DO in response to the mistreatment? 

 Answer: 

  •  8% They banded together and confronted the bully as a unit; stopped the bullying.
  • 1% They offered specific advice to the target about what he or she should do to stop it
  • 4% They gave only moral, social support
  • 7% They did and said nothing, not helping either the target or bully
  • 2% They voluntarily distanced themselves from the target, isolating him or her
  • 8% They followed the bully’s orders to stay away from the target
  • 9% They betrayed the target to the bully while appearing to still be friends
  • 7% They publicly sided with the bully and acted aggressively toward the target
  • 5% Not sure

 Additional facts from the study:

 85% of targets were women

73% of co-workers witness the bullying directly

16.5% targets told co-worker what happened

5.1% co-workers saw the target react in ways that they themselves had reacted

 According to the National Institute of Occupational Safety Health (NIOSH) there is a loss of employment amounting to $19 billion and a drop in productivity of $3 billion due to workplace bullying.

 If you are a target of workplace bullying, this page has excellent steps that you can take on behalf of your own well-being.

If you are a co-worker, a parent, a teacher, a boss, human resources or any adult – to someone who is being bullied, this is a time to reflect on where you stand on these issues.  Will you look the other way?  Blame the target?  Hide out of fear of being retaliated against?

 Or, will you take a stand and say any number of words that are pervading our culture right now:  #MeToo, #Enough

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