What Is Workplace Bullying?
Workplace bullying is defined as persistent, hostile verbal and nonverbal aggression that victims perceive as efforts to harm, control or drive them from the workplace. These actions include yelling, threatening, gossiping, ridicule, social ostracism and public humiliation. Aside from simple personality conflicts at work, workplace bullying must occur regularly (e.g. daily or weekly) and be ongoing for at least six months.
Workplace bullying also includes a real or perceived imbalance of professional power (e.g. supervisor/subordinate dynamic) according to Dr. Pamela Lutgen-Sandvik, professor at the University of New Mexico. The worst part about workplace bullying is that it is perfectly legal!
The Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI) states that one in ten professionals will experience workplace bullying or abuse in their career. Within that statistic, African American employees report workplace bullying more than Caucasian employees. Even though workplace bullies can be both genders, women report being bullied at work more than men.
What that means is Black women are most vulnerable to being bullied at work. There are two obvious reasons for this including, racism and sexism. However, racially-based bullying is difficult to prove when the bully is also a member of the same race or gender.
Because of internalizing racism, sexism, and other forms of mistreatment, African Americans, especially women, are more prone to cardiovascular issues such as high blood pressure. In addition, doctors state that victims of workplace bullying reported anxiety, depression, suicidal ideation and symptoms similar to posttraumatic stress disorder.
How To Deal With Workplace Bullying
Does this mean that you should throw up your hands and quit if you are a victim? Even though most victims of workplace bullying find relief from resigning or transferring, you must find a solution that is best for you. The best ways to fight workplace bullying are to:
Document your experiences: There is an adage that “if it is not documented…it didn’t happen”. In proving workplace bullying, workplace harassment, or a hostile work environment, you need to have your experiences and the corresponding dates documented in writing.
Contact your union or human resources department: The purpose of a union is to assist professionals with their labor issues. The human resources (HR) office serves that function as well. It is important to contact these offices so your grievances are documented and officially filed. One colleague I know utilized her teacher’s union to request professional mediation between herself and the bully. The mediation worked wonders! Even if you do not feel that the union/HR office helped you personally, your claims may be the documentation that helps start a paper trail on the bully in your office!
Seek an attorney: If the union or HR office is not helpful, consider seeking an attorney for advice. One colleague I know utilized the low cost Legal Shield (www.legalshield.com) service for assistance. The attorney wrote a letter to her manager to stop the harassment, which worked. In addition, for racially motivated abuse, you should also contact your local chapter of the NAACP.
Consider counseling: Life after workplace bullying is not all roses. Research suggests that victims of workplace bullying may become vulnerable to similar abuse in their future jobs. Because of this, therapy to reconstruct the experience of being bullied in the workplace can be very helpful. Victims of workplace bullying may need to understand that the bullying was not their fault or due to their lack of professionalism. In addition, some victims of workplace abuse just need to build their self-esteem and confidence, so they can be productive in their new endeavors.
Coping in the Meantime
In my dissertation research titled Workplace Bullying: The Lived Experiences of Educators, most of my participants coped with their abuse in the following ways:
Relying on a higher power can helped the victims of workplace bullying improve their faith and gain strength that “this too shall pass”.
Talking to others
Talking to trusted friends and family members helped the victims of workplace bullying feel supported socially. However, one rule of thumb is to not discuss your feelings and experiences with coworkers who could go back and report your discussions to the bully!
Seeking assistance from advocacy groups
The participants in my study found relief by seeking assistance through advocacy groups like The Workplace Bullying Institute and the National Association for the Prevention of Teacher Abuse. One participant even started a blog about her experiences and gained online support to help end workplace bullying.
You can help with the effort in making healthy workplaces the law! Please help enact the healthy workplace bill here.
Deidra A. Sorrell, Ed.D., is a school psychologist and licensed professional counselor. Dr. Sorrell works with Utopia Health Services in Bowie, Maryland. For more on workplace bullying, visit her blog.