Professional relationships can be as abusive as personal relationships. All too often, there are those who believe they have power and make demonstrating that power their primary goal. Those who work with them often give all they have, and receive nothing but criticism in return. More will be demanded of them, and less will be offered in return.
And they aren’t the only ones who suffer. Organizations suffer when their employees are not happy. People do not perform well when the best they can expect for the work they do is more abuse and criticism. It affects their health as well as their performance, and they often carry the frustration of their jobs home with them. According to Doctors Gary and Ruth Namie, “[Workplace] bullying is a systematic campaign of interpersonal destruction that jeopardizes your health, your career, the job you once loved.”
Those who abuse their positions of power are bullies – pure and simple. We often think of bullying as something that children do, and all too often, we dismiss it as part of growing up, but some victims do not survive, and some bullies never grow up.
While workplace bullying does sometimes become physical, it’s more often an emotional form of abuse. However, the damage done is always serious. The cuts and bruises that mark a victim of physical abuse are easier to see than the damage caused to a person’s heart and soul through emotional abuse.
And workplace bullying is all too common. According to one study, 49 percent of American employees have either experienced or witnessed it. Until recently, there was no recourse for the victims, but bullying in the workplace is finally receiving more attention, and many states are working on legislation to address the problem.
The Washington State Department of Labor and Industries, for example, has developed a program to help address the problem. They point out that there is a difference between a “demanding” boss and one who bullies. According to their publication, “Workplace Bullying and Disruptive Behavior: What Everyone Needs to Know,” demanding bosses are not bullies if they are respectful, fair, and “their primary motivation is to obtain the best performance by setting high yet reasonable expectations for working safely.” In other words, if there is a lack of respect, if the treatment is unfair, or the expectations are unreasonable, a “tough” boss may be considered a bully.
The publication goes on to list examples of bullying: Unwarranted or invalid criticism, blame without factual justification, treating one employee or one group of employees differently than others, swearing and/or shouting at any employee or group of employees, excluding or isolating an employee, humiliating an employee, excessively monitoring or micro-managing employees, and setting unreasonable and unrealistic expectations are among the types of behavior listed.
All of these show a lack of respect and appreciation, and if this behavior is not addressed, it will lead to high turnover, low performance, and increased health costs for the organization.
If you feel you may be a victim, or if you witness examples of workplace bullying, document the behavior and, if possible, present the information to the highest level person you can reach. If that person is the bully, or if the organization fails to address the situation, start looking for another job.
And all of us should work toward legislation that will provide better resources for dealing with this problem.