On the Job: Bullying can shove its way from playground to workplace
In the documentary "Bully," filmmakers followed the lives of five students who were bullied on a daily basis.
Many people identified with the kids who were taunted and called names by school peers, and the film often evoked unpleasant memories for adults who recalled being bullied at school.
Unfortunately, bullying doesn't end on the playground,"Bully" producer and writer Cynthia Lowen, says.
Many adults are victims of bullying bosses or co-workers. And, just like in school, many peers stand by and watch it happen without intervening.
"There needs to be a lot more education about this issue in the workplace," she says. "We can't just put zero-tolerance policies in place in school or the workplace without having a comprehensive understanding about bullying."
For example, many people may believe that only the bullying target is made to suffer, but a recent government study of bullying in Swedish workplaces shows that that bullying also harmed witnesses. Specifically, women who were witnesses to the bullying saw an increase of about 33 percent in clinical depression while male witnesses experienced about a 16 percent increase.
"Bystanders and the whole organization are involved in the process of bullying behavior, and, in turn, intervention programs should be focused on the whole workplace system," researchers from Sweden's Institute of Environmental Medicine say .
Lowen says most of us as children tried bullying. Those who felt badly about their behavior stopped.
But children who had success as bullies, such as getting what they wanted when they bullied someone else, continue their bullying throughout their childhoods and eventually into the workplace, she says.
"But in the workplace, the stakes are much higher, especially if the person doing the bullying is the boss," she says. "If the person is in power, it may mean that you're not included in email or you lose out on a job or promotion."
A recent CareerBuilder survey finds that 35 percent of workers say they have been bullied at work, an increase from the 27 percent reported last year. Nearly half of those workers say their bosses are the ones doing the bullying, and the most common forms of bullying were being falsely blamed for mistakes or ignored.
Lowen is the author of a new book with Cindy Miller called The Essential Guide to Bullying: Prevention and Intervention (ALPHA, $15.95). Lowen says they try to offer several suggestions on how to deal with workplace bullying, such as:
• Teaching conflict resolution. Employees should be trained on how to give appropriate negative feedback and be respectful.
Inappropriate behavior should be confronted and dealt with immediately.
• Knowing what it looks like. Employees should be encouraged to talk about bullying behavior in the workplace.
While it may not be the taunts and shoves associated with schoolyard bullying, the put-downs and deliberate isolation of an employee are indications of bullying behavior that should be identified and stopped.
• Emphasizing individual strengths. Sometimes those lowest on the career ladder in the workplace are the targets of bullies.
But if all employees are allowed to develop their skills and shown respect for their contributions, they're more likely to be self-confident and not become the target.
Those who are bullying targets often are so miserable that they quit their jobs or are forced to leave because they've developed physical ailments related to the stress of being bullied and can no longer work, reports the Workplace Bullying Institute. The problem is especially acute for single working parents, it says.
Lowen says she herself was the victim of some bullying in school although not to the degree that the children in her film received.
"I think we're just beginning to understand how pervasive bullying really is," she says, "and that it can follow us from school into the workplace."
Anita Bruzzese can be reached c/o Gannett ContentOne, 7950 Jones Branch Drive, McLean, Va. 22107