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Bullying: It's not just a playground problem, it's happening at work

Newlywed, new mom and first-time home buyer, Sarah is currently playing out her exciting life in Phoenix, Arizona. She recently gave up her job in finance to stay at home with her baby girl, who between bath time and feeding time, keeps ...

Are you being bullied?

Bullying isn’t just something kids deal with; adults all across the U.S. are being bullied on a daily basis — in the comfort of their own offices.

Woman bullied at work

Let’s start with the facts. An estimated 53.5 million Americans report being bullied at work — that’s 35 percent of the workforce. Clearly, being bullied at work isn’t quite the same as being bullied when you were a kid, but it’s close. Let’s uncover exactly what it means to be bullied and what you can do to help stop it.

Bullying at work defined

The Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI) defines being bullied at work as "repeated, health-harming mistreatment of one or more persons by one or more perpetrators by verbal abuse, offensive behavior or threats, or interference with the work getting done." Bullying is a form of control in which the targeted person is at risk of losing her job, experiencing a decline in health and losing friends.

What does bullying look like?

Lynette, who has encountered bullying at work firsthand, recounts her experience. "The bookkeeper at my office job felt she needed a victim at work. When we would pass in the 3-foot-wide hallways, for example, she would plow through the middle, forcing me to back up against the wall. She was also verbally abusive and never had a smile to spare. I tolerated this for 18 months before deciding life was too short to put up with this any longer," she shares.

Signs you’re being bullied at work include:

  • You fear going to work the next day
  • You're extremely stressed, to the point where you’re physically ill
  • You start to no longer enjoy life outside of work because work is all you tend to think about
  • You’re humiliated at work by your boss or coworkers
  • You begin to believe nothing you do is "good enough"
  • You’re constantly criticized or yelled at

What can be done?

Bullying is harder to deal with than you may think. Going to the HR department may not change anything whatsoever (though it’s always smart to make the bullying known). If you’re being harassed in the workplace — which normally implies sexual harassment — there are laws in place to prevent that from continuing. With bullying, it’s more of a gray area.

Lynette knew she needed to take action in her situation. "I began to keep a journal of incidents, date and time, and six months later used that journal as an attachment to my letter of resignation. My boss was shocked when he read the journal, but being that he was close to the bookkeeper (she was his best friend’s wife), he didn’t fire her. I knew I had to exit the situation as my own solution," Lynette states.

Tips on stopping a bully

Again, even though there are no laws against bullying, always go to your supervisor and the HR department so they’re aware of the problem. Other tips include:

  • Don’t give the bully any ammunition to bully you. Don’t share personal information or work goals with the bully.
  • Keep an ongoing journal of when, where and how you are being bullied.
  • Stand up to the bully. Though this is much easier said than done, let him or her know that what he or she is doing offends you, and give specific examples. Let it be known that you do not tolerate this kind of treatment, and it must not continue moving forward.
  • Seek support. Whether it’s through helpful websites or a counselor, it’s vital that you talk through and share what you’re going through.

Remember that if you are being bullied, you’re not alone. You have a right to feel safe in the workplace, and no one should cause you to feel differently.

More on the workplace

5 Ways to nurture work relationships
5 Ways to beat workplace anxiety
13 Co-workers you hate

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