Throughout the past two years, LaBovick Law Group has taken on more and more matters involving workplace bullying. There are a number of problems involving this type of bullying:
There is no real legal designation for the act of “bullying.” The definition of bullying sounds obvious on its face: generally, bullying is one person’s aggressive behavior pattern focused on another person or smaller minority group. The aggression can be physical, verbal, nonverbal, psychological, and can include humiliation and denigration.
The big problem is that in a school yard, kids have no authority to bully each other. Each child is directed by their teachers to “play nice” with the other children. So, there is no component of higher authority supporting the act of bullying. But that is not the case in the workplace. Bullying can easily and often does operate within the actual mandate of authority and direction given from the higher levels of the corporate body. Workers are hired to do a job. Doing that job will take time, mental energy, physical energy and discipline. There are literally countless books written on the subject of proper management and best practices. But even with all those resources, management often is off the mark and believes that the only way to get workers to do the job is to motivate them with what they might term as “negative attention” and what we will call “workplace bullying.”
So, when does a boss who talks loudly about a worker’s efforts become a bully? When does criticism become caustic and step over the line? If it is true that the sensibilities of one person differ significantly from the sensibilities of another, and that both of those people can act within relatively normal parameters, isn’t it also true that one person can feel terribly bullied by a tough boss, while the other is completely fine with that boss’s behavior?
That leads us back to the definition of bullying. It appears we need to understand that bullying relies not on the victim’s perception but rather on the intent of the person doing the negative action. There are experts who define workplace bullying as an action taken with mal-intent toward a singular employee. In other words, the bullying moniker is reliant on the bully saying that they were trying to be bullies or within facts that do not allow us to imagine any other reasonable motivation beyond wanting to bully.
Since we are only concerned about employment-related bullying, can workplace bullying happen between coworkers or only supervisors to subordinates? Isn’t it often the case that one coworkers does not appreciate another and is a bully in the lunchroom? While that is considered “bullying at the workplace”, a legal definition, “workplace bullying” is only used when the bullying is between a supervisor and a subordinate. Workplace bullying is a new legal term of art used by employees who have had a legal violation of their rights.
I recently worked with bullying expert Gary Namie. He feels that workplace bullying should be limited to repeated behavior patterns that tend to cause harm to the mental or physical health of an employee. The negative behavior would be verbal abuse, threats, humiliation, intimidation or even behavior that intentionally sabotages the employee's work product or social network. The interesting thing about Gary’s analysis, as well as other workplace bullying experts, is that behavior can’t be a single episode of anger. It must be a repeated or persistent behavior that creates a work environment that undermines the culture of harmony in the workplace. Within some definitions, there is no requirement of supervisor to employee. Many simply indicate there must be a power disparity between the bully and the bullied.
Can you believe that:
- More than 13% of all workers in the United States are currently being bullied.
- 24% of US workers have been bullied in the past.
- Shockingly, almost half (49%) of all workers believe they have been impacted in some way by bullying.
There have even been studies on how aggressive management and workplace bullying harms job satisfaction and productivity. Those studies state that almost 75% of the American workforce is affected by behavior. That is tantamount to our definition of workplace bullying. It is obvious that the workforce of America feels that workplace bullying is a problem.
But what do bullies actually do in the workplace? Certainly there is not much physical bullying. Is there a lot of name calling? What about other things that we define as legal violations, like sexual harassment and sexual discrimination, or discrimination at any level? Is that also a form of bullying? Certainly it is like workplace bullying because it allows the person in power to harm the subordinate. But workplace bullying is more “professional” in nature. Generally, workplace bullying attacks the foundation of a person’s job, including things like separation or isolation of an employee from other employees, disrespecting the individual employee by using verbal abuse or disrespectful language, overworking an individual and devaluing their personal life, micromanaging and denigrating the work product of an individual, stealing credit when another individual does the work, preventing an individual to have access to an opportunity, and downgrading the individual’s ability to accomplish a task.
Workplace bullying is real. It can cause significant damages to workers as well as workplace morale. Don’t allow yourself to be bullied. Stand up for your rights.