Have You Been the Victim of Workplace Bullying?

Many of us may have a childhood memory of being bullied on the playground or at school. We'd like to think that as we grow into adulthood, those types of problems fade away. Yet unfortunately, workplace bullying seems to be alive and "kicking" in today's workforce.

Workplace bullying is the tendency of individuals or groups to use persistent aggressive or unreasonable behavior against a co-worker or subordinate and the abuse displayed may be verbal, non verbal, psychological, or physical.

A tough economy may be making matters worse. People are under an enormous amount of stress and expectations for worker productivity are high, despite the fact that employees are being forced to do more with less. Managers are under pressure to get work done through their teams, and subordinates may be fearful that if they complain about inappropriate management practices they will lose their jobs.

According to Diane M. Pfadenhauer, an attorney and President of Employment Practices Advisors, Inc., "many bullies are 'equal opportunity bullies' who threaten or abuse people regardless of gender, race, etc. While it is not illegal to bully, it is generally a violation of company policy and something that employers need to pay attention to."

Unfortunately, sometimes bullying is tolerated by employers, especially if there is no legal obligation to address it and the employee in question is a strong performer. The Workplace Bullying Institute reports that as of Labor Day, 2009, 54.6% of employees did nothing after receiving complaints from victims of bullying and 28.2% of bullies were even promoted or rewarded, despite these complaints. But according to Pfadenhauer, if the employee's complaint that he/she is being bullied is not addressed, the employee may chose to make a discrimination complaint instead and have enough evidence to support it. This can lead to a formal investigation which results in expensive legal fees, a disruption in the workplace, and the loss of productivity.

Bullying can take the form of the obvious (such as being berated in front of colleagues, being gossiped about, or being the target of office pranks) to the not so obvious (not being included in important meetings, not having your phone calls or emails returned, or getting the silent treatment from co-workers or supervisors). Any of these actions can have a detrimental effect on employees. According to the Workplace Bullying Institute survey, 45% of those bullied suffer stress-related health problems.

If you think you are being bullied at work, review the company's employee handbook. Most companies have a code of conduct statement that outlines the company's expectations for fair treatment of employees. By working with the company human resources representative, you may be able to have your issue addressed. If this first step does not lead to resolution, you may have no choice but to file a formal complaint.

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