Workplace bullying

Recognize and address adult bullying.

It has been two years since Michigan passed Matt’s Safe Schools Law, making it the 48th state to adopt legislation prohibiting bullying at school. There is an increasing awareness that bullying behavior causes serious harm to young people, and Michigan State University Extension programs provide young people and adults with opportunities to explore these issues through the Be SAFE: Safe, Affirming and Fair Environments initiative.

An important aspect of bullying education is to distinguish between bullying and harassment. Harassment is hurtful language and behavior that target a person based on their group membership (race, ethnicity, gender, age, disability and religious differences). Protection from such harassment is a civil right. Bullying is a behavior that targets an individual with repeated, intentional mistreatment. By confusing bullying with serious and illegal forms of harassment, those who are targeted may not understand their right to legal recourse. Hurtful language and behavior that target a person based on a group membership cross the line into harassment, and need to be treated as such.

When bullying occurs in the adult workplace, it is also sometimes confused with harassment. Employees may feel helpless at not being able to defend themselves when the mistreatment they experience is not a civil rights violation. They may be given solutions designed to resolve workplace conflict or disputes that do not fit the situation they are experiencing. Incivility and disagreements can sometimes be addressed with mediation, but bullying is an abusive behavior that involves an imbalance of power. It typically becomes more overt and more frequent over time. Research studies indicate that 40 percent of American workers have experienced workplace bullying at some point in their career. Supervisors are more likely to engage in bullying subordinates, but peer-to-peer bullying is also well documented.

Dignity at Work: Eliminate Bullying and Create and a Positive Working Environment distinguishes five categories of workplace bullying. They are:

  1. Threat to professional status – Includes spreading rumors, belittling, humiliation, intimidating use of discipline or competence procedures.
  2. Threat to personal standing – By undermining personal integrity, using sarcasm and insults.
  3. Isolation – Includes preventing access to opportunities, withholding necessary information, keeping the target out of the loop, ignoring or excluding them.
  4. Overwork – Undue pressure, impossible deadlines, unnecessary disruptions.
  5. Destabilization – Including failure to acknowledge good work, allocation of meaningless tasks, removal of responsibility and setting the target up to fail.

Experts say there is a general lack of awareness about bullying and the types of behaviors the term encompasses. This often prevents people from realizing that a boss or co-worker is a bully. There is also an element of personal shame involved, much like the bullying young people experience. David Yamada, professor at Suffolk University Law School and president of New Workplace Institute, a non-profit that promotes healthy, productive and socially responsible workplaces, has drafted the Healthy Workplace Bill. The Healthy Workplace Bill is legislation that will protect citizens from physical and emotional harm in the workplace. Yamada says it is “ironic that we can talk more openly about wellness programs designed to reduce stress and improve health habits, while sometimes sweeping under the rug work-related conditions — such as bullying — that create a need for them.”

If you are being bullied it is important to report it. To learn more about bullying topics contact myself at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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