Is there a monster lurking around your office building? Every morning, you dread going to work. Once there, you feel humiliated and often find yourself yielding to ridiculous demands. But whatever you do never seems good enough. You are afraid to speak up. Instead, your strategy is avoidance. And all that you do is obsess about it to friends and family.
“Workplace bullying is a serious, non-physical form of violence that takes the form of verbal abuse, threats, humiliation or sabotage that prevents the work from getting done,” said Dr. Gary Namie, National Director of the Workplace Bullying Institute and co-author of The Bully At Work. “That puts it into a serious realm and it’s not to be taking lightly.”
If you believe that the “office monster” is out to get you, you are not alone. According to the Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI), over 30 percent or an estimated 53.5 million Americans report being bullied at work. About twenty percent of workplace bullying crosses the line into harassment. Now, you may be asking yourself why me?
In most cases, the “office monster” sees you as a major threat. Maybe it was the special recognition that you earned for producing a major report. Perhaps you became the go-to-person because you learned a new skill or developed a new office procedure. Whatever the case, “the office monster” is focused on making your life miserable. So, how do you kill “the office monster”?
Legally there’s not much that you can do since there are no federal or state laws against workplace bullying. However, things are slowly changing since anti-bullying movements have moved from the playground to Capitol Hill.
“We have been campaigning against workplace bullying for 16 years,” says Dr. Namie. “It took the NFL story to get people to realize that this is a real problem.”
In 2003, WBI introduced the Healthy Workplace Bill “to reward good employers with escape from liability if they take proactive steps to prevent an abusive work environment.” California was the first state to introduce the bill followed by New York. Earlier this month, Tennessee became the 26th state to introduce workplace bullying legislation.
“We have 12 states with 17 bills; but none have passed,” said Dr. Namie. “Businesses don’t want it passed because they don’t want to be held accountable.”
According to WBI, 80 percent of workplace harassment and mistreatment is completely legal. And when employers are told about the bullying in their organizations, over 40 percent do nothing, while 18 percent actually worsen the situation by retaliating against the individual(s) who reported it. And unlike the playground, workplace bullying tactics are more difficult to extinguish.
“We have said no to teasing children in school,” said Dr. Namie. “We also said no to child abuse and domestic violence; and now we need to see workplace bullying as a form of abuse. The only difference is the abuser is on payroll and not at home.”
If you are being bullied at work, WBI recommends a three-step action plan:
(The following list of information was extracted from workplacebullying.org)
Step One - Name it. Legitimize Yourself. People don’t know that they are being abused and they blame themselves, says Dr. Namie.
Step Two - Take Time Off to Heal and Launch a Counterattack. Dr. Namie recommends asking your doctor to write you a note for disability or stress leave. While on leave, says Dr. Namie, we want you to accomplish five important tasks:
- Check your mental health with a professional (not the employer’s EAP).
- Check your physical health. Stress-related diseases rarely carry obvious warning signals (e.g., hypertension - the silent killer).
- Research state and federal legal options (in a quarter of bullying cases, discrimination plays a role). Talk to an attorney. Look for internal policies (harassment, violence, respect) for violations to report (fully expecting retaliation).
- Put dollars and cents to each instance of turnover (at least 2x the salary of the person affected) to include all expenses associated with replacement (recruitment, demoralization from understaffing, interviewing), and absenteeism, and lost productivity from interference by the bullying.
- Start a job search for your next position.
Step Three - Expose the Bully. Schedule an appointment with the highest level manager who you believe also has issues with the bully, says Dr. Namie. Don’t go to HR or the bully’s boss.
- Make the business case that the bully is “too expensive to keep.” Present the data gathered in Step 2.
- Stick to the bottom line. If you drift into tales about the emotional impact of the bully’s harassment, you will be discounted and discredited.
- Give the employer one chance. If they side with the bully because of personal friendship “he’s a great conversationalist and a lunch buddy” or rationalize the mistreatment “you have to understand that that is just how she is”, you will have to leave the job for your health’s sake.
- The nature of your departure — either bringing sunshine to the dark side or leaving shrouded in silent shame — determines how long it takes you to rebound and get that next job, to function fully and to restore compromised health. Tell everyone about the petty tyrant for your health’s sake.
“You will be fighting an uphill battle,” said Dr. Namie. “But the main reason that you do it is to protect yourself and to have your mental health intact.”