Bullying is the incessant inappropriate behavior that undermines a person’s right to dignity and respect at work. It can be committed by one or more persons and can be aimed equally at individuals or groups, in an attempt to make the victims feel inferior to other people or to gain an aura of faux-superiority.
Bullying can take many forms. Examples include verbal bullying, physical bullying or, the now increasingly prominent, cyber bullying. The growth of cyber bullying has had serious ramifications on the wider American workplace. It is predominantly carried out through the medium of the internet on mobile phones or computers, using, but not exclusive to, social networking sites, email and texts.
Bullying is perceived as an opaque concept that over sensitive people point to in the face of teasing or “workplace banter”. However the realities of bullying in America cannot be understated, the effects are quite simply detrimental, not only to the mental and physical well-being of the everyday American employee but equally to the productivity of any budding business.
Examples of this deplorable practice are Social exclusion and isolation, damaging someone’s reputation by purveying gossip or rumours, Intimidation, use of aggressive or obscene language and repeated requests with impossible tasks or targets. In actuality, the effects of these venomous practices are drastic.
Bullying stigmatizes the archetypal American employee and leads to a depleted workforce morale. Studies reflect that when bullying rates are high, both enthusiasm and participation rates are low. This has an undeniable effect on the success of both small and large businesses.
In 2005, the Expert Advisory Group on Workplace Bullying filed a report on the prevalence of bullying. The statistics are not only startling but they are frankly worrying for the American business environment. The report found that bullying is becoming an increasing problem in most workplaces and one that, if not remedied quickly, is potentially catastrophic for companies nationwide.
The survey found that a practice they dubbed “mobbing” was used by superiors to belittle those lower down the corporate chain regularly and it inadvertently had negative effects on workplace productivity. Mobbing means bullying of an individual by a group in any context, in modern times however it has become commonplace in the workplace.
The modern employee can be strangled by a host of issues. A boss publicly humiliating them in a meeting before their co-workers. A proverbial secretary gossiping about them in the lunchroom spreading rumours about their competence. A co-worker deliberately withholding crucial information needed to complete a successful project for his/her own interests.
All of these are, even if unintentional, forms of workplace bullying and is often the variable holding back businesses from fulfilling their potential. Reports from the International Labor Organization propose these claims, stating that “workplace bullying has become so widespread that it represents the greatest threat to success in the workplace in the new millennium.”
According to David Maxfield, co-author of the books Crucial Conversations and Influencer, 96% of American employees experience or have experienced bullying in the workplace. The nature of the bullying, when compared to previous types of bullying is vastly different, Maxfield affirms that “In the 70’s, it was fisticuffs,” while playfully bemusing that “[he] doesn’t think that’s happening at Facebook.”
In 2014 Maxfield, in conjunction with VitalSmarts released a study on this negative, yet common phenomenon. Researchers analyzed the responses of 2,283 people, and the results surprised even Maxfield:
“96% of respondents say they have experienced workplace bullying.” “89% of those bullies have been at it for more than a year.” “54% have been bullying for more than five years.” “80% of bullies affect five or more people.” These statistics are reprehensible and unfortunately, indicative of the modern American work experience. One of the statistics that was most shocking to Maxfield was the multiple forms bullying took.
The study looked at three categories: sabotaging of others’ work or reputations; browbeating, threats, or intimidation; and physical intimidation or assault. Maxfield was equally perturbed by “how long [the bullying] had gone on” given that it is such a negative for employers. His findings are startling when you consider the effects this has on a working environment, how do we expect employees to flourish if their superiors and/or coworkers are berating them constantly?
Furthermore, the survey also discussed trends in bullying that would surprise the majority of Americans. Of the survey respondents, “62% saw sabotaging of others’ work or reputations,” “52% saw browbeating, threats, or intimidation,” and “4% saw physical intimidation of assault.” as the fulcrum of bullying in the workplace. Maxfield concludes that “[bullying] is moving from threats of physical violence to threats of termination”.
As the workplace becomes post-industrial, we see bullying becoming a means to exert psychological prowess over co-workers rather than physical intimidation. Also of those surveyed “51% say their company has a policy for dealing with bullies, and only 7% know of anyone who has ever used that policy.” which is undoubtedly a damning indictment of the American business model.
Organizations such as Mitrefinch, a Massachusetts-based leader in Time and Attendance Solutions, take a zero tolerance approach to bullying in the workplace. Bullying is monitored closely and can be reported anonymously. Many US companies have adopted the approach of zero tolerance.
To surmise, some 20% of survey responders reported that workplace bullying cost them upwards of seven hours of productive work a week, which the study valued at $8,800 in lost annual wages. “Silence is not golden, silence is permission.”