Workplace Bullying Is The Silent Epidemic

Bullying in the workplace is the "silent epidemic," says Lynne Curry, author of the new book, Beating The Workplace Bully: A Tactical Guide To Taking Charge. How big an epidemic? According to a nationwide 2014 survey by the Workplace Bullying Institute, nearly 66 million American adults either suffer or witness "abusive conduct" during their workday.

Curry explains that workplace bullying may include:
  • Verbal bullying
  • Physical bullying
  • Situational bullying
Today, Curry, once a target herself, answered my questions about what I read in the book.

Question: Which type of bullying in the workplace is the most common of these three types: verbal, physical, situational?

CurryVerbal bullying, carried out by those we commonly think of when we think of bullying, is by far the most common form of bullying seen in the workplace.

The lawsuits that have been won are generally, however, won because the bully bullied physically.
At least one Court ruled against a company in which management engaged in situational bullying.

When we think of bullying, we often think of the “angry aggressive jerk.” The AAJ is only one of 7 types of bullies. Two other types, the “shape shifter” or the workplace Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde and the “character assassin” often engage in situational bullying. 
QuestionWhat are the subtle ways a boss bullies an employee?

Curry: Bosses subtly bully employees by:
  • Denying leave requests.
  • Making subtly snide comments about or to the employees in meetings or emails.
  • Giving employees huge projects just before quitting time.
  • Making unreasonable demands.
  • Giving employees busy work.
The last three behaviors above can also be the mark of an ineffective boss.

QuestionNowadays we hear a lot about bullying in schools. Why don't we hear much at all about bullying in the workplace?

Curry: There are many reasons we don’t hear about workplace bullying:
  • With the recession, a lot of employees are biting their tongues.
  • HR considers bullying a “hot potato” as there are few state and no federal laws against bullying and often bullies are highly placed individuals.
  • CEOs and senior executives often grant bullies an “exemption” because bullies rarely bully senior managers or CEOs and are highly productive.
  • Witnesses often think they have “no skin in the game” and it’s not their fight.
  • Targets wonder what they’ve done to provoke the bullying and grow so demoralized they don’t protest.
  • Targets fear retaliation by the bully if they bring the issue to the bully’s, HR’s or a manager’s attention. 

Curry says there are four ways leaders can create a bully-free work environment:

  1. Don't ignore the warning signs.
  2. Set the tone (model respect; listen to and address voiced concerns; encourage open, confidential reporting).
  3. Establish an anti-bullying policy.
  4. Create a viable grievance channel.

Curry is President of The Growth Company, Inc., an employee training, management, and human resources consulting firm.

Thanks to the book publisher for sending me an advance copy of the book.


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