Bullies in the workplace are getting national attention, as victims of this intimidating and aggressive behavior are finally taking a stand and fighting back. Workplace bullying is the repeated, health-harming mistreatment of one or more persons, by one or more perpetrators that takes place in the forms of verbal abuse, offensive conduct or work interference. This type of behavior can not only take a toll on victims' psyche, but can severely damage their work performance.
In a 2007 poll 37% of American adults reported being bullied at work without any invitation or provocation. Some of the more common methods bullies use are criticizing coworkers, "forgetting" to include fellow employees in important conversations, stealing credit for others' work and speaking poorly of other employees. In its most intense forms, bullying can trigger a host of stress-related health complications such as hypertension, auto-immune disorders, depression, anxiety and PTSD.
Employees who are targeted by workplace bullies are usually some of the brightest and highest-contributing members of the companies they work for, due to the perceived threat that they pose. As the economy has eroded amid the current recession, workplace competition has been on the rise and bullying has become more prevalent. Another contributing factor to the rise in workplace bullying is the decline of organized labor. Labor unions provided a defense against abusive supervisors and coworkers, but as union membership has fallen from 35% in the 1950's to less than 13% today, unions have become less aggressive and productive in combating these issues.
The most unfortunate part of this national problem is that bullied and abused employees generally have no legal options for legal solutions. Workers who are abused based on their race, nationality, religion and sometimes even weight, have some level of civil rights laws to back up their claims. However, meanness and taunting middle school behavior are not recognized by the law. In 2003 California made the nation's first attempt at an anti-bullying legislation, when the California State Employees Association co-sponsored the Healthy Workplace Bill. Alas, no hearing was scheduled and the bill died in the committee.
Although there is current discussion of potential bills that could combat and counteract workplace bullying, at this moment in time employees have to fight their own battles. It is recommended that victims of this type of abuse document their exact situation, with specific dates and incidences. Get supervisors and/or the human resources department involved.
Sadly, it is sometimes the supervisor or HR representative that does the bullying. If this is the case and you are unable to leave your position, either refer to the age-old "sticks and stones" mentality, or contact a lawyer who, depending on your state of affairs, may be able to help you form a case against your bully or your employer.