I read this amazing article yesterday on one of my favorite blogs (glassdoor.com).  Take a quick look at the survey that was conducted by AOL - According to an AOL Jobs Survey,”22 percent of the respondents have personally felt threatened or bullied at work. Of those, 57 percent state it was from their manager, while 47 percent say it was from a peer, and 79 percent say that the abuse they experienced was verbal. Twenty-five percent have witnessed someone being bullied at work. Out of those people who witnessed it, 59 percent reported it."


This marks one of the growing trends in the workplace due to the continued unemployment across the US marketplace.  Bullying per say has always been an issue, from the boss down, we have all heard the stories about who and when someone has been forced into something that was against policy through such actions.  But now, the behavior and the frequency has changed.  Some people believe there are several reasons, my focus is on one.  Unemployment. There is a sense of desperation surrounding almost every company environment in the US.  When will the next cut be?  Will I have a job tomorrow?  Who is going to stab me in the back and cost me my job?  These feelings, these environments, breed resentment in people and cause a long term cultural spiral downward that includes bullying.  People will do anything to keep their job, and that means anything.


Bullying sounds adolescent, but the truth is that the behavior is very similar.  From mouthing off, to group bullying, etc. - the actions are identical causing people to conform back to their child hood ways.  And if someone was the product of being bullied as a child, then that pattern can repeat itself in the workplace causing a negative work environment for that professional.  In the same manner which it causes negativity for the one, it causes a sense of security for the person performing the action.  I am in no way supporting the action, but the action becomes understandable when you see the root cause.  People are looking for security and that causes professionals to do very odd things and act out just as a child would do.  So what to do?


Most companies have a formalized policy manual specifically discussing the topic and a process for reporting it.  But look at the downward trend - managers are the largest group of professional abusers.  This in turn leads to a lower turn out of people reporting the abuse for the fear that was listed above.  Companies must create a sense of comfort as well as an internal reporting system that tracks these incidents regardless if they are formally reported.  The company internal security force, camera systems, and HR are a good place to start.  Combining them and getting them working on the same page can begin the process of creating a culture of safety and removing such actions from the workplace.



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Comment by Sandra McCartt on January 25, 2011 at 3:26pm

And then comes the definition and the art of deciding exactly what is bullying.  To some folks it means even a touch of frustration in someone's voice that makes them feel funny.  I heard a somewhat funny story about a bullying complaint last week.


The tax department of a big company is in a push, their people are working a lot of overtime right now.  Due to the overtime the VP of tax told his managers and directors to order in dinner for the troops.  Sounds like a nice gesture and a needed one right.  Seems that the troops started at 9:00 AM talking about what they were going to order for dinner.  All kinds of time and discussion started taking place to determine what the evening's fare would be.  One of the managers finally sent a memo to everybody to quit spending so much time worrying about what they were going to have for dinner.


The manager was sitting in the VP's office going over some complicated tax provisions.  A supervisor intruded into the conversation all upset because the word was they were not going to be able to send out for dinner.  She was told, yes we will but we will decide about four instead of spending half a day and 40 emails making a decision.  Five minutes later here came another supervisor wanting to know what the deal was that they were not going to be able to send out for dinner.  Same answer.  Five minutes later a staff person knocked on the door with an urgent question that intruded on a tax discussion.  Her question, Why are we not going to be able to order dinner, everybody is upset!.


The manager lost it.  She stood up, raised her voice and said, "What is the matter with you people and what is it with you and food?"  We are only working until 7:00 or at the latest 8:00".  "Are you going to die if you have to eat a little later than normal?"  The staffer filed a complaint that she was being bullied.


Was it, of course not.  Was the manager a bit short due to the number of interruptions and the focus on food?  Of course.


End result.  The manager sent out a memo that she would order out for food each day.  She would make the decision as to what and where it would come from.  Dinner would be brought in at 5:00. If anyone had any dietary restrictions due to health problems or religious concerns to please let her know.  The result, a complaint was filed that employees were not being given input into selection of dinner when they were working overtime.


Sometimes it's difficult to determine exactly what is bullying and what is a sharp remark due to frustration.  Bullying may be many times in the eye of the beholder.  It certainly exists and needs to be addressed but also has to assessed objectively.

Comment by Jason Monastra on January 25, 2011 at 6:17pm
That is insane and I am going to use that on my blog....I cannot begin to understand how people miss the point.  There appears to be an entitlement mentality that has broken out vs. blood, sweat, and tears that got this country atop the world.  Now it is all about me, money, and more me.  Add in the litigous society we now live in where everything can be filed as a complaint and there you are - the story you just told.  To me the whole thing is a mess, and there should have been complaints about the use of email for non-work purposes and people not handling their job responsibilities.  Much less the lack of professional discipline to control themselves and not interupt a meeting between managers.  But those would be too high of expectations given the environment you described.


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