Maybe it is the bad economy, but it seems more office environments are experiencing the tyranny of workplace bullies. These are managers who even co-workers who berate and harass other workers for real or perceived slights or acts of incompetence. These office bullies bombard the targeted employee with insults and bad mouth this employee to others in the workplace. In short, they make life hell for the person working there.
This is an ugly thing, and while harassment usually doesn't manifest in actual physical violence, targeted employees succumb to depression and physical ailments as the mere thought of showing up for work and dealing with some bullying jerk is almost too much for them to bear. And at a time when the economy is in a downturn and the job market is tight, many targeted employees don't have the luxury of searching for other work. Even if it is a large sized employer, it is difficult to transfer departments. They are forced to stay put and face it.
While schoolyard bullying has been garnering a lot of attention, lately, office bullying is not nearly the hot button issues. While employees must confront their tormentors on a daily basis, there are few laws or even regulations to protect them. The bullying itself is not illegal, unless it can be tied to discrimination issues. Even for a lawsuit, bullying is difficult to assess as a legal definition of harassment. Most often, if if a target chooses to take legal action, he or she rarely wins the case against an employer.
Meanwhile, at the hands of some jerk, these employees experience anxiety and depression. According to an article in the Detroit Free Press, some say it can lead to heart attacks and even suicide.
According to the article in the Free Press, a 2010 Zogby International Study reports, 35% of workers -- 53 million people -- have experienced bullying firsthand. The study says that 62% of bullies are men, while 58% of targets are women. Women target women 80% of time. It is believed by some that workplace bullies are usually jealous of the target's accomplishments and ambition. In other words, to use a Bob Dylan line, workplace bullies "want to pull you down in the hole that they're in."
Will background checks help weed out the workplace bullies? Maybe and maybe not. As the co-founder of an employment screening company, I would like to say background checks are a great instrument in picking out the bullies from the better behaved. Obviously, criminal records may be an indicator but without actually doing a formal study, this may not be a factor at all. Most bullies are petty people and resort more to sniping than any real physical crimes. Motor Vehicle Driving Records or MVRs, may be an indicator as far as substance abuse issues, but many who have alcohol and drug related problems are not necessary bullies.
So in the end, if you have a workplace bully then you are stuck with the jerk. Or as an employer it is time to warn them or even let them go. For sure, they will not do much for office morale and as individuals they are usually best at being poor examples, all filled with bile and obnoxious behavior.
A drag for the poor employees who have to put up with them.