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Feb 23 2011

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Wisdom at Work: Bullying can drag down morale

By Aliana Apodaca, EL Paso Times

I can still remember Angie as if it were yesterday. With her teased beehive hairdo, long bangs and budding teenage figure, she carried her 4-foot-5 frame as if she were 6 feet tall.

She might have been the shortest girl in the eighth grade class, but she was the leader of the pack — the alpha dog — and she made it clear to everyone.

That day, I had upset her because one of the boys in our Catholic school class had paid a little too much attention to me. Coming back from recess, she strutted down the aisle of desks and as she passed by me, slapped my arm with her hair comb and hissed a foul name at me. The bully had made herself known.

Bullying in our schools has been present in the media. But what about workplace bullying? Does it exist? You betcha!

That bully in elementary school? You can probably find them in your office. Thirty-five percent of the U.S. work force report having been bullied at some point in their career, according to the 2010 Workforce Bullying Institute Survey.

Bullying can drag down your company morale and can be costly. Just for starters, think about higher turnover, lower productivity, more sick days and more workers’ compensation claims.

What does bullying at work look like?

Here is a partial list

to consider:

– Spreading malicious rumors.

– Screaming, yelling or using profanity.

– Tantrums, verbal abuse.

– Public humiliation.

– Sabotage.

– Insults, threats.

– Ostracizing.

– Underutilizing — creating a feeling of uselessness,

– Criticizing a person persistently.

– Belittling a person’s opinions.

– Assigning unreasonable duties or workload that are unfavorable to one person.

– Constantly changing work guidelines.

Nearly two-thirds of the reported workplace bullies are male, but YES — women can be bullies as well. In fact, women at work are more likely to be bullied by another woman than by a man.

Let’s look at the possible evolution of my classmate Angie. From playground to school to the work force, she probably progressed to a team supervisor. Gradually she controls the work environment through intimidation, public shame and cut downs. Invisible to the higher levels of leadership, employees assume the company condones this behavior and the power of the bully grows. The bully targets employees — plays nice with some but not others. He or she talks over certain employees in meetings, dismisses their ideas or opinions, and publicly ridicules their work. You can identify workplace bullies by their constant need for admiration and their lack empathy for the needs of others.

I never confronted my first bully, and I learned from it. Don’t swallow the shame and humiliation. For your own self-esteem and dignity, it is important to address the bully. Recognize that you are being bullied and know it is not your fault. It is, however, up to you to stop it. Document the specific actions of the bully. For example: She yelled and slammed the report on my desk. Talk to human resources and obtain information on how they want to handle bullying. You will want to expose the bully by filing a formal complaint.

Ideally what we all need are companies that discourage bullying by making civility a part of the corporate culture. Top leadership needs to take the lead, speaking kindly to employees, showing respect and encouraging communication. Bullying and the lack of civility have reached epidemic proportions. There is pending legislation that needs your support. See healthyworkplacebill.org

What I know for sure is life is short and precious. At the end of the day we all — each and every one of us — deserve civility, dignity and respect. The key question: Do you give this generously? I know I can personally improve. How about you?


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