Sixty-eight year-old Karen Klein was just doing her job helping and protecting middle school children getting to and from school safely. On June 18, she was the one who needed protection as 7th graders taunted her to tears.
Here’s the thing: Bullies on the bus often grow up to be bullies in the office. The number of employees affected by workplace bullying is staggering, with significant impact on their emotional and physical health.
As a psychologist, I understand bullies pretty well. They tend to be narcissistic, egocentric, miserable people who revel in exerting their will on others. The truth is that they have gotten away with this behavior for a long time – probably since they were on the bus.
Interestingly, if asked, most bullies would adamantly deny being so categorized. They have very low emotional intelligence and generally speaking fail to see how their behavior harms others. In fact, they see their behavior in a positive light because it leads to their desired results. In their mind, what is wrong with getting one’s way?
To be fair, the bully is not entirely to blame. It is often the case that his behavior has been allowed to continue unchecked for years. In fact, the culture of the workplace may not only tolerate such behavior, it may reinforce it.
Consider this story: I once coached a plant manager who was completely – and rightfully – confused when his boss told him that he would be fired if he didn’t stop yelling and throwing his hard hat at employees. In talking to me he said, “I don’t get it. I’ve been with this company for 20 years and been promoted through the ranks because they could count on me to kick butt and whip employees into shape. Now they’re telling me that I’m supposed to change.” I would be confused, too.
While I’ve certainly had success working with bullies, I can tell you that it usually takes considerable time and effort to help such individuals change their behavior. And, I find that organizations are far too slow to pull the trigger when there is little improvement. To that end, if you work with or for a bully, you best think about how to take care of yourself. Here’s how:
- Document it. Save e-mails and phone messages, and keep a journal of the bullying behavior with as much detail as possible, including, who else might have been present at the time. This evidence will protect you and serve to build a case should that be necessary.
- Report it. The most appropriate response to workplace bullying is to report it to the human resources department immediately. Unfortunately, in many companies, little action is taken — and if any, too late. I was recently told about an employee who upon reporting an incident to his HR manager was told: “Stop whining and be a man.” I tend to believe this story, as it was the HR manager herself who told me. If bullied by a co-worker, you may also consider telling your manager. Should your manager be the one doing the bullying, you may want to report it to his or her boss.
- Take care of yourself. Understand that being bullied can take a tremendous toll on your health. Whether you are dealing with physical, psychological, or emotional issues, seek professional help. Since bullying almost always increases one’s stress level, activities such as exercise, yoga, and meditation may be well advised. It is also important that you seek social support from family, friends, spiritual leaders, and, if appropriate, work colleagues.
- Take a stand. My mother always said, “You get what you put up with.” As an example, on the first day of his new job a friend of mine was publicly berated by his boss. He pulled his boss aside and said, “Don’t you ever speak to me that way again.” And, he never did. Bullies respect people who stand up for themselves; of course, they are likely to find others to prey on. By the way, if you have the chance, stand up for someone who can’t stand up for themselves.
- Consult an attorney. Workplace bullying is a form of harassment and you deserve to know your rights and options – especially if you are fired or are considering quitting because of the situation.
There will always be bullies on the bus and at work. I am hopeful, however, that one day bullying will be taken as seriously as sexual harassment. In the meantime, protect yourself.
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Originally published on MonsterThinking