By Christiane Soto,

Since the beginning of the year, the issue around workplace bullying has literally jumped off the radar and into everyone’s stream of consciousness.  Questions have been raised about whether or not employees need legal protections against bullying in the workplace.

But what is workplace bullying?  The issues around bullying are well-known to educators, who have developed well-documented action plans for students to use to protect and positively assert themselves. However, the phenomenon of bullying does not simply go away because one is granted a diploma.

According to the 2010 Workplace Bullying Institute survey, 35% of workers reported being bullied at work:

  • 62% of bullies are men; 38% of bullies are women
  • Women bully other women in 80% of the cases
  • 68% of bullying is same-gender harassment

But who is a bully?  The composite of a typical workplace bully does vary a bit from the schoolyard bully.  Remember, the workplace is a very different environment.  Here, the assumption is that that we all know how to “play well” with our peers.  The workplace is not always warm and fuzzy; it is an environment where everyone is judged based, not on our sparkling personalities, but on our ability to get our jobs done and meet goals and expectations.

In addition, there are people that you will meet in life who are simply unpleasant and difficult to get along with.  This is a fact of life.  In many of the ways that children struggle with a “bad teacher” the adults that they will become struggle with “horrible bosses” and “difficult coworkers”.  The fact is that there will be people that others just do not get along with.  That does not mean that they are bullies; it just means that they arewellnot nice.

However, if after some level of introspection, you feel that you are dealing with someone who is persistently engaging in aggressive and destructive behavior against you and your reputation within the company, you may be dealing with a bully.

Unfortunately, because of a lack of legislation, the onus is put on the target to document (and therefore) prove that there is a bullying issue.  It would be lovely to say that the one sure-fire way to stop workplace bullying is to file a formal complaint, have the employer conduct a fair investigation (one that protected the target) and institute negative consequences for the bully.  Unfortunately, that only happens 1.7% of the time.

In addition, it would also be nice if co-workers banded together, confronted the bully as a unit and stopped the bullying.  That happened even less – 0.8% of the time.

Therefore, take the steps necessary to stand up for yourself.  This does not mean a nasty confrontation in the elevator lobby.  Set limits in a polite and professional manner.  Document any and all incidences, and then be prepared to get your supervisors involved.  Remember though, there are no 24-hour solutions.  The workplace is different from the playground, where there are adults around constantly monitoring the situation with instant solutions.  We are the adults, and we must take ownership of our own monitoring and solutions.

Finally, if you are being bullied – if you are apprehensive about going to work and are agitated and anxious while you are there – you need to ask yourself if the job is worth it.  Everyone has bills to pay; everyone has obligations to keep.  However, the old adage is true – if you will spend the majority of your day at work (8.8 hours at work vs. 7.6 hours sleeping), why wouldn’t you spend it doing something you enjoy with people you enjoy being with?  Everyone has options.  Is there another place for you in the company? Can you begin the job search while still employed? Can you sign up with a staffing firm for temporary work while you job hunt? Think it through; everyone has options.

However, this does not mean that everyone should becoming serial job hoppers simply because the “going got tough”.  Life is about challenges, and the person we become is carved out of our reactions to those challenges.  Leaving a job should only be done to secure a more positive life – not to avoid a negative situation.  There is a huge difference….both is mindset and devised action plans.

NOTE:  A full-color, downloadable PDF is available.