6 signs of workplace bullying
The news out of the Miami Dolphins locker room last month that hazing was alive and well in the NFL most likely came as little surprise to many. However, what may have come as a shock was the fact that a 300-pound, 6-foot 5-inch professional football player walked off the team after reportedly being systematically and harshly bullied by a fellow teammate.
The Jonathan Martin/Richie Incognito situation playing out in the national media has brought much-needed attention to the issue of bullying in the workplace.
“Football players are big and strong—physically and mentally stable,” says Dr. Shastri Swaminathan, psychiatrist at Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center in Chicago. “If it can happen to them, it can happen to anyone.”
According to Dr. Swaminathan, bullying in the workplace is much more common than many may think. “Bullying has always been present in the workplace. People in positions of power target people they can go after systematically to make them feel like nothing. Bullying is an extreme sense of power, and bullies have an amazing ability to shred the self-confidence of another.”
And the bullies often aren’t the only people responsible for the harm they inflict. Often, co-workers will stand by and allow the treatment to continue, Dr. Swaminathan says, because they don’t want the target moved to their foreheads. This, in turn, gives the bully an even greater sense of power, he says.
So, how can you know when you might be the target of a bully at work? Dr. Swaminathan says there are several questions you can ask yourself to determine if you’re in a workplace bully’s sights.
- Are you being treated differently? Oftentimes, the first inkling that you’re being bullied in the workplace is a change in the way you’re being treated by co-workers or supervisors. You may notice that your work is being marginalized or trivialized, that you’re being consistently ridiculed or demeaned or that you’re being singled out and isolated. Constant criticism and nit-picking of your work along with a refusal to acknowledge your contributions and an undermining of your position or value can also be signs of bullying.
- Have your work responsibilities changed? You may notice that your workload has changed—that you’re overloaded and set up for failure or you’re only given the most menial of tasks. Goals and deadlines have been changed without explanation. Where your opinion was once valued and considered, you now find your ideas tossed to the wayside or attacked so severely that you no longer speak up.
- Have you experienced an ongoing threat to your professional or personal status? Your authority may be consistently challenged or outright denied. Even when defending yourself, you find your words twisted or misrepresented. You’ve been the target of a co-worker’s screams or rants, with others refusing to come to your aid. Your work is claimed by another, and you are made to feel uncomfortable in claiming your work for yourself.
- Has your health suffered? Are you anxious and jittery on Sunday night? Are you not sleeping well? Has your concentration or memory been affected? All are signs of the stress a bully puts you under. The stress can even affect your blood pressure and other health issues. Feelings of guilt and shame can also contribute to health problems.
- Are you constantly complaining to friends and family? Everyone needs to vent about a bad day. But if you’re consistently talking about a particular person at work who makes you feel threatened or undervalued, you need to realize that you may have a bully.
- Are your days off simply an escape? If your weekends and vacations are spent obsessing about that difficult co-worker or angry, unfair boss, you may have a workplace bully. The stress a bully creates can cause you to undermine and undervalue yourself, so much so that even your days away are spent worrying about what’s ahead when you return to work.
If you’re being bullied in the workplace, Dr. Swaminathan says to take the issue to your supervisor, the human resources department or another in a position of authority. He says to document the incidents and report them in a calm, cool manner.
“The best thing is to let the bully know that he or she isn’t going to get away with it, anymore,” he says. “Bullying isn’t much different from domestic violence in that you have to break the constant cycle. It’s definitely not easy, but the only way to break the cycle is to stand up for yourself.”
About the Author
health enews staff is a group of experienced writers from our Advocate Health Care and Aurora Health Care sites, which also includes freelance or intern writers.
Thank you, Dr. Swaminathan, for your insight into this widespread problem and also for your helpful suggestions on how a bullied individual may best resolve their issue in the workplace.