Workplace Bullying

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If a coworker won't make space for you at a cafeteria table by removing a bag on a seat, you may feel as though you are being bullied. But, because this kind of behavior is "passive aggressive" rather than actively aggressive, e.g., intimidation, it may not always be easy to back up a complaint of "bullying". Moreover, if apparent bullying is interpreted by law or company policy as having to be persistent to constitute bullying, an isolated incident may not be sufficient to warrant an accusation.

Nonetheless, when the actions of a coworker or higher-up appear to be both hostile and detrimental, it may be appropriate to consider filing a complaint or to take administrative steps to address it.

Workplace bullying is repeated behavior that is intended to coerce, intimidate, belittle, humiliate, or degrade someone. It can happen between an employee and a supervisor, or it can happen between employees. Although it commonly takes the form of public verbal or nonverbal actions, it often goes unnoticed because sometimes the actions are not in unambiguous violation of laws, regulations, policies, or procedures. In some instances, e.g., because of fear of retaliation by the bully or a shielding higher-up, or because of concerns about being a "snitch" or seeming weak, it will go unreported.

People with authority within an organization should familiarize themselves with different forms of bullying and the signs that bullying is occurring. Organizations should adopt a zero-tolerance anti-bullying policy and communicate it to all employees. Human resources departments should be supportive of employees that lodge complaints about bullying. Employees should know the signs of bullying and not be afraid to go through proper channels to stop it.

Bullying causes damage to individuals and the organization. Employees begin to experience physical and psychological effects that cause their productivity and even job attendance to diminish. An individual's symptoms of bullying are anger, anxiety, family problems, frustration, headache, helplessness, self-isolation, withdrawal, inability to sleep, lack of concentration, loss of appetite, loss of confidence, panic, stomach pain, and vulnerability. The organizational effects of bullying are absenteeism, accidents, low morale, poor customer service, stress, high turnover, and all the costs associated with those things.

Forms of workplace bullying include things such as abusing someone physically, maliciously changing guidelines, criticizing excessively, discriminatorily excluding someone, gossiping, intimidating someone, making offensive jokes, shouting, spreading rumors, spying, tampering with another's belongings or workstation, sabotaging another's job, e.g., by withholding crucial information to which the bullied employee is entitled. Although there is some debate as to whether such behavior must be persistent to warrant being categorized as bullying, it can be argued that, since crimes do not have to be repeated in order to be prosecutable, a single instance of prima facie bullying behavior should constitute sufficient grounds for investigation.

Another moot point is whether "passive aggressive" behavior, such as non-compliance, withholding information and the like, should be categorized as bullying, which is normally understood to be active intimidation, interference, etc.
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