All the data I could find indicates that the vast majority of people, have at one time or another, experienced workplace bullying. As I have become a more careful observer of the years, I have learned to ask my patients questions about their work environment.
What are the tip offs? When I notice increasing blood pressure, more frequent illnesses, less self confidence, more digestive problems, and hear about increasing stress, depression, anxiety and work problems, I suspect workplace bullying.
When I ask about work, and get into the particular details, I often hear about a situation which would qualify as workplace bullying. But the surprise is this: Much of the time, the patient doesn't even realize that bullying is what is going on.
What is bullying ?
Workplace bullying is a systematic pattern of behavior that harms, intimidates, shames, undermines, offends, degrades or humiliates an employee, possibly in front of other employees, clients or customers. It is an abuse of power and a form of emotional abuse. It is a threat to health, livelihood and relationships.
Once a patient realizes what it is, and a name has been put to it, she can begin to take steps to deal with it. But bullying is a complex human behavior and it is challenging to counteract. It is best to get outside help to deal with it. Most of the time it involves not only the one bully, but an overall workplace environment that is permissive of it. This is because it is difficult for bystanders to call out the bully, lest they become a target themselves. It is also difficult since bullies are generally highly ranking in organizations. Targets often fear for their jobs. Employers, when informed, are in a hard place, since they have not usually witnessed the behavior and moreover, they have an interest in keeping their more highly ranked employees.
Nonetheless, bullying takes a toll on people and organizations. While bullies are more highly ranked, targets are often up and coming, and they pose a threat or perceived threat to the bully. Targets are often very productive likable workers. Organizations with bullies often start losing their best people.
As a physician it is very important to me that my patients know about workplace bullying. I would like all of them to be in supportive home and work environments. Failing that, I would like them to have the tools to speak up against this form of abuse, whether it is done to them or to their co-workers.
The references in this blog post are especially informative. Please take a few minutes to have a look at the resources on this very important topic.