IT Employment

Do you work with a bully? You're not alone

37% of American workers (an estimated 54 million people) have been bullied at work. It affects about half (49%) of American workers (which is 71.5 million workers) when witnesses are included. Here are some of the other key findings.

I've gotten a few e-mails from people who want advice on how to deal with bullies in the workplace. The word "bully" initially brings to mind someone who steals your lunch money. But the workplace bully is someone who can make your life a nightmare because he or she exercises a type of harassment that isn't addressed by current laws.

And the issue is prominent: Zogby International conducted 7,740 online interviews of a panel that is representative of the adult population of the United States. This is the largest national scientific survey of the bullying phenomenon in the United States to date. The survey found that:

37% of American workers (an estimated 54 million people) have been bullied at work. It affects about half (49%) of American workers (which is 71.5 million workers) when witnesses are included. Here are some of the other key findings:

Bullying is four times more prevalent than illegal forms of "harassment."

American employers can and do ignore bullying. In 62% of the cases, when made aware of bullying, employers worsen the problem or simply do nothing, despite losing an estimated 21-28 million workers because of it.

The Workplace Bullying Institute is attempting to effect anti-bullying state laws. Thirteen states have introduced the WBI Healthy Workplace Bill since 2003.

  • Most bullies are bosses -- the stereotype is real. 72% of bullies are bosses. 55% of those bullied are rank-and-file workers.
  • Bullying most strongly affects women. Women are targeted by bullies more frequently (in 57% of cases), especially by other women (in 71% of cases).
  • Bullying is a public health hazard. For 45% of bullied targets, stress affects their health. 33% suffer for more than one year.
  • Bullied individuals are not "sue crazy" -- many fail to even complain. Only 3% of bullied targets file lawsuits. 40% never complain.
  • Perpetrators suffer little. Targets have to stop the vast majority of bullying (77%) by losing their jobs, despite being the ones harmed.

In an upcoming blog, I will address what actions you can take if you are being bullied at work.

About

Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

63 comments
jbwilson1120
jbwilson1120

I read a good book on this subject. Check it out: The No A**hole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn't by Robert I. Sutton

rrdr
rrdr

Yes I have and it was incredibly terrible. I tried my hardest to suck it up because I had tenure but it just wasn't going to happen and HR and my Senior Director just wouldn't listen because they to were afraid of this tyrant. This bullying is not uncommon in a hospital setting especially with Nurses they get promoted into top dog roles and they treat everyone else terribly.

NoCubes4Me
NoCubes4Me

Don't know if this constitutes the sort of behavior outlined here, but I have a couple of cases that fit in my eyes. In particular, being given a certain level of authority (as in SME, rather than political authority) in certain aspects, new projects have to come through my department before being initiated. Sales staff, and one member in particular, have a pretty long standing history of bypassing this however they can manage in cases which either should be shot down due to technical limitations or in cases which are marginal (not technically "prohibitive", but "not advised" due to a variety of contributing factors). The extent to which these folks will go to either strong-arm or bypass is both infuriating and counterproductive. Not just for my team, whose "forget it" or "probably not" should be the end of the discussion or should be a directive for the other parties to get better qualifications before engaging, but for all of the parties who get dragged into the unqualified project and are from that point forward held accountable for whatever doesn't manage to go as it would otherwise in a qualified case. I call it bullying. What say the rest of you? (And of course, there are politics at play and a corresponding lack of back-up at most points of redress.)

melekali
melekali

I used to work for this idiot woman who wasn't so much of a bully but an idiot who had no idea what I did and doubted I did much of anything but drink coffee. I would purposely dumb down explanations for her to give her a chance, but she persisted in her ignorance and idiocy. She's gone now.

melekali
melekali

I used to work for this idiot woman who wasn't so much of a bully but an idiot who had no idea what I did and doubted I did much of anything but drink coffee. I would purposely dumb down explanations for her to give her a chance, but she persisted in her ignorance and idiocy. She's gone now.

mikifinaz1
mikifinaz1

I worked at a company that made it a firing offense to have alcohol in your office. I put a bottle in the bully's office and poured some on the carpet and then turned him in. He got fired end of problem. Any creative soul can find a similar set and get rid of a bully just as easily.

Jessie
Jessie

All I have to say about dealing with bullies in the work place is said by the movie "9 to 5" with Dolly Parton, Lily Tomlin, Jane Fonda and Dabney Coleman. Great movie. If you haven't seen it, you should... and then kidnap your office bullies and imprison them in their own homes while you make sweeping changes in the office.

jp535
jp535

What is being described is the actions of a sociopath. They may present themselves very well in a lot of social situations, and so can move up the organization ladders. Just remember though, these are people who have no conscience. You and I (at least those of us who have a conscience) cannot imagine what it is like to have no guilt. I recommend the book: "The sociopath next door" by Martha Stout, PhD. ISBN-13:978-0-7394-5674-3. My story: My wife and I owned a hands-on business which gave us a good income and much satisfaction, but was very exhausting. We knew that going in and so had set a date by which we would exit the business. Enter a young man who just a perfect fit to work in the business: self-confident, knowledgeable, and very good with our clients. He worked for us for over year a year, and our date to leave was approaching. We discussed our thoughts with him and he declined, being a little uncertain that he could handle the job. We also had hired a young woman, very much like the young man in qualities. We approached her and she declined, giving similar reasons. We then proposed to the two of them that they form a partnership and purchase the business together, which they ultimately agreed to. The business had two locations and they decided that each one would manage a location. Further since the man was more skilled in computers, that he would keep the books and consult with the accountant. Looked very good for all parties. Last summer the young woman called us and started to ask a lot of questions about the finances of the business, how much profit to expect, etc. We were disturbed by the tenor of the inquiries, and started calling the young man asking what was going on. He claimed that the young woman was a whiner, and a number of other unflattering things. This did nothing to ease our concern. The young man felt the pressure and abruptly left the business. Saying, "I'm leaving everything to you," (the young woman). What he didn't say was that he had promised his half of the business to two employees who worked at his location. It was quite a mess. I turns out he was spending a lot of the company monies on his own projects. When the young woman would ask about the books, he would bluster, insult, and attack her for lack of intelligence. When he finally left, he had destroyed the records of all but the current year, but that was enough to hang him. We took a month helping the woman get back on her feet and recover from his verbal abuse. It has taken six months and more for everything to settle out, but she reports that she has so much cash, she doesn't know what to do with it all. So you may have to confront a partner who has the same patterns of behavior as a bad boss.

jmgarvin
jmgarvin

The bullies typically like to take advantage of the nice people. So, I'm the nice guy. I'm easy to get along with and I go with the flow. I don't mind picking up the pieces if somebody screws up (it happens) and I'll take care of the people on my team (*WE* screwed up). However, if you have "that guy," the best plan is: A) Like mjd said, ignore it B) If it continues, wait until they are being a bully in a meeting or in some public setting. Then, without anger or malice, pwn them. I found this works pretty well (imagine you are in a meeting where the bully has nothing good to say about what you are presenting and is being aggressive): Since you don't want to be a team player, and you aren't providing any solutions, I'd prefer if you would step out until I finish my presentation. Works every time.

mjd420nova
mjd420nova

I use the IGNORE button. When threatened with any type of physical threat, I just push the button and walk away. The bullies just want attention and I refuse to give it to them. Most just talk the talk but few will walk the walk. I work with one now and after repeated attempts to get me into a confrontation finally gave up and tried someone else who handed him his head on a platter and lost his coveted position and was relegated to more meanial tasks more suited for an idiot. Now he knows he has to do a lot of kissing up to get back on everyones good side. I love to see a bully grovel.

LocoLobo
LocoLobo

The way to handle a bully is to face them squarely over the issue and make them fight. No matter who wins the bully doesn't like that. Bullies are looking for easy victims. The problem is what happens. Are you willing to lose your job? Have your reputation smeared? When someone calls me a dunderhead, id10t, or moron it's water off my back. When someone tells me they can do my job better, faster with one hand tied behind their back my response is, "Really. Could you show me that? I'd love to do my job better, faster." Few takers on the last. The other problem is perception. Many times the bully doesn't see themselves as a bully. When you square off with them and refuse to back down sometimes they see YOU as the bully. Before I start something I try to see it from the other person's perspective. Not easy to do sometimes.

KaryDavis
KaryDavis

I once worked for a manager the rank and file referred to as "Psycho Sybil"... I was her most frequent target and I stayed in the job for 9 years before one day I refused to take it anymore and went to upper management. Altho I spent an additional 6 years with the company in different departments, I continually had to prove myself to my new bosses. Standing up for myself labeled me as a "trouble-maker" and I eventually had to leave and rebuild my reputation elsewhere. There is a bully where I currently work. I do not have to deal with her that much, but since I've been employed here, the bully's department has lost several good people, and are about to lose two more within the next couple of weeks. The sole reason all these workers have left is because of the bully, who treats them like 2 year olds, talks condensendingly, and is outright rude on a daily basis. The bully's boss is aware of the problem, but defends the bully as they are "buddies"...lots of late night chitter an such. Being the new kid on the block, I can't say anything that would carry weight at this point, but if someone asks me, I'm going to be frank and honest. Maybe I can't stop it... but I don't have to enable the behavior either...

OldER Mycroft
OldER Mycroft

Fresh out of College, armed with only my degree, I was bullied: I was hounded by my boss for an entire year (even in the last 4 months when I was no longer in his department). Then having made a round trip of 1300 miles for 2 interviews, opting for one of them, and doubling my salary in the process, I went to work for my last day. The bully appeared slight uneasy, telling me he had been cruel to be kind, that he'd felt I needed toughening up a bit, that he'd always known I'd "come good in the end". When I pointed out to him my new posting placed me in a salary scale [b]above[/b] his present one, I shook his hand - smiled, crushing his fingers - and walked away quietly. It was at that moment I realised how intrinsically weak bullies tend to be. Weak and small. No-one ever caught me off-guard again. :)

toni.bowers_b
toni.bowers_b

Although bullies in the workplace are not a new phenomena, studies have revealed it's more common now. Have you encountered a bully at work? If so, what actions, if any, did you take?

yonman
yonman

Nice trick...any suggestions if the boss is the owner of the company?

ben@channells
ben@channells

We had a bully, Fridays would spend two and a half hours drinking at lunch time, excessive swearing on a regularly. theft of company property, rude and abusive behaviour to several staff and managers. After a year of no action by HR and senior managers the offender blurted out a series of expletive's in front of 3 visting managers and seven members of staff. HR still did nothing until the 10 witness made verbal and written statements. PS the company in question is US based

WiseITOne
WiseITOne

I just hope no one does this to a hard working individual just to get ahead. I am all for out of office intervention as long as you don't get jailed for it. That or you can just kick his arse at work and get fired...hey you still feel REALLY good and you have more confidence. It really is too bad they did away with gun duals...those were the good ol' days. Now you fight someone and they sue you...I blame the legal system for supporting bullies.

maecuff
maecuff

That only works in the movies. God knows you find THAT out the hard way. :)

JustinF
JustinF

Confront them head on when faced with bullying, send them emails, BCCed to your manager & their supervisor, saying "I won't be bullied", "you are making unreasonable demands", etc., stop short of calling them a bully but make sure the word is in there somewhere. I worked with a bully who had the high regard of my supervisor & manager who tormented me subtly for nearly a year. I actually planned to punch him out when I was on my way in to work one morning & then he called in sick. I had calmed down by the next day fortunately for both of us, (I was still on a temporary visa in Australia & an assault charge wouldn't have impressed the authorities). Then his supporters left for other jobs and he had a breakdown, the new manager exposed his ineptitude & gave me a lot of the responsibilities that the bully had previously done, he stopped coming to work & eventually was let go. I passed him in the office when he was collecting his personal belongings and said, "see you, psycho boy", that felt good.

majohnson
majohnson

I wouldn't really call her a bully but just a very insecure individual with some underlying personal problems. She's one of those people that have a problem with men and to be honest she's in fear of her job. Initially, I felt sorry for her despite an insult or two but I quickly remembered that since I'm a Christian first, it was my duty to pray for her. Once I did that things did change. We have a much better working relationship and even though some of those "personal problems" still exist at least she does not take them out on me.

Joyce.Lippens
Joyce.Lippens

I really like the end result for you! I have walked away quietly and never complained. That will never happen again armed with your "crushing of fingers" line!

The Listed 'G MAN'
The Listed 'G MAN'

what could it be? Confused I looked around, only to see the room faiding in to a pale mist. 7:00 AM - wait, was...was it all a dream? Not everybody gets the chance to end the story the way you did - for most the end is just as above.

Locrian_Lyric
Locrian_Lyric

I've never had much problem with professional bullies because I grew up having to survive them. Your assessment is 100% accurate. They are weak. They bully because they are weak. A strong person has the personality of a big dog. Big dogs aren't yappers, they *know* they are the big dog and don't need to prove it.

lexys
lexys

I find this fact a bit confounding - is bullying in the workplace more common because it's (a) reported more, or (b) our society is becoming more ingrained with ***holes, or (c) our society is becoming more ingrained with the victim mentality? It's also confounding me because there are laws to cover harassment etc at work, and you hear of many cases where people have successfully sued companies etc and sometimes are rewarded with millions of dollars. Wouldn't this be enough to stop any bully in their tracks? You would think that this would be also enough for managers to ensure that it doesn't happen, yet from what you're saying, it's increasing. I have a feeling that Political Correctness gone wild is to blame. We are drilled so much about being PC that I think it's made everyone over-sensitive to everything, take for example a post further down on this discussion. One guy said; "An aussie told me that you call each other wankers and tell each other to f*ck off" and another guy replies to that post saying "isn't that racist??!!" Unless they were being sarcastic, I don't get it - being racist against what exactly? Last I looked I'd never heard of a race called "Wanker" from the country of "masturbator"!!! That's just my theory anyway.

Zpunky
Zpunky

Great concept and interesting stats, but shouldn't the article have addressed what is considered bullying? I've worked with some pretty toxic people, but would their behavior be considered bully-ish, or simply pathological?

Support Slug
Support Slug

I got bullied at work once. I waited until I found the guy in the stairwell and put a chokehold on him he'll never forget. After that, the boy gave me a wide berth!

GSG
GSG

I worked in the same general area with a guy who tried to bully me. He was a domain admin, and would break into my PC and delete stuff, he verbally tried to humiliate me in front of my co-workers, made references to me being a female, and though I can't prove it, I'm sure he's the one that sent the email under my account to the whole dept announcing my resignation. He was also the Exchange admin, and I never left my PC unlocked. Anyway, I finally reminded him one day in front of about 30 co-workers that I new him when we were kids, and that my Dad had worked with his, and that I remembered what happened when he was a kid, and unless he wanted the whole department to know all about it, he'd sit down, shut up, and leave me alone. It all stopped. He tried something similar to two others, but they were both really good about giving him some creative verbal slap downs. I complained about his harrassment of my female status, and someone else complained based on his religious harrassment, but HR and administration wouldn't do anything about it. I no longer work there, I make more than him, and I'm quite happy. Revenge is sweet.

James McGarvey
James McGarvey

The management of my former worksite have a policy of "forcing out" employees they want to move on and recruit the office bullies to be their enforcers of this policy.The amount of anguish these people are allowed to inflict is criminal, literally.

ppg
ppg

To say that bullying is more common requires a definition of bullying. Most of the replies to this post describe rude behaviour which is a serious workplace problem but I wouldn't call bullying.

MichP
MichP

I have worked with two bullies. The biggest fights have been over the thermostat setting. Both were overweight men who were always hot and would set the air conditioning to 70 degrees F if they had their way. I am more on the petite side and tend to get cold. I tried compromising with Bully #1. I used my space heater during the winter so the building heat could be a little lower. In the summer, could he bring in a fan so we could set the temperature a little higher? No, he said, "Fans don't work for me." Excuse me? The laws of thermodynamics don't apply to you? I was on my own. No one else would stand up to him (or support him, so I don't think it was just me). I did complain to my boss about that and other things he bullied me, and others around me, about. My boss did correctly point out that it was all about his insecurities. I didn't have to work directly with the guy after that. But I didn't wait around too long. I found another job that was a better fit for me, anyway, even if I did have to take a slight pay cut. I've never regretted it.

maecuff
maecuff

I've worked for a bully. He was fired and the department let loose a collective sigh of relief. Now, I have a co-worker, who has a few quirks that are pretty mean-spirited. Being relatively new, I took some things he said to heart. After a while though, I thought through his comments and came to the conclusion that he's a d0uchebag and I should just ignore him. :) Some examples: He was showing me a process that I hadn't done before and told me (while I was taking notes) that if a programmer needed to take notes on ANYTHING then they shouldn't be a programmer. He refuses to use pen and paper for anything and pokes fun at people who do things 'The Amish' way. Personally? I like to write things down. That helps solidify a new idea in my head. It's also comforting and familiar to me. And it's my damn way of doing things. I finally told him that it was all well and good for him to NOT write things down. But to butt the f*ck out when it comes to my habits. His opinion of me is not my business. He has since backed off, but I've heard comments from other sources. The good news is, even though I'm new, users prefer to deal with me because I don't talk down to them and I never condescend. They don't like dealing with this other person because he goes out of his way to try and make them feel small. I'm thinking he has some self esteem issues..

mdbizzarri
mdbizzarri

Since management usually can't or won't help, and the individual's career is at stake, as well as future workers, maybe the collective can, if someone takes a leadership role, find ways to make the bully feel some pain as well.

Locrian_Lyric
Locrian_Lyric

If the company is worth anything, they will act. if not, you're better off elsewhere.

brian.nahodil
brian.nahodil

I was bullied by my supervisor at a previous job and I complained to HR. HR found him to be at fault and severely punished him. They also punished the Department manager for letting it happen. However, I was demoted unofficially and ultimately resigned as my career at that company was surely to go nowhere.

ForneyRider
ForneyRider

Bullies can have a narcissisic personality. While appearing ferocious, the have low self-image. They are vindictive, cunning, and up until they destroy the company, can appear to be a top employee. Some, not all, bullies can be sociopaths. Changing jobs is an option. But if you fight, be extremely careful. Record everything.

Locrian_Lyric
Locrian_Lyric

My director was a real screwball. He would throw things at people, insult people, play mean pranks on people, et cetera. With the backing of my immediate supervisor, I wrote him up. He tried every dirty trick in the book to get even with me, but my supervisor backed me up repeatedly. Once it was seen that someone could stand up to the idiot and survive, the other folks were on him like a pack of wolves. He ended up being forced to resign.

The Listed 'G MAN'
The Listed 'G MAN'

both Big Dog and Yapper are types of bully. The ones that do not have to prove anything can just be as bad!

WiseITOne
WiseITOne

I am glad you told him to back off. Honestly, the only reason bullies exist is because people ALLOW them to. FEAR feeds bullies and if you show fear you giving him/her cause to continue their actions. DONT TAKE IT. COMMUNICATE at the first sign of bullying. Tell that person that you see what they are trying to do and you aren't a pushover. Basically, grow a pair and bullies will back off. Don't be a coward project confidence and you will never be bullied in your life.

Ben Iron Damper
Ben Iron Damper

Along with the low self esteem he's probably lacking in size in a certain area. That could be making him "cranky" as well.

jbeezz
jbeezz

I have had several bully bosses and have found that they are cowards. If anyone is bullied they MUST stand up for themselves, although everyone needs their job how much is your self esteem worth? Many times when you make it clear that they have chosen the wrong person to pick on they back off. BUT sometimes they don't. In that case you either need to approach Human Resources about the problem or look for a new job (which is a good idea anyway). Be prepared that they may try to get you fired but that's a chance that you have to take. Have a plan before you begin to take on the bully and be prepared to stand alone.

jbeezz
jbeezz

I have had several bully bosses and have found that they are cowards. If anyone is bullied they MUST stand up for themselves, although everyone needs their job how much is your self esteem worth?

jmgarvin
jmgarvin

You told him to F*ck off!!?? Oh man, that is classic. How did he react? What did he say?

Dr Dij
Dr Dij

and fight back! I"m sure resistance will be futile, esp. with 7of9 around :)

maecuff
maecuff

Usually, I'm not easily intimidated, but due to a lot of sudden and distressing changes in my life (pick any country and western song and you'll get the gist) I wasn't at my peak when I started this job and I just let it get the best of me for the first 6 weeks or so. I've since (almost) come back to myself and am pretty good at sticking up for me. It's better now, it will never be great, but it's better..

Ben Iron Damper
Ben Iron Damper

Sounds like you're just telling it like it is. I like that myself.

maecuff
maecuff

from working out. He's just plain old out of shape. But now I'm being snarky, aren't I? :)

Ben Iron Damper
Ben Iron Damper

Good point. But I am about 6FT and 270 due to working out\weightlifting excessivly. OH wait I was about to reveal too much!

maecuff
maecuff

He's not lacking in size any where else, though. He's around 6'5" and 350 lbs..

Top.Gun
Top.Gun

I,m looking for something now. This place has too many 'clicks', which leads back to one of the causes for bullying to be continued unchecked. My problem is I want to relocate south but it's hard to get a place interested when they know it will take some time to move.

WiseITOne
WiseITOne

In that case your HR department is incompetent and you should sue them and leave the company. Really if they had any clue then you would have a case. Just claim you were harrassed and then sue them. In todays leagal system anything is possible.

jedmundson
jedmundson

I learned from my father (who was a U.S. Air Force Lt Col) that you should keep a record, In Writing of everything. For years, I've kept a phone call log on my desk. It got me out of trouble with the office bullies while I was in the U.S. Navy and as a civilian. I kept me sane while dealing with a boss who was "Tripping down the Sociopath" and with a boss who believed that all directions should be "short and dirty." Eventually, both were severely reprimanded and I went on with my life with my dignity and self respect intact.

Top.Gun
Top.Gun

That is exactly what I did the one time I went to HR. Everything was documented including dates, times, and what was said for almost a year. I also informed another trusted employee (one that I trust) as to exactly what I was doing, with a copy of my documentation. I was mainly worried about retaliation from the person I was accusing, and his friends. It didn't happen, but that was the only way I felt comfortable. After all that nothing was changed, so it ended up a waste of time.

WiseITOne
WiseITOne

If your going to go to HR log everything and every incident of Bullying including what was said and dates/times. See if you can catch the bully in EMAIL -- ROCK SOLID defense there. Also, if you ever saw that TIM ALLEN movie you can take the bullying outside of work and kick his arse...only if you are bigger. : )

Top.Gun
Top.Gun

I agree, but don't forget the most important thing before you even start your defense - 'protect your arse'.

maecuff
maecuff

I can do my best to get along, but I certainly won't trust or confide in him.

jbeezz
jbeezz

I believe the this is true, many times when you get in their face they back off and sometimes even try to become your friend.... don't EVER fall for that even if you pretend to which is wise.

boxfiddler
boxfiddler

that would be "intolerant", don't you think? ;)

jmgarvin
jmgarvin

America would be a better place if we would call each other wankers and tell others to F*ck off every now and again. ;-)

maecuff
maecuff

He laughed in a good natured way and backed the f*ck off. This isn't unheard of in my dept. I am one of the more demure. :)