Enterprise Software

What constitutes workplace bullying?

Since workplace bullying can take so many forms, it's hard to assign a concrete definition to it. But here are some examples.

In a recent blog, I wrote about the prevalence of workplace bullying. Some of those who commented on the piece wondered exactly what constitutes bullying.

Since workplace bullying can take so many forms, it's hard to assign a concrete definition to it. After all, this isn't a matter of the guy in the next department taking your milk money.

However, like schoolyard bullying, workplace bullying involves people or groups of people who repeatedly exhibit aggression or inflict social ostracism, all within the established rules and policies of the organization. This could include verbal abuse, intimidating behavior, humiliating remarks, or career sabotage.

Workplace bullying can be subtle, as in this example that TechRepublic member maecuff describes:

"A new co-worker 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."

Or it can be less than subtle, as in this example provided by TechRepublic member 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."

The Workplace Bullying Institute lists these 10 behaviors as the most common tactics used by workplace bullies:

  1. Falsely accused someone of "errors" not actually made (71 percent).
  2. Stared, glared, was nonverbally intimidating, and was clearly showing hostility (68 percent).
  3. Discounted the person's thoughts or feelings ("oh, that's silly") in meetings (64 percent).
  4. Used the "silent treatment" to "ice out" and separate from others (64 percent).
  5. Exhibited presumably uncontrollable mood swings in front of the group (61 percent).
  6. Made up own rules on the fly that even she/he did not follow (61 percent).
  7. Disregarded satisfactory or exemplary quality of completed work despite evidence (58 percent).
  8. Harshly and constantly criticized having a different standard for the target (57 percent).
  9. Started, or failed to stop, destructive rumors or gossip about the person (56 percent).
  10. Encouraged people to turn against the person being tormented (55 percent).

On Monday, we'll talk about what to do if you're being bullied in the office.

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.

28 comments
aadato
aadato

I was accused of workplace bullying when I was a quality control manager at a computer manufacturing company. I was informed to keep a strict adherence to the guidelines and to make sure the assemblers did to. I would go behind their work, show them and while they were with me, fix their mistakes. I don't think I ever showed any aggression, at least, I never meant to. Which also means I must have, otherwise I wouldn't be telling this story like this... But after doing that job for six months, I discovered assemblers were going behind my back and un-correcting work I had already stamped off on as being correct. I brought this to the attention of my superiors. I showed them who was doing what and to my surprise the answer was to demote me back to assembly (I did not lose pay or get reprimanded). Shortly after this I left that company for this and other conflicts with administrative policy and decision making.

TNT
TNT

Snappy comebacks are always a good start to end work[place bullying. In your first example a guy is put off by a new co-worker who makes fun of the fact that he takes notes on processes. I'd have responded with something like, "I document EVERYthing, which is partly what makes me so valuable to the company. They're tired of techies who don't contribute to overall business intelligence. You might want to write THAT down." As for the second example... I'd say she really is a victim. Assuming she's done nothing to provoke the treatment, then she needs to take the fight to management. Let them in on what's happening, ask them to keep an eye on this guy. BTW, I'm not justifying the bullies actions when asking if she provoked it, just wondering if immature behavior on her part might have prompted immature behavior on his. Honestly, the bully should have gotten over this behavior in grade school.

mktgurl
mktgurl

If IT staffers are only faced with these, I'd say you all have only seen extremely mild workplace bullying. Try it at the corporate level where people back/front/side-stab you to get ahead.

skilbourn
skilbourn

Ten things that occur in various combinations: 1. Assaults on the dignity, integrity, credibility, and professional competence of employees. 2. Negative, humiliating, intimidating, abusive, malevolent, and controlling communication. 3. Committed directly, or indirectly, in subtle or obvious ways. 4. Perpetrated by one or more staff members - "vulturing". 5. Occurring in a continual, multiple, and systematic fashion over some time. 6. Portraying the victimized person as being at fault. 7. Engineered to discredit, confuse, intimidate, isolate, and force the person into submission. 8. Committed with the intent to force the person out. 9. Representing the removal from the workplace as the victim's choice. 10. Not recognized, misinsterpreted, ignored, tolerated, encouraged, or even instigated by the management of the organization. Possibley or likely results of these actions on another human being: 1. A feeling of confusion and betrayal. "Why is it that people turn against me?" 2. A feeling of constant danger. 3. You may isolate yourself. Emotions of embarrassment, fear, shame, anger, guilt, disgrace, anxiety, and feelings of incompetence may pervade. 4. Experience of severe anxiety during mobbing and following expulsion from the workplace. These feelings pervaded every part of the person's life. 5. Feeling alone. You cannot believe this is happening to you. It is hard to express and hard for others to understand. 6. Possibly losing all esteem. Inability to recognize yourself anymore. Terrible, debilitating fear of being physically or emotionally hurt. All this information is from a great book on this subject called "Mobbing: Emotional Abuse in the American Workplace" by Noa Davenport, Ph.D., Ruth Distler Schwartz, and Gail Pursell Elliott. The website is www.mobbing-usa.com Every manager and employee on the face of the planet should read this book and take action to prevent abuse in any workplace anywhere.

ken
ken

How do you tell the difference between workplace bullying and normal office politics? Seems like a fine line to me.

knit_sachin
knit_sachin

I have seen people falling to the level where they start commenting on your personal life in front of whole team which could be very disgusting especially when there is no link between what they said and what the context was. So guys beware of sharing your personal life style with team members thinking that they are your true friend because you spend 2/3 of your time with them.

norin.radd
norin.radd

Darth Vader I knew this dude with mad db and network skills. He was always bullying the noobs. They called him Darth Vader. Management couldn't fired him because he was the only one who was able to debug the db in no time. There was a girl who couldn't stand him and one day he got fed up with her and completely corrupted her roaming profile. She couldn't log on properly to the network and was never able to complete her assignment on time. She got fired. After he got rid of her, Darth Vader, decided he had to move on. The company had no challenging assignment for him and even thought he was making good money he wanted more for himself. He wanted to quit in style. He waited for that perfect peak time of the year, data was pouring in like crazy and as usual network problems occurred. The IT Manager called him on an emergency situation while he was taking some time off at his cottage. He decided it was the right opportunity to quit. The company lost a fair amount of money for not been able to fix the leak. The IT Manager got fired and the next quarter the DotCom-Start-Up was shut down. Darth Vader started his own Cie and was able to absorb most of the clientele his former employer own. He also hired the girl he had mess up her roaming profile and strangely end it up marrying her. Life is strange, people are strange. Never underestimate The Power Of The FORCE... http://techrepublic.com.com/5208-6230-0.html?forumID=102&threadID=249691&messageID=2396023

megloops
megloops

RE: We need to stop adults bullying adults If we want our children to stop bullying we have to roll model and show it is not acceptable in our workplace. Also, the "reality" TV give junior level or entry level managers the false role models that seem to give them the license to bully. Accountability in the workplace needs to be put in place. Mary Ellen

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

Would be interesting to see what applies in the real world translates into the 'electronic forum' world. Perhaps an article on this would be a good read. Social aspects of forum with regard to bulling!

LocoLobo
LocoLobo

2. The person being bullied might be glaring or showing nonverbal hostility. Yes it can also be used to bully someone. 4. The same as above. The victim of a bully might be giving the silent treatment to the bully rather than starting a knockdown dragout fight. 6. This can be used to bully someone but I've seen a lot of bosses who do this not to bully but just because they can. Sometimes these behaviours are the result of personality clashes rather than just one person trying to bully another. Either way several of these can have serious consequences for the org if allowed to fester. Just my opinions.

Locrian_Lyric
Locrian_Lyric

11)Broadcasting every mistake or error rather than handling matters privately. (This makes a person look incompetant) 12)Setting up for failure. Diverting bad projects or dirtywork. 13)Active sabatoge. This can be as subtle as turning in work on time, but at the last possible moment and still be on time or as blatant as heyduking hardware or planting malware on someone's machine.

glad
glad

I think the big difference is that office politics is innuendo and rumors and comments made behind someone's back, whereas workplace bullying is done in front of the victim.

mare_z
mare_z

One would think that a person to be bullied would be a quiet defenseless person, this isn't always the case. The excuse the Bullier would use in the Resort Security Department was, "I have a type A personality. I am a perfectionist". The known fact, was the woman, the bullier was truly, helpless. Not capable of handling the responsibilities of her own job, actually wrote her reports on the email program. Why, she did not have the computer knowledge to actually work the ms word program. Her memory was actually so bad, she would change entire proceedures weekly, I came to the realization, her employees made her look good within her position, and any small infraction or mistake by her employees brought unwanted attention back in her direction. This woman running a Security Department, still has the highest firing ratio of the entire Resort she and the department are employed by. Unfortunately, people who bully continue on in their position, even though the main corporation make new manditory programs to protect the employees, take survey's, nothing changes. Never will until they either stop hiring incapable people, or actually deal directly with these people and dismiss them.

Photogenic Memory
Photogenic Memory

I'm not sure where on TR but I've heard it though. Sounds like a fish story but it's entertaining. Sounds like an epidose of Chad Vader on Youtube.com, LOL!

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

Let's see...name-calling, belittling others' opinions, suggesting ostracism, ignoring posts...OMG! :0 I'm a forum bully! Or maybe not. B-) I find that one of the reasons I hang around TR so much is that there is very little bullying here. The obvious attempts I've seen at forum bullying on TR are usually slapped down rapidly or marked as spam and edited out.

R153nm
R153nm

All you need is a paragraph long snip from the Something Awful forums, point to it, and say "Case in point".

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

Same guy. Must have discovered cut & paste.

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

but in general, within the online comminity at large. For example....how a simple text message became a form of bulling over the last few years - what about messages in forums, as they are targeted but with an audience!

Photogenic Memory
Photogenic Memory

Perhaps you right! LOL! LMFAOROTF! Hahahahahahahaha! Oh wait....ugh, perhaps someone should start an article on that. Let's see you go to , ummmmm....you click on, ummmm.....It somewhere around here, right? It makes the thingy stick on the new thingy in the window computer screen and the you save to a floppy disk, correct? LOL! ( I'm just teasing )

Dr Dij
Dr Dij

I use a private mailbox as my 'residence'. (I'm very small :) Work has this address, and my drivers license and all bills but electricity and cable are mailed there (those I get electronically anyway). This way, unless they follow you home..

Locrian_Lyric
Locrian_Lyric

haltabuse.org cyberangels.org. Haltabuse has links to private investigators and lawyers, as well as laws for states and countries.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

Thanks, Tig, I get it now. For some reason (probably because it would never occur to me to do that), I was not making that association.

Locrian_Lyric
Locrian_Lyric

I aquired an online stalker who tried to get me fired from my job. He also published my full name, address and phone number, and tried to get people to show up to my house.

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

that an e-mail is a form of simple text message. Both are directed to a recipient with a unique 'address' via a public carrier. A text message is just as easy to track as an e-mail address - worst still it is harder to remain 'Anonymus' (who was the scribe? - for free) text message as you can't just create random text message accounts.

Tig2
Tig2

I ran a story some time back about one's "Google reputation" as it is becoming more and more common for a potential employer to Google a candidate. That story included a pointer to my source- a story on what people were doing to clean up after being attacked online. There is an entire career field as a result- Reputation Management. G-Man makes a great point in identifying that this is a form of bullying. It can ruin otherwise stellar reputations if not managed properly. In the case I cited, it was several young men attacking young women attending Yale. The attack took the form of baseless accusation and various obscenities. http://blogs.techrepublic.com.com/tech-news/?p=2034 Online bullying IS valid. Don't know if it is the road that Toni intended to go down, but is certainly a worthy topic.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

How did a simple text message become a form of bullying? I don't understand it. It's very difficult to avoid the bully face-to-face, but a verbally abusive or threatening forum post, even with your name in it, can be ignored. Maybe I'm not understanding something here, but IMO, you need to be a willing victim to be bullied in a forum. Emails, being much more personal, are a different story. I have seen the threatening emails in an in-box and was able to convince that individual to take them to the police. It never ceases to amaze me how fast most people back down when charged with a criminal complaint and served with a restraining order... Those who don't back down are the ones you've got to worry about.

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