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Are You Bullied At Work?

Studies show bullying in the workplace is widespread

bully 2015Those who are talented, help others.  Those who aren’t, bully.

When I was Vice President of a large hospital system, I was put in charge of the durable medical equipment division (DME).  DME encompasses wheelchairs, walkers, oxygen, and other supplies to help patients stay in their homes.  Shortly after receiving this new “opportunity,” I decided to inventory the warehouse and see if it the results matched the computer printout.  It didn’t.

In fact, we were missing about $500,000 worth of equipment.  I brought this up to the CEO, and then my problems really began.  You see, I was so naive.  I thought upper management would want to know if there was missing inventory.  I was wrong.  This made them look bad, like they didn’t know what was going on in the organization. (They didn’t).  But what happened next was really the problem.

My boss, the chief operating officer, was going to make sure that I never did something like that again.  He was mad.  He looked mad.  His Teflon coating didn’t allow this one to slide off.

For the next six months, he would call me into his office and demand reports, spreadsheets, and detail about operations.  He would raise his voice, accuse me of the most bizarre things, and give me assignments.  At one point, he insisted his secretary sit in on the meetings to take notes.  That way, he had an audience.  I didn’t really understand it at the time, but I was being bullied.

Like many targets, I viewed what was happening as my fault.  After all, I was the one who exposed the missing equipment.  Maybe I should have covered it up.  I certainly wouldn’t have been the first corporate executive to do so.  Maybe my problem was that I told the truth.  I told myself that I needed to get savvy about office politics.  There were other VP’s that were so adept at working the system.  They took the boss to ball games, symphonies and plays.  I just didn’t know how to play the game.  Then I decided it wasn’t a game I wanted to play.  I left a few months later to start my business.  I soon learned that my boss had picked another target to torment.

Bullying in the Workplace

Unfortunately, my experience is not unusual.  Bullying is epidemic in the workplace and appears to be increasing.  A study by CareerBuilder finds the number of workers encountering bullies at the office is on the rise.  According to the study, conducted by Harris Interactive from May 14 to June 4, 2012, thirty-five percent of workers said they have felt bullied at work.  This was up from 27 percent in 2011.  Sixteen percent of these workers reported they suffered health-related problems as a result of bullying and 17% decided to quit their jobs.

This mirrors the findings of the latest study by The Workplace Bullying Institute.  They commissioned Zogby International to collect data on the topic of workplace bullying.  They surveyed over 6,000 people and found that 35% of workers have experienced bullying firsthand.  Most bullies are men, (62%) with 58% of the targets women.  There are also women bullies, though, and they target other women in 80% of cases.

Workplace bullying is a type of workplace violence that impacts the worker and the organization.  A poll by the Employment Law Alliance found that nearly 45% of American workers say they have experienced workplace abuse.  The poll, conducted by Dr. Theodore Reed, was based on a survey of 1,000 American adults.  They found that 44% reported they had worked for a supervisor they considered abusive.  More than half of American workers have been the victim, or have heard supervisions behaving abusively to employees.

Workplace bullying is not about petty disagreements, minor conflict or rude behavior. Anyone can become short-tempered, irritable and raise their voice when there is increased stress.  Everyone does this from time to time.  However, unlike a true bully, this person quickly recognizes that his behavior is out of line and apologizes.

Bullying involves a systematic and repetitive pattern of behavior over a period of time.  It is an intentional misuse of power and position that singles out an individual (target) for abusive treatment by a bully.  Also known as harassment, it humiliates and demeans a person.

Bullying occurs in every industry and every profession.  The culture of bullying may be deeply entrenched in the history and routines of an organization.  It may be so prevalent that employees think it is “normal.”

Though the public rates healthcare workers as one of the most honest and ethical groups of professionals, incivility is rampant in healthcare.  Bullying, belittling, and backstabbing are so common in the healthcare workplace, that the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (JCAHO) recently issued new regulations on reporting, disciplining and preventing bullying situations.

JCAHO created a code of conduct to define acceptable, disruptive and inappropriate workplace behaviors.  They explained that it was taking this action because “intimidating and disruptive behaviors can foster medical errors, contribute to poor patient satisfaction and to preventable adverse consequences, increase the cost of care and cause qualified clinicians, administrators and managers to seek new positions in more professional environments.”

As a nurse, I have experienced and witnessed bullying in various healthcare settings many times.  While working on a very busy medical/surgical unit in Denver, I observed an arrogant and pompous surgeon scream at the nurses and belittle them in front of their peers.  One day, my boss stood up to him and made it clear that she would not tolerate that type of behavior.  Unfortunately, the hospital management did not back her up since the surgeon brought in a lot of money.  He was allowed to continue his bullying and abusive behavior.

What is the culture at your workplace?  Is bullying behavior killing morale and tanking productivity?  Even if you’re not being bullied, chances are at least one of your colleagues is the target of a bully.


About Barbara Bartlein

Barbara Bartlein is The People Pro. She presents keynotes and training and is an expert in workplace culture. Her new book, Energy Suckers-How to Deal With Bullies in the Workplace is now available. Visit her site for more information.


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