As an adult, you assume that bullying goes the way of acne — it just magically ceases to be a problem sometime after high school is over. Further, we all hope and expect to be treated fairly and professionally in the workplace. Unfortunately, I learned that much like errant blemishes, bullying doesn’t seem to have age-associated boundaries. It can show up when and where you least expect it.
Bullying is abuse, plain and simple. Unlike the school yard, workplace bullying rarely results in physical marks, but the psychological toll it takes can leave much deeper, festering wounds. Psychological violence is one of the most prominent forms of workplace abuse today. In contrast to sexual harassment, racial discrimination or sexism, most forms of workplace bullying don’t fall under any specific regulatory “umbrella,” making it impossible under current laws to enforce proper corrective actions on a legal level. Enforcement must come from within the workplace organization, but many companies choose to turn a blind eye to this increasingly common problem.
Bullying in the workplace takes many forms that both bullies and their victims often mistake for business as usual. Some bullying is obvious, such as the manager shouting at a subordinate for an unimportant reason. Other forms are subtler, such as treating a particular subordinate in a markedly different and more negative way, or finding ways to sabotage the performance of a peer. Ultimately, bullying can be thought of as any malicious and degrading behavior by a person that creates a hostile work environment.
Due to bullying and harassment — adults bullying adults — thousands of Americans leave their jobs every year — jobs they excel in and love. While the worst form is a manager bullying one or more of their subordinates, it doesn’t stop there. Co-workers — people that are supposed to be teammates — are bullying their colleagues. How and why would this happen, or even worse, be allowed to happen?
According to a 2014 Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI) Bullying survey, 29% of survey respondents left their jobs voluntarily to escape further conflict, while another 19% were forced to leave when the workplace conditions were deliberately made more unbearable. 13% were terminated by their supervisors due to the bullying. This astounding amount of turnover has a direct impact workplace harmony and efficiency. In a country that prides itself on equal opportunity, it has become painfully obvious that there is a marked deficiency in identifying bullies in the workplace and dealing with them in effective ways.
Unfortunately, ethnicity is also a factor in workplace bullying. In the same WBI survey, it was reported that a total of 56.9% Hispanics were affected (32.5% reported direct bullying, while 24.4% reported that they witnessed it take place), 54.1% African Americans (33.1% direct and 21% witnessed), Asians 52.8% (33.3% direct and 19.4 witnessed) and Whites 44.3% (24.1% direct and 20.2% witnessed). With numbers like these, it is obvious that we still have a long way to go to achieve true equality, both in and outside of the workplace.
While this is an epidemic that has no easy answers, more and more employers and organizations are beginning to acknowledge that this is a real problem that can be detrimental to not only their staff, but also the well-being of their businesses. Just like in the case of sexual harassment, organizations need to develop policies and educate their workforces on identifying and reporting potential cases of bullying.
Interested in helping make a difference or learning more? Below is a list of great resources on workplace bullying and how you can take action to help end it for good.
Devin C. Hughes
Workplace Bullying Institute
American Psychological Association
 Workplace Bullying Institute. Workplace Bullying Statistics tag search, http://www.workplacebullying.org/tag/bullying-statistics/
 Healthy Workplace Bill. FAQ, http://www.healthyworkplacebill.org/faq.php