Workplace bullying involves repeated abuse, mistreatment, or anxiety-provoking treatment of one or several employees by a perpetrator. Conduct may involve intimidation, threats, humiliation, sabotaging work, or verbal abuse. In some cases, it may include physical or sexual abuse. Workplace bullying is sometimes harder to pinpoint than other forms of bullying because it occurs within an organization, where policies and rules may actually be conducive to bullying as opposed to preventing it. In the majority of cases, workplace bullies are in positions of authority over their targets; however, workplace bullying can also occur between peers or even a subordinate and his or her superior.
The Workplace Bulling Institute (WBI) conducted a national survey in 2014 assessing the amount of bullying in work contexts across the United States. The major findings included:
- Of those surveyed, 27% currently have or have at one time had direct experience with abusive behavior at work.
- 72% of Americans claim that they are aware of bullying as a common problem in the workplace.
- The majority of bullies are those in positions of authority, namely bosses.
- Among employers, 72% downplay the significance of workplace bullying
Other research in the area of workplace bullying has shown that the sex and ethnicity of the victim is not directly linked to likelihood of being bullied. One in ten employees are expected to experience bullying at some point in their careers. However, close to one in four people are likely to be affected by bullying, whether as a target or a witness of workplace abuse.
Bullying has been found to be more prevalent in organizations where managerial staff and employees feel that they are not discouraged but rather supported when they engage in abusive or bullying behavior. New managers may come to accept this treatment as normal if others are found to get away with it and in some cases, praised for their conduct. Bullying can threaten the security and productivity of an entire organization if it is not kept in check. Higher-ups who take out their anger or frustration on their subordinates are likely to perpetuate a chain reaction within the organization.
Bullying in the workplace has a number of negative consequences which ultimately end up costing both the victim and the organization in a number of ways. The victim is likely to experience unnecessary stress. Over the long-term, this stress can contribute to a wide array of negative health effects, including increased poor physical and mental health. Conditions that can be exacerbated by addition stress include: irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), migraine headaches, blood pressure, chronic fatigue syndrome, and impotency. Where mental health is concerned, bullying may lead to the development of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), panic attacks, clinical depression, sleep disruption, mood swings, inability to concentrate. Some victims may have persistent thoughts of suicide or even commit suicide. All of these outcomes can potentially cost the organization in dampened morale and lost productivity.
Bullying in the workplace is a persistent problem that affects a large percentage of American employees. It often occurs between a boss (perpetrator) and subordinate (victim); however, it can occur in other arrangements as well. Bullying results in a wide array of negative health outcomes for the victim, most of which contribute to lost productivity in the workplace.