Drs. Warren and Roberta (Robin) Heydenberk of Lehigh University‘s College of Education provide their take on the harmful effects of bullying among adults and offer a solution to prevent and end the practice.
Although it seems ironic that a 300 pound professional football player would be bullied, as happened recently in the Miami Dolphin incident involving Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin, it is actually a very common occurrence. Unfortunately, bullying behavior – whether unprovoked, unidirectional or intentional abuse – is alive and well in the adult sphere, including the workplace.
Bullying involves approximately one-third (37 percent according to Workplace Bullying Institute Director Dr. Gary Namie) of the American workforce, and its negative influence extends beyond the bully and the victim to permeate the entire workplace environment.
In fact, according to workplace researcher Daniel Dana, bullying and “unresolved conflict represents the largest reducible cost in many businesses, yet it remains largely unrecognized.” Bystanders to bullying wonder if they will become the next victims, and they often empathize with those who are being bullied, feeling guilty and disgusted. Witnessing bullying is emotionally draining and distracting, and causes presenteeism, the state of being physically present yet ineffective and unproductive. To escape the toxic atmosphere, approximately 25 percent of bystanders will look elsewhere for employment. Furthermore, bullying permeates all institutions ranging from families to social and civic groups, and yes, it’s found in athletics. What can be done about adult bullying? Simply defining bullying and recognizing its existence will reduce such behavior in workplaces, as it does in schools. By addressing the elephant in the room, the bullies are revealed, and the victims have hope for relief.
Governing boards should seek leaders who celebrate the importance of psychologically healthy, bully-free workplaces and who have the determination to prevent bullying. Similarly, personnel officers should be well versed with bullying behavior and its impact on organizations. This information should be astutely used in hiring practices. Bully victims must be protected—they must have safe, trusted avenues to inform others about bullying incidents. After all, very often victims are the most humble, the smartest and the most productive people within a business.
The bully has a green light if his or her victim is a silent sufferer who is afraid to seek help. Bystanders to bully and victim behaviors should be encouraged to discredit bullying behaviors. As evidenced by the recent NFL incidents, bullies love an audience. If they get bystanders to laugh at their derogatory comments or jokes about a coworker, their bullying will intensify, as will the humiliation of the victim.
Intervention is not easy. Managers who simply mediate with both bully and victim together expose the victim as an informant and invite heightened bullying in retaliation to the victim. Awareness, strong anti-bullying policies, and anonymous reporting are helpful. Anonymous reporting often requires little more than a box for anonymous notes. The best approach involves awareness and “social norming” to create an environment where bullying is not accepted – much less expected – as is the case with the NFL incidents.