July 01, 2008

No Bull? Bullying in the workplace is apparently on the rise according to a number of sources. Reports this week in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and in the Canadian press spotlight the daily interactions symptomatic of bullying, as well as some tools for stamping it out. Some of the numbers cite that between a third to almost half of employees have experienced being pushed around at the office. So what's the big deal? Experts point to higher turnover, lower morale, and dollars spent on litigation as some of the more unsavory outcomes. There is a big difference between being assertive, and being downright abusive, most would probably agree. And everyone knows of at least one co-worker with a short fuse who is prone to airing their major malfunctions without apology. Through the years many of us probably learned to deal with the verbal missteps of our colleagues. We figured it was "just his personality" or "just her way of getting things done." Mr. Spacely would not have stood much of a chance today. Over the years, anti-harassment measures began to play a role in combating bullying, but how does one prove or disprove harassment that has nothing to do with gender, race, etc, and more to do with the insecurities and general "lack of home training" on the part of abusers? And many individuals may be slow to report incidents that are lacking in clear parameters or descriptors. We think know bullying when we see it, but what is it really? And what about what I will call "stealth bullies"—people who continually put-down and undermine coworkers behind the cloak of email or veiled intentions? In addition to establishing firm policies, the next level of securing a safe workplace with zero tolerance for bullies starts everyday, and with every individual. I'm not sure that the days of making excuses for colleagues gone wild are as far behind us as we might think.

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