The Journey “Bullying in the Workplace?”

Our guest writer this week is Lisa, who’s tackling the difficult subject of bullying at school and in the workplace.  The subject is one that has been in the news and is very controversial.  Why does it happen?  How could it happen?  What do I do when it happens?  Lisa is a part of our Human Resource department and she shares her views on her son’s seven core virtues and Avnet’s code of conduct.

Jackson's 1st Grade Dance

“My son, Jackson, is seven years old and just finished the first grade. Like all parents, I worry.  I worry about his safety.  I worry that he’ll get sick.  I worry that he won’t do well in school.  I worry about what he watches on TV.  These worries are fairly easily to address.  I take him to the doctor when he’s sick.  I help him with his homework (he had all “A”s on his report card).  I change the channel or shut the TV off if the show is inappropriate.   But recently, I have started worrying about bullying.  School place bullying and cyber bullying have been all over the headlines recently.  School districts are adding anti-bullying policies to their Codes of Conduct and suspending or expelling students who bully.  State legislators are proposing anti-bullying laws.  Parent groups are banding together to create programs to help children understand what to do if they are the target of a bully.

I always assumed that bullying stopped once a person finished school.  Certainly by then, we have grown up enough to have compassion and respect for others.  My assumption was wrong.  Bullying in the workplace is enormous issue as well. The results of a survey done by the Employment Law Alliance showed that nearly half of the US workforce (45%) reports that they have worked for an abusive boss at some point during their career.  A study conducted by SHRM (Society for Human Resource Management) confirmed that 57% of the people in their study had witnessed harassment in the workplace (not including sexual harassment).  Another study, sponsored by the Workforce Bullying Institute, estimated that 37% of the US workforce reported being bullied at work.  However you look at it, the statistics tell us that bullies exist in the workplace.  As you read this, you may recall your own experiences with a workplace bully.

What is workplace bullying? Research (completed by Namie & Namie) shows that bullying in the workplace is about “abusive disrespect”.  It’s about intimidation, emotional abuse and psychological violence.  Bullies use surprise and secrecy to gain leverage. They never try to meet someone halfway – they aren’t interested in negotiation. They perform psychological violence through criticism, name calling, sabotage, exclusion, etc.  According to the same research, workplace bullies tend to be liars and cowards who start trouble and cause conflict because they feel inadequate and are poorly developed.

Why does this matter?  Studies done in the United Kingdom estimate that 30% to 50% of all stress related illnesses are due to workplace bullying. Depression, anxiety, gastrointestinal disorders, insomnia and substance abuse are just a few of the physical and emotional responses people have to being targets of workplace bullies.  Company costs related to healthcare, productivity, turnover and absenteeism can be detrimental to an organization.

Consider this . . . have you ever had a manager or co-worker constantly put you down?  Tease you?  Make belittling comments to you?  Humiliate you? Call you names? Criticize you constantly? Blame you for things you haven’t done? Sabotage your work? Take credit for your work? Cut you out of communications? Exclude you from meetings? Isolate you from your co-workers?  These are some examples of workplace bullying.

What can we do to stop or prevent workplace bullying? First, if you are a victim of workplace bullying, or witness to it, report it. Tell your HR team what is going on so they can investigate the situation.  At Avnet, our Code of Conduct articulates that retaliation is prohibited.  So, anyone who reports harassment in good faith would be protected against retaliation. Second, be aware of what is going on around you.  If you sense that someone is being mistreated, speak to the person who you feel is behaving inappropriately. If that doesn’t work, speak to their manager and HR.  Finally, I think we all need to consider our individual behavior and choices we make in the workplace on a daily basis. If you think you might have been a bully in the past, consider the reasons why you might have behaved that way so you can prevent it in the future. You may also consider speaking to the individual about it and apologizing. If you are currently bullying someone, STOP.  Just stop and consider what you are doing, why you are doing it and what you should be doing instead. Ask for help from your manager, your co-workers or from HR.

At my son’s elementary school, they follow seven core virtues – self-discipline, respect, compassion, perseverance, giving, honesty and responsibility. They talk about these virtues everyday and at the end of each day, they write about how they used the virtues that day. I think if we take their virtues into consideration in our daily lives, it would go a long way to enhance our individual lives along with the lives of the people we work with.”

Thank you Lisa for sharing your story with us.  You’ve given us the opportunity to understand what bullying is and how we can deal with it.  The key is “we all” have the ability to do what is right and create the business environment that promotes unity and positive results.

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This post was written by FJ on July 5, 2011

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