Nobody disputes that peer-on-peer workplace bullying remains a huge drag on organizational efficiency and psychic harmony. According to the Workplace Bullying Institute, 35 percent of workers report having been bullied, by peers or a superior. The Institute says that bullying on the job is four times more common than racial discrimination or sexual harassment.
Problem is, psychiatrists, academics, authors and attorneys who specialize in workplace-related matters can’t come within 100 miles of a consensus about how to combat it. Some say that victims should stand up to workplace bullies right away, while others believe that is waving a red flag in the bully’s face. Some think that human resources should be notified at the barest hint of conflict, while others warn that HR shouldn’t be brought into the loop until attempts by the bullied party to address the situation have proven fruitless. All this is compounded by the fact that 62 percent of respondents to a Workplace Bullying Institute poll said that their employer lacked a formal anti-bullying policy.
The Institute defines workplace bullying as “repeated, health-harming mistreatment of one or more persons (the targets) by one or more perpetrators that takes on one or more of the following forms: verbal abuse, offensive conduct/behaviors (including nonverbal) which are threatening, humiliating or intimidating; or work interference (sabotage) which prevents work from getting done… [It] is akin to domestic violence at work, where the abuser is on the payroll.” Any number of harassments might qualify as bullying under this definition: taunts about physical appearance or professional ability, dismissive sighs when the victim offers input during meetings, you name it.
For a marketing firm sales coordinator, it came in the form of indirect intimidation. She says a coworker was envious of her advanced computer skills and professional demeanor (“things she lacked completely”). As a result, the coworker alternated between yelling for trivial reasons and ignoring the woman.
“She would insinuate that I’d get fired for making one small mistake,” the sales coordinator recalls. “I couldn’t go to HR for her indirect intimidation because it was, precisely, indirect.” She ultimately left the company and looks back on how she handled the bullying with some regret. “I should have voiced my displeasure to my boss and let her know how miserable [the bully] was making me and how it contributed to my dissatisfaction at work,” she says.
While the prospect of absorbing abuse at the place where you spend 40 hours per week is daunting, there are a number of ways to handle peer-on-peer bullying.