Balancing act: Survey: Bullying is wreaking havoc in the workplace

Published: Tuesday, July 1 2014 7:30 a.m. MDT

"In knowledge industries — high-tech, software, healthcare, etc. — emotional bullying is the norm," he wrote. "We see a lot more cutting sarcasm, controlling behavior and subtle threats. Think of it as the 'smart person’s form of abuse.' … Sarcasm has always been the knowledge industry’s preferred method for bullying."

Regardless of the form bullying takes, Maxfield said the average victim's most common response is avoidance.

"The problem is that 'silence isn't golden, it's permission,’ ” Maxfield wrote as part of the email interview. "Staying silent signals that the bullying is acceptable — that the bully can get away with it. It reinforces an unhealthy organizational norm."

According to the VitalSmarts survey, 64 percent of respondents who were bullied at work said they tried to stay away from the problem co-worker. Fifty-eight percent said they dealt with the problem by venting to others, and 45 percent said they had to engage in "dysfunctional workarounds" to avoid problems. Forty-eight percent said they planned to quit or were thinking about quitting to avoid an office bully.

But not everyone tries to avoid the problem. Some people respond in kind (8 percent of respondents) or lose their tempers (10 percent). Those who try more constructive strategies included 35 percent who said they reported a work bully to a manager, and 31 percent who talked to the bully directly to share their concerns.

Regardless of the response, the damage of workplace bullying goes beyond the emotional and physical harm faced by its victims. That should be enough to encourage a company to act, but if it isn't, executives can look at other costs of this bad behavior.

"The costs are shockingly high," Maxfield wrote. "One in five of our respondents say that working around a bully costs them seven or more hours per week in extra work. This translates into $8,800 in lost wages to those workers or their employers every year."

In a big company — or even a smaller firm — those numbers can add up quickly.

So what can be done to combat workplace bullying?

I'll share some of Maxfield's ideas in next week's column. In the meantime, I'd be interested in your response to these survey results. Do you think workplace bullying is a common problem? Have you ever faced such problems? How did you respond, and what was the outcome?

Please share your stories, and I'll use some of them in future columns. Maybe increased awareness of bullying of all kinds will finally help make a difference, whether it's on the playground or in Cubeville.

Email your comments to kratzbalancingact@gmail.com or post them online at deseretnews.com. Follow me on Twitter at gkratzbalancing or on Facebook on my journalist page.

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