Dealing with the office bully can be a daunting task. We all know of the co-worker and/or supervisor that makes work unbearable in the office. It has become a part of the American workplace that many accept as the norm. As a former target, I can testify to the fact that it is neither normal nor acceptable. I endured work interference and sabotage by my supervisor. Bullying should never be “the norm” of any work environment.
Workplace bullying is a national problem that affected 65 million American workers according to the 2014 U.S. Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI) Workplace Bullying Survey. Known as the silent epidemic, WBI defines workplace bullying as repeated, abusive conduct that is threatening, humiliating, or intimidating, verbal abuse or work interference, such as sabotage, which prevents work from getting done.
Dr. Gary Namie, co-founder of the WBI and a social psychologist states, “Bullying is a form of lie. The bully gets inside your head to convince you that you are incompetent. They plant seeds of self-doubt.”
In my case, I found strength from my faith in God to deal with the bullying. I refused to accept the label of being a slacker. What began as a few misplaced reports snowballed into work sabotage and missed assignments. The breaking point for me was the day I received an email that I was copied on by my supervisor addressed to a staff member from another agency blaming me for work I was never given.
Dr. Gary Namie, further states, “Seventy (70%) of bullies are bosses and most targets lose their jobs. The bullying is not based on fact but on the perpetrator being threatened by the skills of their target.” According to the 2014 WBI Survey, women comprised 60% of the targets of workplace bullying with perpetrators that were male and female.
Although I was concerned about losing my job, I had to take action by speaking out. It was necessary to expose the bullying to the entire staff. As I sought God in prayer, he reassured me that I was doing what was right. After talking with other female staff members I learned they were having similar problems.
During the staff meeting the following day, I waited patiently for the supervisor to address the issue. He glossed over it with the “we’ll do better next time” speech. Once he finished, I raised my hand. I said, “Blaming staff for the mistakes made by management to an outside agency is not acceptable. We are professionals and know how to do our jobs without being undermined.”
Surprisingly, other staff members chimed in because they were experiencing the same treatment. Since staff was unified, the supervisors apologized changed their behavior. Dr. Namie states, “By breaking the silence you find out who else was affected. They want the targets to be silent. You bring power to yourself.”
However, in the case of some, speaking up only shifted the focus of bullying to them. Dawn Westmoreland, a severely disabled Air Force veteran, was a whistleblower against the illegal training practices and nepotism she witnessed while working for a division in the federal government.
Ms. Westmoreland states, “They would make the lives anyone that would stand up against them miserable. They made up false charges against people to get them fired.” Dr. Namie further described workplace bullying as “the systematic campaign of interpersonal destruction and damages the health of millions of Americans.”
She was harassed for 2 years and lost six months of pay. Due to the stress, she admitted herself into a mental health ward for 3 days. Dawn states, “I was sick and tired of being a victim. I decided that I would no longer call myself a victim, but would not stop fighting.”
As a result, she checked out, hired a lawyer and filed a discrimination case against her employer through the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The federal agency has the authority to investigate charges of discrimination against employers who are covered by the law.
According to the EEOC, it is illegal for an employer, with 15 or more employees, to discriminate against a job applicant or an employee because of the person’s race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information. Dawn further states, “They also denied my doctor’s order for a medical reasonable accommodation to work from home. They made my work environment uncomfortable physically and emotionally.” Dawn was discriminated against because of her disability, but bullied because she was a whistleblower.
Dr. Namie further states, “Twenty percent of discrimination cases are bullying cases.” Dawn’s case was strong because of her solid documentation. The employer settled out of court two (2) days before the EEOC hearing. The next week Dawn started her foundation, The Foundation of Respect.com, which is geared towards helping men and women overcome bullying in the workplace.
Although thwarting workplace bullying can be overwhelming, Dr. Namie of the Workplace bullying Institute provides the following tips:
• Never self-disclose in new relationships until proven safe. Keep personal information private, because bullies will use it against you.
• Don’t change your personality. If you don’t have quick witted comebacks, then you can’t learn it.
• The #1 stress buster is social support. Maintain a strong social network of people that care about you.
Additional tips from Dawn and other targets, which helped them combat workplace bullying include: Always notify your immediate supervisor in writing of the first bullying incident; and do not rely on witnesses. You must provide written proof that you informed your management about being bullied. Lastly, maintain a timeline of every incident and any doctor’s appointments. Keep a copy of all doctor’s orders.
Angeline Lawrence is an author and life strategist that helps women overcome challenges. Visit her website www.angelinelawrence1.instapage.com. Her first book, “The Working Women’s Guide to Winning: Defeat Satan at His Own Game with Integrity,” shares the biblically based strategies she used to overcome workplace bullying.