Are You Being Bullied at Your Office?

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"Good Morning America" viewers flooded Tory Johnson with emails about how to deal with a workplace bully after she talked about how to spot one and what to do. Today Tory offers more advice on handling bullies at work and responds to some viewer questions.

One viewer in New Jersey wrote: "[My boss] is an 80 year old woman. She is extremely intelligent and driven. Her way of succeeding in a male-dominated industry has been to bully everyone from employees to vendors. She is very [quick] to fly off the handle and berate in front of others. Her favorite word is 'idiot.' Every bullet point on the show applies in this situation."

Calmly confront bully with kindness: Obviously she's in a difficult situation, especially in a small company where the boss is determined to follow her rules and nobody will tell her differently. My advice here is to try to kill her with kindness. Perhaps there's a moment of downtime when you can tell her that you admire the business she's built – there's no disputing that it's incredibly successful business. Yet there's one critical detail that you've been curious about: Why would someone who is so successful, at the top of her game, resort to name calling and bully tactics when it accomplishes nothing? Tell her that you've always believed that you catch more flies with honey. Let her know that even at 80, it's never too late to change – and she should seriously consider the chance to leave a positive legacy in the industry. Again, calm, not confrontational – worth a shot.

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I heard from Andrea, a 55-yr-old single mother in Michigan: "Just this month I left my job of nine years [because of bullying.] My boss did this to me constantly. This last time, he didn't like the direction of the discussion. Before I could even finish the sentence coming out of my mouth, he told me—like a naughty child—to clock out and go home. Then my phone rang and I answered it. He reached over the back of my chair, disconnected the call, took the receiver out of my hand, and said 'leave.' So I did—with all my things, leaving only my keys and badge."

Leave a toxic culture: Many people emailed me to ask if it's ok to quit a job where the boss is a bully. They worried about being seen as a coward or a quitter. Sometimes leaving is the best and the only solution. The critics may say that's giving in to the bullies – those bullies would like nothing more than to see you cry uncle and quit. But instead of worrying what they may or may not think, do what you know in your head and your heart is best for you. Your mental health and self-esteem are far more important than any one position. As hard as it may be to pound the pavement, you can always get a new job but it's far more challenging to rebuild your crushed confidence and your declining health.

An accountant in Atlanta wrote: "It's as if you were talking about me. It isn't the words as much as it's the sighs, facial expressions and hand gestures – utterly dismissive and demeaning in meeting after meeting. It's a constant in front of my colleagues and clients. I shake daily wondering what's worse: that she does this to me or that everyone turns a blind eye?"

Express support for co-workers. This is not a problem limited solely to the nearly 40% of workers who say they've been targets of bullying; this is a significant workplace challenge that all of us should care about. None of us should sit in silence. If you see something, say something. That doesn't mean gossiping or getting confrontational. Let someone know that you see what they're going through and you'll support them any way you can.

Talk to management. When it's feasible, speak up to management about what you've witnessed. If you're concerned about pointing fingers, show them articles on the costs of bully-related absenteeism, high turnover and productivity loss. Since bullying is costly to the company's bottom line, that may cause them to take note. You can also suggest the introduction of company policies that support a healthy workplace.

Contact lawmakers. Contact your state lawmakers where bills may be pending on anti-bullying/healthy workplace legislation. If no such proposal has been introduced, make your opinions known if you feel strongly about the need for such laws.

March 26, 2008

Nearly 40 percent of American workers say they have experienced workplace bullying, according to a new study by research firm Zogby International.

A University of Minnesota report released earlier this month found the emotional toll associated with workplace bullying can be more severe than that of sexual harassment.

While sexual harassment is illegal, workplace bullying currently is not. But new legislation aimed at changing that has been introduced in several states .

Bullying in the workplace takes so many forms. Among them:

Humiliating comments or actions: Making comments or taking action desired to humiliate you is a form of bullying. In a meeting or at the water cooler, you offer what you think is a good idea. A bully smirks and calls you a moron. A bully laughs at you or mocks you in public.

Excessive yelling: A boss can disapprove of your performance. A boss can be upset if you're repeatedly late. But none of that is an excuse to be a screamer -- in private or in front of others. Yelling repeatedly is a bully tactic.

Undermining your status at work: This includes withholding key information from you. Excluding you from an e-mail distribution once could be an oversight. Doing it consistently, or always intentionally leaving you out of meetings when you ought to be in the loop, is the pattern of a bully.

Failing to give credit: Just as damaging is failing to give you the credit you're due. If you're working diligently and producing results but the boss or a colleague refuses to acknowledge you or your contribution on an ongoing basis -- as if you simply don't exist -- that's bullying.

There are steps workers can take to stop bullies from continuing to target them.

Stop it on the spot: If you can, nip it on the spot. People who bully do it because they can, and they won't stop until someone stops them. So if you're feeling strong, tell them firmly and directly, "Don't speak to me that way. I'm professional and cordial to you, and I expect the same in return."

Walk away from a tirade: You can also walk away. As a child, you might have had to sit still and take it from an intimidating parent; not so at work. Stand up and excuse yourself. "I have to go to the restroom." "I have an appointment." "I need some water." This is especially useful if you're on the verge of getting emotional which you don't want a bully to witness.

Confront the bully calmly: When you've taken a breath and have had a chance to compose your thoughts, calmly confront the bully. Cite examples of the behavior that has been humiliating or demeaning and state that you expect it to stop. No name calling, just facts delivered in a reasoned manner.

Document the abuse: Documenting bully behavior is really important. Without the facts of when, where, witnesses and so on all clearly spelled out in writing you risk being brushed off as a petty complainer or tattletale. You can sound like you're upset that someone is picking on you or that you're thin-skinned. Going to HR or a top manager is serious -- and to be taken seriously you want to present the facts. Facts are much harder to dispute and to ignore than emotions. And by putting everything in writing as it happens, you're less likely to forget key details.

Find a new job: If management doesn't help you, find a new job. No job is worth risking your mental and physical health -- or repeated blows to your self-esteem. You must control your sanity and your self-worth -- and that sometimes means removing yourself from a culture or situation where you believe both are in jeopardy.

Several states have anti-bullying legislation pending. But until workplace bullying is illegal, it's often costly and undesirable for targets to pursue legal remedies. While I wholeheartedly agree that nobody should be driven out of their job because of a bully, finding another job makes a lot of sense in theory. In reality, most people don't have the time or the means to bring about prolonged legal action. It's often quicker and healthier to get out of a bad situation and find new work.

While some critics argue that leaving is exactly what the employer or the bully wants -- to drive you out -- your mental health and well-being should be your primary concern. Don't stay in a toxic environment simply because you're not willing to give a bully the satisfaction of seeing you walk out.

Even if you're not a target, workplace bullying is a serious issue that every worker should care about. If you see something, say something. Don't allow your colleagues to suffer in silence. You don't have to be confrontational, nor should you spread gossip, but be willing to defend a co-worker who you believe is being mistreated.

Tory Johnson is the workplace contributor on "Good Morning America" and the CEO of Women for Hire. Reach her at www.womenforhire.com

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