Are You Being Bullied at Your Office?

Tory Johnson responds to viewer questions about bullying in the workplace.

ByABC News via logo
March 26, 2008, 7:29 AM

March 27, 2008 — -- "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.

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."