On the playground, she’s mean. She laughs at our lisp and calls our pigtails ugly. She gets a bunch of her friends to stand in our way when we try to climb the jungle gym.
Flash forward 20 years and, finally, we can wear whatever we want and walk confidently down the street. That is, until 9 a.m., when we skulk past her corner office and pray she doesn’t scream at us for making a mistake on our latest project. The bully is back.
Across the U.S., workplace bullying is on the rise. The trend has some obvious negative consequences in the form of stressed and unhappy employees. But the ramifications of workplace bullying go beyond tearful staff members hiding out in bathroom stalls. Hostile workplaces often lead to less productive employees and therefore less successful companies. It might seem too simple, but perhaps the most effective way to increase job performance is to make sure everyone gets along.
What's the Deal?
The term “workplace bullying” encompasses a pretty wide range of situations, but in general, it refers to repeated, health-harming mistreatment of one or more people that can include verbal abuse, offensive nonverbal behaviors, or interfering with someone’s ability to get work done. Over the last few decades, the number of people who’ve admitted to being the target of workplace bullying has increased drastically. In 2011, half of employees in one survey said they were treated rudely at least once a week, an increase of 25 percent from 1998. (Recent researchalso suggests that physically unattractive people are more likely to be bullied at the office.) Many people say the experience of being bullied has caused them to develop health issues such as anxiety and depression. Some have even left their jobs.
While it’s becoming increasingly obvious workplace bullying is a problem, it’s not entirely clear why bullying is on the rise. Some researchers say the recent economic downturn has put undue stress on bosses, causing them to lash out at employees. Many workplace bullies also score high on tests of narcissism and self-orientation. But those who are rude in the workplace aren’t necessarily self-absorbed tyrants. Some of us are so overwhelmed by our work responsibilities that we don’t even realize when we’re being rude to others, says Dr. Christine Porath, a Georgetown University professor who studies workplace incivility.
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