In a way, being bullied is… well, sort of… a good thing. Far from being a loner or a weakling, the reason you are being targeted by a bully is probably because you are smarter, more competent, more poised and better-liked than the bully. You’re probably too independent and savvy to bow down to the bully’s ego trip and become a slave. All of this means the bully has decided that you are a threat, and has launched an all-out war against you to keep you in your place.
Knowing this is probably not comforting to you. After all, you’re the one who feels like throwing up on Sunday nights, or who uses your paid time off for “mental health” days to escape from misery at work. On these mental health days, you can hardly drum up enough enthusiasm to get out of bed, much less have fun with family or friends. Perhaps you spend a lot of time fantasizing about killing the bully or killing yourself, or your doctor has become concerned about your skyrocketing health problems. If so, you are not alone.
Thirty-seven percent of Americans reported being victims of bullying in this 2008 study from the Workplace Bullying Institute. (By the way, the Workplace Bullying Institute website is utterly fantastic, and should be one of your first stops on the web for validating your experience and beginning to do your research. A good portion of the research for this article came from there.)
The list could go on and on. Bullies are insecure, but they are clever, and they can be infinitely creative in finding ways to torment you without overtly violating laws or policies.
You might think filing a complaint with the human resources (HR) department or your boss’s boss would be the first logical thing to do, but statistics don’t support this course of action. There are no state laws that require employers to address workplace bullying.
As a result, according to this 2008 study, when employers were told about incidents of bullying, only 1.7% responded with the best case scenario: a fair investigation that resulted in protection for the target and consequences for the bully. In 53% of cases, the employers did nothing, and in 71% of cases, the target was actually retaliated against.
There are a couple of reasons for this disappointing response. Victims of bullying are often seen as “whiners” and “troublemakers,” while the bully is seen as producing a temporary increase of productivity from his or her employees – especially if the bully takes the time to “crop” business statistics so they present the bully in a favorable light. Also, hiring is often done according to the “who-you-know” rule. If the bully is a personal friend of the president of the company, it is going to be difficult for the president to hear bad things about his or her friend.
Here are some things you can do in the face of these dismal statistics. These suggestions are geared toward helping you feel more empowered while you’re in what is one of the most frustrating, hopeless situations that exists. Don’t underestimate the value of your mental, physical and emotional health in times of extreme stress like this.
Remember, you are not at fault for being bullied. Bullies didn’t become bullies overnight; they all have a history that can be exposed through proper vetting. The fault for bullying lies entirely with the employer, for hiring them in the first place (negligent hiring), and for ignoring complaints about the bully (negligent retention).
While the legal landscape looks grim for bullying targets right now, awareness is gradually increasing. Twenty-one states have anti-bully legislation in the pipelines, and hopefully soon we’ll begin to see states signing these proposals into law. Again, the Workplace Bullying Institute is an awesome resource. Start there, and good luck.
Featured photo credit: gun.?/Israel. via flickr.com
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