bullying adults in the workplace

Featuring Mark J. Johnson, PsyD

The definition of a bully and what it means to be a victim has changed over the years. Gone are the days when we sang, “sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.” In the age of social media and with cyberbullying on the rise, we know words can hurt just as much as a punch to the gut. Sometimes even more so, because it reaches so many and never ends. Verbal and physical abuse can have long and short-term negative effects including anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, loneliness, and absenteeism at work.

What may come as a surprise, however, is that bullying doesn’t end on the playground. Adults can experience it, too – at work or in their personal relationships. Insulting someone at work in front of others, spreading rumors, or harassing on social media are common examples. Of course, physical abuse and the destruction of property (even the threat to do so) takes it to another level that becomes criminal.

It’s important to break down the types of bullying and not confuse it with teasing, a misunderstanding or a typical argument. Also important is judging the ways we can successfully handle these situations and recognize when there is a problem.

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What Makes It Bullying?

There are many definitions of a bully, however, expert Dan Olweus defines bullying as “aggressive behavior that is intentional and that involves an imbalance of power. Usually, it is repeated over time.” Below are examples for adults.

  • Physical and/or verbal attacks
  • Being excluded from on-the-job social events
  • Co-workers excusing themselves from the work area when you enter
  • Others being late or absent to meetings you call
  • Receiving the “silent treatment”
  • Ignoring presentations or work contributions
  • Colleagues refusing to assist or support work-related projects when you ask for it
  • Co-workers spreading lies about you that no one refutes

Kinds of Adult Bullies

Bullying for grown-ups varies and is meant for an individual or group of persons repeatedly by another person or group. There are different types of adult bullies and it helps to understand how they operate. Examples include:

  • Conceited Bully: This type is egotistical, shows little or no mercy for others.  They think they always are the best and feel good when in control or when hurting people.
  • Imprudent Bully: These people lash out at their victims and have no emotional control.
  • Somatic Bully: While an adult bully may not use physical abuse, he or she may threaten to hurt victims and destroy their belongings or property.
  • Verbal Bully: Words are powerful and verbal bullying can cause victims to lose general interest in their lives and may even lead to depression.
  • Ancillary Bully: These are people who ‘suck up’ to bullies and steer attention from themselves by helping bully others. Secondary bullies may feel guilty about their actions but will do it to save themselves.

The Impacts of Bullying

One would think that once you’re an adult you are mature and know right from wrong. Unfortunately, this does not always happen. Adult bullies are out there and their main al is to gain power over another person and take pleasure in it. Usually, adult bullies are not interested in discussing (or admitting) anything. This can have a considerable effect on our psyche and overall health.

When an individual has power or influence, he or she can destroy your career. Achieving success, finishing a project, receiving credit, or going for that raise can be blocked by someone looking to ruin you at your job.

When you consider how much time we spend each week at our jobs, having to deal with a bully at work can be exhausting and hopeless. In our personal lives, a bully can destroy friendships and even marriages depending upon their behaviors. Either way, the consequences of their actions can stay if you don’t talk about the problem with the person causing it or those people involved. Remember, adults have more skills and determination to control you. If the bully is already in a position of power, this can make a solution more difficult, but not impossible.

Stop Workplace Bullying

For adults, there are ways to solve the problem if you already have tried talking to the person harassing you or if tried to appeal to him or her with kindness as a way to confuse them.

In a personal situation, adults should block anyone who is harassing them from all social media and of course their phone. If threats are made to body or property, law enforcement should be involved. In the workplace, directly to your boss or Human Resources department. The one thing you don’t want to do is involve others by talking about the bully behind his or her back, which will make the situation worse.

There is not much you can do to change an adult bully, because they don’t see a reason to change. The good news is that, if you have proof of bullying, you can file a suit of harassment on the job, but you have to provide that proof.

Being the victim of a bully can be scary, frustrating, and confusing. One thing to know is that you should not blame yourself for someone else’s actions. We are responsible for our own behaviors – good and bad. Bullies are either doing it out of hurt or insecurity and it’s important to not react in front of them.

You can be confident at any age without appearing confrontational. It’s important to tell someone in power about what is happening.  Together we can end this cycle of intimidation through education, solidarity, and discipline.

If you are having trouble with bullying in the workplace and want to talk to someone about it and need support, visit UPMCPinnacle.com/mentalhealth or call PinnacleHealth Psychological Associates (PHPA) at UPMC Pinnacle at (717) 231-8360 to make an appointment.

About UPMC Harrisburg

UPMC Harrisburg is a nationally recognized leader in providing high-quality, patient-centered health care services in south central PA. and surrounding rural communities. UPMC Harrisburg includes seven acute care hospitals and over 160 outpatient clinics and ancillary facilities serving Dauphin, Cumberland, Perry, York, Lancaster, Lebanon, Juniata, Franklin, Adams, and parts of Snyder counties. These locations care for more than 1.2 million area residents yearly, providing life-saving emergency care, essential primary care, and leading-edge diagnostic services. Its cardiovascular program is nationally recognized for its innovation and quality. It also leads the region with its cancer, neurology, transplant, obstetrics-gynecology, maternity care, and orthopaedic programs.

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