Understanding Workplace Bullying and Its Costs

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Consider this scenario, you have been written up on the job for a miscellaneous issue. Furthermore you have been given an action plan to complete promising your due diligence in not making whatever error you made that earned you the write up. It sounds cut and dry right?

Well what if at the same this that this is going on, you have come to notice that your co workers are no longer speaking with you.  Perhaps your office or cubicle has been moved to a different location farther from the main group of people you typically work with. Also, what if on more than  one occasion you have been accused of incompetence and negligence and openly berated in front of others?

This scenario can be described as workplace bullying or put more appropriately workplace mobbing. Workplace bullying occurs when standards and procedures are used as a weapon in intimidating and or attempting to end the employment of an employee. Typically workplace bullying occurs on a one on one basis, think supervisor and employee. However on a more sophisticated scale, workplace bullying occurs when an individual is constantly on the receiving end of barrages of criticism from multiple individuals in a workplace environment with one or two people playing lead roles in the bullying.

The idea is to emotionally break down the individual, who is the target of the bullying to accomplish one of two goals. With one goal being to have that employee become more fearful and submissive and the other goal to end the employee’s employment. It is common knowledge that when people are worried about making mistakes, they make more mistakes than usual. So if as a supervisor, I write someone up, over a situation that could have been assertively and compassionately discussed, I am merely documenting my process to justify the person’s removal. Often times with bullying it looks really legitimate on paper, as most people develop maladaptive behaviors to cope with the manufactured stress being projected unto them.

In this report, titled “Offsetting the Pain from Workplace Bullying,” authored by the Workplace Bullying Institute, an online survey revealed that 24.5% of respondents engaged in positive behaviors in response to workplace bullying. An example for positive behaviors would be prayer, meditating, and daily exercising. Compared to 9.9% of respondents who engaged in displaced behaviors, such as going home to fight with loved ones, 32.3% of respondents who engaged in self destructive behaviors, such as overeating and drug use and 33.4% of respondents who responded to workplace bullying via social withdrawal.

The report concludes that the initial response to work place bullying is rarely a rational and conscious one. The reports further states that if it were a rational response, all the responses given would have been of positive behaviors.

 bully chart

This makes sense considering that research studies have shown that people who experience chronic stress become stuck in a pattern of reactivity due to our hard wiring for fight or flight in response to feeling threatened.

In another study, based on a sample of male and female hospital employees, researchers reported that incidences of bullying in the workplace were negatively correlated with mental health. More specifically, researchers reported that one in six people who experienced workplace bullying were likely to develop depression and cardiovascular disease. Although they did note that the likelihood of cardiovascular disease was linked to overweight issues in the participants of the study. However it is important to note that just like the last study, overeating was identified as a self destructive behavior, in which 32.3% of responders reportedly engaged in. It is also important to note that when people engage in self destructive behaviors, they usually do so in an effort to escape difficult issues, such as depression.

This year a psychiatrist,  Dr. Angelos Halaris proposed that a new field be created and further proposed that it be named psychocardiology. His proposal came from a research study he spearheaded where he and his team discovered an inflammatory biomarker labeled interleukin-6, (associated with cardiovascular disease) in higher quantities in the blood stream of most of the depressed people they tested.

I am a big believer that our thoughts and feelings influence our physical health, and it could very well be that depressed people experience more stress which leads to the production of hormones that in the long term have negative side effects on the heart and overall well being of the depressed person.

We are social creatures, and besides the wounding of our egos when dealing with rejection, the situation becomes more alarming when we perceive that our “only” ability to get our basic needs met, is threatened due to perceived threats from reoccurring social conflicts in the workplace. This is the bad news, however the good news is that if you have ever been on the receiving end of workplace conflict, you can learn to bring it to an end.

If fear of not being able to provide for yourself or your family is what keeping you stuck in an employed situation you are not fond of, then you should read this post on fear.

Tomorrow, I will post on three cognitive strategies which people who are currently experiencing any perceived bullying or chronic social conflict in the workplace, can practice. The practicing of these strategies are designed to create emotional space and calm within the person so that through clarity, he or she can consider effective alternatives towards bringing the conflicts to an end.

 

Ugo is a psychotherapist and life coach.

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