1 in 2 workers are bullied. Here’s what to do if that’s you

One in two workers are affected by workplace bullying. The negative impacts range from depression to suicidal tendencies. So, why aren’t more people talking about it? To understand the situation and learn how to address it we turned to leadership consultant Megan Carle, author of Walk Away To Win: A Playbook to Combat Workplace Bullying for guidance.

Quartz at Work: How do you define workplace bullying?

Megan Carle: TheWorkplace Bullying Institute (WBI) defines bullying as “repeated, health-harming mistreatment by one or more employees of an employee: abusive conduct that takes the form of verbal abuse; or behaviors perceived as threatening, intimidating, or humiliating; work sabotage; or some combination of the above.”

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How many workers are impacted by bullying?

Workplace bullying has affected almost 80 million US workers, according to a 2021 WBI survey. To provide some context, one out of two workers has been affected by workplace bullying. The survey highlights that nearly 70% of workplace bullies are men, and their preferred targets are women.

How can someone be sure it’s happening to them?

It’s a repeated pattern of health-harming treatment, which is different from someone having a bad day. It’s also important to note what workplace bullying is not as much as what it is. Workplace bullying is not simple rudeness or incivility. It’s not healthy debate, creative tension, or a difference of opinion. It’s not about being challenged or pushed or having a bad day. And it’s not about conflict. Instead, bullying is about one person dominating another. It’s about dehumanizing, degrading, and devaluing targets. It’s about power and control.

How does bullying impact our mental, physical, or emotional well-being?

The statistics are grim. According to a WBI study, targets of workplace bullying report a wide range of physical damage:

  • 77% reported sleep disorders

  • 48% suffered migraine and tension headaches

  • 60% reported cardiovascular symptoms from hypertension through cardiac arrest

  • 33% suffered chronic fatigue-like symptoms

  • 37% reported GI distress

  • 17% suffered skin disorders

Targets also suffer serious psychological consequences:

  • 80% reported anxiety

  • 74% a sense of betrayal

  • 66% experienced increased anger

  • 63% reported distrust in the organization

  • 52% suffered panic attacks

  • 50% reported intrusive flashbacks

  • 49% clinical depression

  • 30% suffered from PTSD

  • 29% experienced suicidal ideation

Those impacts may sound familiar to many. What can someone do if they think they’re being bullied?

Document what is happening to you. Enlist your allies to validate what is happening and to provide support. Put together a plan with those you trust. Reporting the bullying behavior to HR is important for several reasons: You may get the help you need; You establish a record of the issue and of reporting the issue, which you will most likely need; There are boxes that need to be checked, whether or not we get the help we need from our employer. If those in positions to help you choose not to do anything, you can wait it out, seek legal advice, or walk away.

How can someone who’s being bullied find allies at work? How can those allies help?

Allies are everywhere. Often when we experience bullying at work, we don’t want to ask for help. We stop connecting with anything that might help us. We may stop moving our bodies, stop sleeping, or communicating. Allies can help so much. When an ally sees something (or even thinks they see something) happening, it is incumbent upon them to do something. Allies are the “see something, say something, do something” people that make the difference between a target struggling mightily and struggling less. Allyship is active and a vital lifeline.

What if leadership doesn’t acknowledge there is a problem?

Companies hitting and surpassing their revenue targets may not acknowledge an organizational health problem. If a bully has targeted you and you’re not getting the help you need, you have some decisions to make. If the values of the company no longer align with your own, remaining there may not be a healthy option for you.

Is walking away from your job and that workplace ever the right answer?

If there are no refs and no rules, and workplace bullying is the norm, then hold your head high and walk away. To stay is to acquiesce to a system that isn’t built to support you or any other employee-facing these challenges.

If it’s time for someone to leave their company, what are their next steps?

There are steps that most of us need to take before walking away from our jobs. If we’ve been bullied at work and exhausted our options for assistance, including HR, allies, executives, and possibly legal counsel, walking away may be the best option.

Before doing so, ensure you are putting yourself in the best position professionally, financially, and in terms of receiving the most benefits. This includes updating your resume and LinkedIn profile, securing a new job before leaving, saving money, and projecting your upcoming expenses. You should note significant milestones you don’t want to miss, such as vesting periods, stock options, and bonus payouts.

You can be consumed by workplace bullying or allow your actions to define who you are. You set the pace of your life. Choose wisely.

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