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Bullying in the Workplace: How Does This Happen?

Bullying in the Workplace: How Does This Happen?


By Dr. Marie Gould Harper
Dean, School of Business and Program Director, Management, American Public University

Recently, I was going through my trends updates when I came across a fascinating topic. There was a discussion about rudeness in the workplace and how some employees are experiencing bullying and abuse from employees AND employers. During my HR days, I remember many stories from employees who were not popular with their co-workers.

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Since these employees were on the outside looking in, their supervisors thought there was something wrong with them. It was an example of the “misplaced-displaced” employee, who was never able to get promoted because she didn’t make the “A” list.

Can you imagine going to work every day only to be bullied by your co-workers and your work environment tolerating, even accepting the behavior? How would you handle the situation if the culprit were your boss?

Study Suggests Managers Are Likely to Blame the Mistreated Employees

Sounds crazy, right? Well, a new study by the National Center for Biotechnology Information suggests that managers are more likely to blame and penalize the employees who are being mistreated by their peers than the perpetrators of the abuse. In addition, these same managers are more apt to excuse a perpetrator’s behavior if he or she has a close relationship with the managers or if the perpetrator is a top performer.

We wonder how we get into situations where there is violence in the workplace. Have we ever considered the fact that we may have created an environment that pushes a person over the edge?

For example, have you known a manager who wants to fire an employee immediately because of something that went wrong? He goes to HR and screams, “I want that person gone!” The manager doesn’t know what the employee is going through in his life outside the office. Being fired might be the last straw that causes him to snap.

Can you imagine going to work every day only to be mistreated for eight hours by individuals who do not value your worth as a human being? Moreover, you have to endure prolonged mental and verbal abuse from adults!

Bullying Has Become an Issue in Schools, Social Media and Now the Workplace

For some time now, bullying in schools and on social media has been an issue of great concern to parents and educators. Now we have bullying in the workplace. We have come a long way from normalcy! This type of behavior should be treated as harassment and unacceptable.

Wouldn’t you agree? It is time that organizations focus on and foster an environment of collaboration and teamwork. Employees need to be engaged in order to be creative and capable of resolving conflicts. Highlighting and encouraging positive aspects of the work experience can negate the bad situations.

A Message to All Organizations

We have frequent conversations about organizational culture, values and behavior. It is time that we hold our managers accountable for creating and enforcing a safe environment for our employees. Managers should not be the offenders. If they are, it is the senior executives’ responsibility to remove them.

Human Resources professionals, this is your opportunity to secure that seat at the table by coaching your staff on how to do the right thing: supporting an environment that is nurturing and healthy. Let us remove the toxicity!

Start a management degree at American Public University.

About the Author

Dr. Marie Gould Harper is the Dean for the School of Business and the Program Director of Management at American Public University. She holds an undergraduate degree in psychology from Wellesley College, a master’s degree in instructional systems from Pennsylvania State University and a doctorate in business from Capella University. She is a progressive coach, facilitator, writer, strategist and human resources/organizational development professional with more than 30 years of leadership, project management, and administrative experience. Dr. Gould Harper has worked in both corporate and academic environments.

Dr. Gould Harper is an innovative thinker and influential leader, manifesting people skills, a systematic approach to problems, organizational vision and ability to inspire followers. She is committed to continuous improvement in organizational effectiveness and human capital development, customer service and the development of future leaders.



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