I’ve been working since my teens, first at my dad’s office in the summer where I learned about proper business conduct because my boss was my dad and he expected me to be a reflection of his work ethic and proper decorum in the office. When I turned 15-years-old I decided it would be more fun to find a job where I could work with my friend Terry and her father found jobs for us at a coffee shop/burger place in the heart of the garment district in downtown Los Angeles. Terry’s father was a manager at the Employment Development Department and was able to secure the jobs for us without resumes or interviews under a special program for inexperienced workers.
Since those prehistoric days, when “workplace harassment” were words that never appeared together in a sentence, I’ve been lucky to have advanced to my dream jobs many times. During those years of climbing the career ladder, I have to admit that I’ve been a victim of bullying and harassment. Even though when we hear the word “bullying” our thoughts go to children and teens in that situation, but as an adult we often try to deal with an emotionally painful situation at work between a boss, co-worker, or a group (clique) by ignoring it because we either do not want to add embarrassment on top of being bullied, or afraid of losing our job. Sadly, we put up with the mental anguish. I’ve had to endure being bullied out of fear. I did not fear being physically attacked, but I feared I will make matters worse if I stood up for myself. Actually, one time I did go to HR to report the abuse and my fears were realized; it made matters worse for me. This happened years before the awareness and reform of workplace harassment discipline practices.
Though it might seem less common for men to be or feel bullied in the workplace I understand men are also vulnerable and affected emotionally by bullying. Perhaps because men may have been raised to be “strong” and just ignore the kids who bullied them, now grown into bullying adults. Men taught to ignore the feelings of hurt, shame, and anger from being bullied can find those repressed feelings bubble up later and lead to serious mental and physical health problems. I’ve witnessed men that I worked with in the past get bullied and it was dreadful. Callous men and women make fun and/or berate the appearance, sexual orientation, the manner of speech (foreign accent), and ethnic origin among the many other reasons they find to bully their target.
If you are like me, an introvert, you don’t always show your shyness on the outside. Most people think of me as friendly, happy, witty (maybe that’s just my own opinion), outgoing and confident. Wish I had Emmy, Tony and Academy awards for my convincing performances in the public eye. Truthfully, I’m a sensitive person who has developed an armor of protection against the occasional arrow of offense that is aimed my way. But my armor does have a few vulnerable spots, and it doesn’t help that I paint bullseyes on them. Nevertheless, I probably would have suffered less in the past if I had learned a few things earlier in life that are really helpful and can make you feel empowered instead of victimized. One method I learned is to protect my personal space. This means that I don’t allow strangers to encroach upon my private life, especially in a business setting. I try to keep my boundaries clear and I respect my colleagues’ boundaries as well. This doesn’t mean I’m cold and unfriendly; I just don’t disclose details about my inner life in the public eye.
If you aren’t the one being bullied, but your partner, spouse, family member or good friend is, you can help them by being their confidant and offer some practical advice so they can deal with the painful situation. In extreme cases of harassment, the victim’s health and physical safety are at risk and in those cases, you can guide them to resources specializing in counseling for victims of abuse and support them while they follow through on an action plan to resolve and protect themselves from harm. Sometimes the victim does not realize they are a victim; they think they just have bad luck in working with a particular person and have to live with it, but they constantly complain about abuse and terrible experiences at work on a daily basis. This is a sign they could be a victim of workplace bullying.
I did some research online and found a comprehensive website for an organization dedicated to eradicating workplace bullying. WBI – Workplace Bullying Institute. Their mission is to study, correct and prevent abusive conduct at work. There is a tremendous amount of information on this website that covers moderate to severe forms of bullying and the action plans to resolve these situations. I wish I had found this resource when I was going through similar abusive situations.
The WBI describes bullying as abusive conduct that is:
• Threatening, humiliating, or intimidating
• Work interference, or sabotage which prevents work from getting done
• Verbal abuse
Here are tips and signs that the abuse you are experiencing is affecting your overall quality of life:
• Remember: You are not alone
• Remember: You did not cause the bullying to happen
• Outside of work:
• Days off are spent exhausted and lifeless, your desire to do anything is gone
• Your frustrated family demands that you stop obsessing about work at home
• All your paid time off is used for “mental health breaks” from the misery
• At work:
• Surprise meetings are called by your boss with no results other than further humiliation
• Everything your tormenter does to you is arbitrary and capricious, working a personal agenda that undermines the employer’s legitimate business interests
• No matter what you do, you are never left alone to do your job without interference
• You are constantly feeling agitated and anxious, experiencing a sense of doom, waiting for bad things to happen
We spend more hours at work than we do with our friends and family, so we especially need our workplace to be a productive and affirmative place of business. It’s our right to live a life at peace with our surroundings, feeling safe wherever we are and this includes our workplace. I can’t imagine we can be a progressive and prosperous society without treating each other with respect and courtesy as common conduct in every situation and every area of our lives.
Photo: Getty Images