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Equal Access Issues: A Culture of Bullying

"Bullying" is one of those terms that may get people to start rolling their eyes whenever they start hearing it. Just because it sounds like something that happens on the playground, doesn't mean that it's not relevant in today's society, especially in the workplace. In fact, workplace bullying is one of the factors that I would consider strongly hinders progress in equal access. Another important component that I feel will need to be discussed in a later article is the concept of organizational apathy.

What exactly is workplace bullying? It's sometimes referred to by a bunch of different names, or categorized under a bunch of similarly related topics. Basically, as simple as it sounds, it is the unethical treatment or harassment by a supervisor or fellow co-worker, with the overall intent or goal to lower your morale and self-esteem. This can be accomplished a number of ways including, but not limited to:

  1. Berating

  2. Excluding

  3. Making snide remarks

  4. Stealing credit

  5. Threatening

  6. Unfairness

There are a number of reasons why people attempt to justify workplace bullying. Work is boring if there if you can't make fun of something or somebody. Some people are just too sensitive and need to grow a pair! It's all in good fun! Whatever the reason, it's stupid and it's wrong. Don't partake in workplace bullying, no matter what the reason. Even if it's to make up for a bad day, it's still not a good thing to do.

What are the consequences of workplace bullying? There are several physiological consequences, as well as behavioral and psychological consequences. On the physiological side, people can suffer from the following over an extended period of time:

  1. High blood pressure

  2. Ulcers

  3. Insomnia

  4. Migraines

  5. Irritable bowel syndrome

Some behavioral consequences can include.

  1. Anxiety

  2. Fear

  3. Dread

  4. Stress

  5. Irritability

  6. Frustration

  7. Anger

  8. Hostility

  9. Panic Attacks

Notice that while some people might get a chuckle from shocking or startling someone, some of the other consequences can be less predictable. What all of these psychological responses have in common is that they're negative, and they are likely all interconnected. In fact, there is a psychological pathway called the Flight or Fight response.

While generally with bullying, there is no real danger, the mind can be a powerful thing, and the perception of a highly stressful, dangerous situation, can cause people to become dangerous and unpredictable. A perceived threat can actually activate pathways within the central nervous system which promotes hypervigilism, heightened reflexes and impaired judgment. While some people may lose control in the form of fear (or Flight), other people may lose control in anger or violence (i.e. Fight). In either case, there are a bunch of negative outcomes that result from these physiological and behavioral reactions to bullying. These can include

  1. Lost productivity - chronic stressors can cause people to lose their ability to focus.

  2. Low self-esteem - people with low self-esteem will begin to believe they are not a productive member of the team, and will stop trying impress other people with their work. This can be seen as laziness or slacking off.

  3. Indecisiveness - Similarly, people will have difficulty making even simple choices, which causes people to miss deadlines and get the job done.

  4. Lost motivation - What's the point? My work sucks anyway.

  5. Wasted time - bullied individuals will spend their time and efforts away from their job and instead focus on: a. Ruminating (dwelling on the situation) b. Defending (or self-advocating) themselves c. Talking to other coworkers d. Planning

  6. Absenteeism - People won't want to show up to work because they hate their job. They will make all sorts of excuses to not physically show up, include feigning sickness, getting hung over, making excuses, anything to avoid physically showing up at the job

  7. Turnover - it costs a lot of money, time, and effort to retrain a new person to replace the person that just quit.

How does this ultimately affect the workplace? Bullying has a negative economic outcome on the organization or the institution. It is estimated that as much as $360 billion a year is wasted due to turnover and decreased work productivity, which people mark as measures of successful workplace bullying.

Who are the common targets of workplace bullying? In the US...

  1. Women are more frequently targeted than men.

  2. Atheists and Muslims tend to be bullied more than Christians.

  3. People of different ethnicities tend to be targeted more than whites.

  4. Divorced or separated people are targeted for bullying more frequently than married people.

  5. People aged 65 or older are at higher risk of bullying.

  6. People with disabilities are commonly targeted

  7. A combination of ALL of the above makes it even easier to be targeted.

Oh... so you were bullied, too. Join the club.

In fact, the more of these factors you have, the more likely you are to get bullied. Hmm... there seems to be some sort of pattern here, but I can't quite put my finger on it. What do you guys think? Also, if there seems to be so many bad, negative outcomes from bullying, why does it happen? Why are people so dismissive of workplace bullying. This is why we have to tune in next time to learn about organizational apathy!

Anyway, I hope this was helpful to someone. Workplace bullying is one of the reasons why I have ultimately decided to create this resource. It is a major barrier for protected people to move up in their company or institution, and no one seems to care (at least, none of the important people). We can all pretend that this is surprising, but I think deep down, sadly, we know it isn't. People out of touch with reality are the people leading our companies and organizations, so every time, this comes out as a major shock to them. All I can tell you is that you have to keep documenting every single negative encounter you have. Report bullying, and get your harassers in trouble. Accumulate a preponderance of evidence against your perpetrators. That's the only way things will change in your organization. You can't depend on your leadership to take care of things for you.

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