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Workplace bullying is still a problem, survey shows
I had hoped that increasing awareness of the problem of workplace bullying would lead to a decrease in its occurrence. A new survey, however, makes me believe that has not happened. - photo by Greg Kratz
The average workday can be tough to navigate for your basic resident of Cubeville.

You've got to push through seemingly endless meetings, only some of which appear to have a point. You have to deal with office politics, which can change so rapidly that it makes your head spin. And while you hopefully have time to do meaningful work each day, you'll also spend time on mundane tasks such as reconciling expense reports.

While some of these daily challenges are definitely not fun, they're usually manageable, and they're an expected part of an office job.

What is less manageable, and should never have a place in any work environment, is bullying. And yet it continues to be a problem.

I've written about bullying at work before, and my columns on that topic garnered some of the most passionate responses from readers that I've received.

I had hoped that increasing awareness of the problem of workplace bullying would lead to a decrease in its occurrence. A new survey, however, makes me believe that has not happened.

The survey by OfficeTeam, a Robert Half company that specializes in the temporary placement of office and administrative support professionals, found that 35 percent of respondents said they have worked at a company in which they had to deal with an office bully.

For the survey, OfficeTeam received responses from more than 300 U.S. adults who were employed in office environments and more than 300 human resources managers at companies with 20 or more employees.

That's a decent sample size, but I'm guessing that the result showing about a third of people have dealt with office bullies may still be a bit low. Think about your work history for a minute. Can you recall an office you worked in that didn't include at least one person who exhibited bullying behavior?

I'm guessing that not everyone agrees on what constitutes bullying, and it's probably true that there are some shades of gray in the definition. However, some forms of bullying are obvious. And the fact remains that just as it's not hard to find a bully on almost any school playground, it's also fairly easy to identify one in almost any office.

The OfficeTeam survey again backs this up, to some extent. When human resources managers were asked how often bullying took place at their companies, 6 percent said very often, and 21 percent said somewhat often. Another 35 percent said not very often, while 38 percent said bullying never occurred at their companies.

If you take the top three categories, 62 percent of HR managers believe that bullying occurs at least occasionally in their offices. That's definitely a sobering statistic.

The OfficeTeam survey also asked workers who had dealt with an office bully what they had done in response. Thirty-two percent said they mustered up their courage and confronted the bully, while 27 percent said they told their manager. I applaud both groups for taking action.

I feel worse for the 13 percent of respondents who said they quit their job and the 17 percent who said they did nothing. These are people who likely didn't think they had the personal or professional tools to deal with the bully, so they either made a major life change or suffered in silence. Or perhaps the bully was a supervisor, and the employee felt he or she had no recourse but to shut up and take the abuse.

Either situation is unfortunate at best and tragic at worst. And the problem seems to be all too easy for some companies to ignore.

Workplace bullying often flies under the radar because employees tolerate or fail to report it, said Robert Hosking, executive director of OfficeTeam, in a press release about the survey. Managers and staff alike should be supported in addressing bullying issues. This includes not giving anyone a pass for negative behavior, no matter how valued that person may be.

Along those lines, OfficeTeam offered five tips to help people who are the victims of workplace bullying, including:

  • Take a stand. OfficeTeam's press release suggests that you should avoid being an easy target, as bullies often back off if you stick up for yourself. I think that's true, but I also know that following through on this advice could be difficult for many people.
  • Talk it out. "Have a one-on-one discussion with the bully, providing examples of behaviors that made you feel uncomfortable," the OfficeTeam release said. "It's possible the person is unaware of how his or her actions are negatively affecting others."
  • Keep your cool. Stay calm and professional, and don't stoop to the bully's level. This is vital, I think, as you don't want to combat bullying by becoming a bully yourself.
  • Document poor conduct. OfficeTeam recommends that you keep a record of instances of workplace bullying, detailing what was said or done in each case. I've found that documentation is important in pretty much any workplace dispute, and I always encourage people to keep thorough notes about conflicts.
  • Seek support. "If the issue is serious or you arent able to resolve it on your own, alert your manager or HR department for assistance," the OfficeTeam release said. That's what HR is for, and I think this is definitely a route to consider.
Regardless of how workers deal with bullying, I hope they are able to find ways to overcome this problem.

And again, I'd appreciate your input on this topic. Do you think bullying in the office is more or less prevalent now than it was a few years ago? Why? Have you faced bullying at work? How did you try to deal with it? What worked or didn't work?

Please send me your responses in an email or through an online comment, and I'll use some of them in a future column.
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