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Bullied to the Bone-Workplace Bullying

Q:  Dear Workplace Wonda,

I have been at my current  job for about four months and I am having a problem with my boss. She yells at me every day in front of the entire office, questions everything I do, and is frankly, rude. When I was first hired, there was another girl that she use to yell at and humiliate.  This girl finally had enough and walked out.  Now she's doing the same to me!   I go home in tears every night with a splitting headache and dread going to work each morning.   I want to quit, but in this economy I’m afraid I won’t be able to find another job.  What are my options? 

Signed Bullied to the Bones

A:  Dear Bullied to the Bones,
I am so sorry that you are having to experience such an unprofessional and demoralizing working environment.   Unfortunately, you are not alone.  According to the largest survey done in the US on workplace bullying (WBI-Zogby Survey-2007), an estimated 54 million (37% of the US workforce) report being bullied at work.

There is a name for bosses like yours, and I think you’ve already defined yours as being one.  A bully.  Bullies set out to intimidate, degrade, humiliate, and sabotage.   Personally, I prefer the description Robert I. Sutton gives to these types of bosses in his book titled:  The No A**hole Rule.  He says when he encounters a mean-spirited person, the first thing he think of is, “What an ***hole!”  (Thus, the title of his book).  I know.  This isn’t the most polite or politically correct description; but personally, I can’t think of a better one.  He also describes the importance of determining if the bully is a “temporary ***hole” or a “certifiable ***hole.”  He states that everyone can have a bad day or bad moment every once in a while and act like an ***hole, but a certifiable ***hole’s behavior is consistent, persistent, and is purposely aimed at belittling a person and making him or her feel worse about him/herself.  

The problem employers are having dealing with bullies in the workplace is that unless the behavior can be specifically attributed to a protected class, as defined by state and federal law, then the behavior is not illegal.  In other words, it is not illegal to be an ***hole.  My question to employers is, why does it have to be illegal to be unacceptable? 

There is no doubt bullying is occurring.  In fact, according to the Workplace Bullying Institute, workplace bullying is four times more prevalent than illegal, discriminatory harassment.   Combine this with 72% of bullies outranking their targets, and a bullied employee can feel pretty defenseless.  And rightly so.

There is truly only one solution.  Zero Tolerance.  Employers need to STOP reinforcing bullying in the corporate culture by rewarding bullies with promotions or treating complaints with indifference.

There is no doubt that bullying affects the organization’s bottom line.  Costs associated with turnover, absenteeism, decreased performance, workers’ compensation claims,  decreased morale, staff time handling complaints, and legal fees makes keeping even a high-performing bully BAD business!
Sadly, this logic is not registering with employers.  In fact, according to the WBI-Zogby Survey, in 62 percent of cases, when employers are made aware of bullying, they made the problem worse for the victim or simply did nothing.

I am sorry, Bullied to the Bone, this is probably not the facts you want to hear.  But, unless your company has an anti-bullying policy, and are enforcing it, your options are limited.  Options to consider:

1)  You can choose to stay, say nothing, and continue to be humiliated and go home stressed.

2) You could complain to upper management or Human Resources and hope they will do something.

3)  You could quit. 

I know these options do not seem fair, but it’s reality at this point.

An anti-bullying movement has  been gaining speed for years in the United States and more and more states are pushing anti-bullying legislation.  Unfortunately, until employers are pushed by law to protect their employees from bullies, little will change.  You have control though, and you have a choice.  What you need to ask yourself is:  Should I stay or should I go...

For more information on workplace bullying, visit


Workplace Wonda


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