There’s an epidemic in companies today that few people are talking about. It’s insidious. It’s difficult to diagnose and there is no test for it. But the effects felt by those targeted by it are debilitating, humiliating, and soul-crushing. And the cost to companies that don’t address it are significant as well. What is it, you ask?
It’s workplace bullying, which the Workplace Bullying Institute defines as “health-harming mistreatment of an employee by one or more employees…[through] abusive conduct that takes the form of verbal abuse, threats, intimidation, humiliation or workplace sabotage or work interference.”
Why do I call it an epidemic? Because the Workplace Bullying Institute’s 2017 U.S. Workplace Bullying Survey estimated that 30 million American workers have been, or are now being, bullied at work, while another 30 million have witnessed it. That’s a lot of people being traumatized at their place of employment.
I know what it feels like to be bullied at work, although back then, I didn’t know what to call it other than wrong. It’s an egotistical twenty-something CEO who called me “a disgrace to the company” when I tried to explain that I didn’t recommend a certain approach to a problem in my area of expertise. It’s a paranoid VP of marketing who called my home at 2 AM from overseas, accusing me of conspiring against her and vowing to push me out. When she returned from her trip, I found her measuring the width of my office, asserting that it was 3 inches wider than hers, and demanding that we switch offices immediately–on the day of a major product announcement that, as the director of corporate communications, I was orchestrating. I refused.
What happened next is why most victims of workplace bullying don’t speak up, and it’s similar to what sexual harassment victims faced before the #MeToo movement: HR sided with the bully, called me insubordinate because I wouldn’t acquiesce to a manager’s demand, no matter how ridiculous and ill-timed it was. I was victim shamed. I quit rather than continue to fight the demeaning, toxic attacks that degraded my self-esteem. It was the only way I could take back my power–and my sanity. I was traumatized and had to escape.
My story is not so uncommon, sadly. And because, just as in the schoolyard, bullying in the workplace that’s left unchecked begets more bullying, it tends to spread and infect the entire culture of the organization.
And it’s not just the victim of bullying who pays a price. While the victim may suffer from anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, resentment, and anger, the organization that enabled the bully pays the prices in absenteeism, low morale, high turnover, damage to its reputation, and more. In the long run, it doesn’t pay for companies to ignore the problem or turn the other cheek.
In my coaching practice, I have seen many trauma survivors who have been re-traumatized by a bully at their place of employment. Because these clients had not addressed or resolved the initial trauma, the effects of the new abuse multiplied. A couple of them had to take a medical leave of absence because of the bullying but are now thriving after a few sessions. One had not been able to re-enter the workforce because she was concerned she’d be bullied again, but we worked together to reframe her mindset and put the trauma behind her.
Unresolved trauma is, in fact, one of the reasons I stood for the bullying for so long. As a second-generation Holocaust survivor who suffered from intergenerational trauma transmitted from my mother–and further traumatization at her hands–I was used to bullying behavior. I wouldn’t say it was “normal,” but it was a dynamic to which I was accustomed.
It’s time to recognize workplace bullying as emotional abuse and trauma, and that the effects are debilitating. It’s time to stop blaming the target, and it’s time to eradicate workplace bullying. Happily, there are several efforts underway to enact legislation that will make it more difficult for bullies to thrive–and make it easier for victims to be heard.
Get your FREE copy of “5 Thing You Can Do to Start Healing from Trauma Today” by clicking on the link.
In the meantime, if you are or have been the target of workplace bullying and you want to heal from the effects of that trauma and reclaim your life, schedule a call with me and we can create your plan today!