No, you’re not crazy…workplace bullying is real!

July 2, 2015

Bored young businesswoman at her desk

In the women’s bathroom Melanie splashed cold wa- ter on her face and carefully placed eye drops in both of her eyes to hide the cry- ing that she had done in the bathroom stall. She put on her glasses and decided that she would just “blame it on her allergies” if people asked why her eyes were swollen and puffy. New to the school system, Melanie was just yelled at by her new supervisor, Ms. Rob- inson, for collaborating with one of her colleagues. Even though Melanie thought it was acceptable to talk to her more seasoned colleagues for advice, Ms. Robinson made it clear that Melanie should only ask her for tips. How- ever, Ms. Robinson always yelled at Melanie and put her down any time she asked a question! Melanie had years of prior experience as a school coun- selor with another school system. Ms. Robinson, who is African American, seemed to always treat Melanie, who is also African American, as if she had no prior training or expertise. Ms. Robinson often made negative com- ments about Melanie’s prior school system by referring to it as “the ghetto school sys- tem.”

Ms. Robinson made a point to come to Melanie’s school without warning to conduct impromptu “evaluation and observation sessions.” Dur- ing one evaluation, Ms. Rob- inson inappropriately com- mented on Melanie’s hair by asking if her hairstyle includ- ed fake hair (weave). Melanie felt that she was being treated unfairly be- cause the other counsel- ors did not receive as many evaluation sessions. Other counselor’s evaluation ses- sions were planned and not impromptu. Furthermore, other counselors typically collaborated with each other by phone, email or in person, not solely with Ms. Robin- son. The last straw was when Ms. Robinson gave Melanie a low evaluation score with no reasonable explanation. Melanie felt that Ms. Rob- inson possibly disliked her because of the reputation of her previous school system and treated her unfairly. Melanie could not prove that her mistreatment was based on race or gender, be- cause Ms. Robinson was also an African American female. Frustrated, isolated, and un- able to gain support in her new school system, Melanie considered resigning due to not being a “good fit.”

Melanie’s situation is not uncommon in the workplace, especially in these current economic times. According to Dr. Ruth Namie of the Workplace Bullying Insti- tute (WBI), “Work Shouldn’t Hurt!” Work should be a place where excellence and productivity are expected. There should be expecta- tions and accountability. However, managers should not create or encourage hos- tile work environments that cause psychological harm to employees. Research sup- ports that abusive work en- vironments lose productivity because abused employees lose motivation, take sick leave, and ultimately quit due to the abuse.

How does that make any dollars or sense? What Is Workplace Bul- lying? Workplace bullying is de- fined as persistent, hostile verbal and nonverbal aggres- sion that victims perceive as efforts to harm, control or drive them from the work- place. These actions include yelling, threatening, gossip- ing, ridicule, social ostra- cism and public humiliation. Aside from simple personal- ity conflicts at work, work- place bullying must occur regularly (e.g. daily or weekly) and be ongoing for at least six months.

Workplace bullying also in- cludes a real or perceived im- balance of professional pow- er (e.g. supervisor/subordi- nate dynamic) according to Dr. Pamela Lutgen-Sandvik, professor at the University of New Mexico. The worst part about workplace bully- ing is that it is perfectly legal! The Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI) states that one in ten professionals will experience workplace bully- ing or abuse in their career. Within that statistic, African American employees report workplace bullying more than Caucasian employees. Even though workplace bul- lies can be both genders, women report being bullied at work more than men.


What that means is Black women are most vulnerable to being bullied at work. There are two obvious rea- sons for this including, rac- ism and sexism. However, racially based bullying is dif- ficult to prove when the bully is also a member of the same race or gender.

Because of internalizing racism, sexism, and other forms of mistreatment, Af- rican Americans, especially women, are more prone to cardiovascular issues such as high blood pressure. In addi- tion, doctors state that vic- tims of workplace bullying reported anxiety, depression, suicidal ideation and symp- toms similar to posttraumat- ic stress disorder.

How To Deal With Workplace Bullying Does this mean that you should throw up your hands and quit if you are a victim? Even though most victims of workplace bullying find relief from resigning or transferring, you must find a solution that is best for you. The best ways to fight work- place bullying are to:

• Document your experi- ences: There is an adage that “if it is not documented…it didn’t happen.” In proving workplace bullying, work- place harassment, or a hostile work environment, you need to have your experiences and the corresponding dates doc- umented in writing.

• Contact your union or human resources depart- ment: The purpose of a union is to assist profession- als with their labor issues. The human resources (HR) office serves that function as well. It is important to contact these offices so your grievances are documented and officially filed. One col- league I know utilized her teacher’s union to request professional mediation be- tween herself and the bully. The mediation worked won- ders! Even if you do not feel that the union/HR office helped you personally, your claims may be the documen- tation that helps start a paper trail on the bully in your of- fice!

• Seek an attorney: If the union or HR office is not helpful, consider seeking an attorney for advice. One colleague I know utilized the low cost Legal Shield (www. service for assistance. The attorney wrote a letter to her man- ager to stop the harassment, which worked. In addition, for racially motivated abuse, you should also contact your local chapter of the NAACP

• Consider counseling: Life after workplace bullying is not all roses. Research sug- gests that victims of work- place bullying may become vulnerable to similar abuse in their future jobs. Because of this, therapy to recon- struct the experience of be- ing bullied in the workplace can be very helpful. Victims of workplace bullying may need to understand that the bullying was not their fault or due to their lack of profes- sionalism. In addition, some victims of workplace abuse just need to build their selfesteem and confidence, so they can be productive in their new endeavors.