Junior high can be an incredibly rough time.

Schoolwork becomes more complicated. Social pressures increase. Hormones begin raging. Acne comes out of nowhere. And bullying becomes far too common. In fact, according to research compiled by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, most bullying behavior occurs during middle school, and roughly 28 percent of U.S. students in grades 9 through 12 have been bullied while at school.

Tragically, this negative behavior continues into college according to research conducted at Indiana State University. In the study, roughly 15 percent of surveyed college students reported being bullied, and an even larger group (22 percent) claimed to have been cyberbullied. Luckily, this behavior ends by the time these students hit the workplace…right?

The Workplace Bully

Unfortunately, no. According to surveys conducted by the Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI) and Zogby Analytics, roughly 19 percent of workers—an estimated 60.3 million Americans—are currently being bullied or have been bullied in the workplace. Around 61 percent of this behavior originates from managers or supervisors, and peers are responsible for another 33 percent, with a remaining 6 percent of bullying originating from subordinates.

This repeated, abusive conduct can manifest in a variety of ways, including:

  • Physical violence
  • Work sabotage
  • Humiliation
  • Screaming
  • Hypercriticism
  • Intimidation
  • Exclusion from projects or meetings
  • Taunting or cruel joking

What Causes Bullying?

Differences

Far too frequently, bullying behavior occurs as an inappropriate response to cultural, behavioral, or social differences. This tendency is likely why, according to the WBI research, protected groups (e.g., women, Hispanics, African Americans) are the most frequent target for the workplace bully.

Toxic environment

Bullying rarely occurs in a vacuum and is often conducted by a group rather than a lone perpetrator. If the surrounding culture and peers find this behavior permissible, it is much more likely to occur.

Coping mechanism

Surveys conducted by anti-bullying group, Ditch the Label, found that bullying is frequently used as a coping mechanism by the abuser, who use these aggressive behaviors to offset their own stress, low self-esteem, relationship struggles, or other difficulties.

How Should You Deal with Workplace Bullies?

Unsurprisingly, much of the advice given for dealing with workplace bullies is remarkably similar to that given regarding the playground variety.

Be brave

If you’re the victim of verbal abuse or a snide comment, speak out immediately and address their behavior directly. Make it clear to the bully, in non-inflammatory language, that their words or actions are inappropriate and establish clear boundaries regarding what behavior you will or will not tolerate.

Don’t overshare

It’s difficult for a workplace bully to tease or exploit something embarrassing in your personal life if they are never aware of it. Admittedly, workplace friends can be an enriching part of your workday, and it’s nearly impossible to not share personal details with people you see for 40 hours each week. But a little discretion can go a long way.

Talk to an authority

If you’ve tried to address the bullying behavior with little to no success, discuss the situation with a team lead or supervisor. If your manager is the problem, speak with someone in human resources.

Be a friend

Bullying can only thrive when the culture allows it. Speak up when you see others experiencing harassing behavior, and look for ways to help foster an inclusive culture within your workplace.