Question: I am an adult and a victim of co-worker bullying at my job site. I know your column usually addresses bullying with children. But I had to write to you because I am at my wit's end with what to do. I am afraid my husband and children are starting to feel my pain. I dread going to work, knowing what is waiting for me. It is difficult feeling like the office outcast, having to deal with the demeaning attitudes and other co-workers not wanting to socialize with me. I haven't spoken up because my tormentor seems to be good friends with our supervisor. I have considered looking for employment elsewhere. I prefer not to leave because my children's school is nearby and it is easier for me in the event one of my children becomes ill.
I am open to hearing any suggestions you can offer.
Answer: Adult workplace bullying does exist, and in my book "What Makes a Bully?" I have touched on this issue. I have had several adults share their experiences with me, so unfortunately you are not alone.
Workplace bullying is defined as repeated aggressive and/or abusive mistreatment by one or more persons. This undesired behavior can be both obvious and subtle and can include some of the following behavior traits that will set the victim up to fail: verbal abuse such as spreading malicious rumors or gossip, humiliation such as encouraging other co-workers to exclude you, intimidation and interference with or sabotaging job completion. Sabotage could include purposefully undermining work performance, refusal to share necessary information and unreasonable workload and due dates. The perpetrator will loudly tell offensive jokes, use profanity, criticize a person or belittle the victim's opinions. Workplace bullying could lead to physical altercations.
Adult bullying, like childhood bullying, is similar in that the bully's behavior is driven by his or her need to control the victim. They seek to gain power, gain approval from bystanders and soften their pain by aggressively degrading and/or tormenting others.
Have you experienced any of these symptoms? Sadness, embarrassment and disbelief that you as an adult find yourself in such a situation; anger; feelings of frustration and helplessness at not knowing who and where to seek help; or loss of confidence due to constant criticism. Dealing with daily bullying could take a toll on your body and you may have to seek medical care. Some physical symptoms may include headaches, loss of appetite or overeating, stomach problems such as ulcers and inability to sleep due to constant worry.
The first step to finding resolution will be difficult, but it must be done. You must tell the bully in a clear, firm voice that his or her behavior is unwanted and they must stop immediately. You could practice beforehand and ask someone to go with you.
Step two is to document everything done and said. Be detailed with your descriptions, indicating date, time and names of any witnesses. It important that you keep all documentation received from the bully, such as notes, emails, text messages, faxes and telephone calls.
Step three is to inform your supervisor or human resources department of the harassment and document your conversations. Finally, if this behavior continues, you will have to seek legal assistance for harassment.
It is important you understand that being caught up in this situation more than likely has very little to do with you. The bully could also be a victim of bullying (for example, spousal abuse). You could present a threat to them because of your work ethics or your overall positive work performance, or it could simply be a case of jealousy. Remain positive and follow the steps mentioned.
Jacqueline Y. Smart is a middle school teacher and has been employed with the Savannah-Chatham school system since 2000. She has earned her Doctor of Education in Educational Leadership from Cambridge College School of Education. She is the author of "What Makes A Bully?"