There's a new breed of female bullies cropping up in workplaces across the country. According to a nationwide poll by the Employment Law Alliance:
- 45 percent of American workers say they've experienced workplace abuse.
- 40 percent of workplace bullies are women, and women bullies pick on other women more than 70 percent of the time.
- Female bullies want to undermine, berate and intimidate the weaker women in their midst.
- Being a target of a bully not only affects your work life, but can also affect your health, possibly causing headaches, loss of appetite, high blood pressure, insomnia, clinical depression, panic attacks and even PTSD.
Clearly workplace bullying is not something to be taken lightly. So why do some women do it?
- They enjoy feeling powerful, especially when the other person doesn't stand up for herself. Also, women are often less confrontational when attacked. They tend to turn their backs on bad behavior in a way men might not.
- They are threatened by the potential success of others, so they want to stop you before you outshine them or reveal their shortcomings.
- They have a perfectionist or nit-picky personality combined with superiority about their skills and abilities.
- They are affected by stress and pressure to be high performing, with more work to do and fewer people to do it.
- They have mental health problems or a personality disorder.
How do you know whether you're being bullied, or simply dealing with a difficult boss or co-worker?
- The clearest sign is that bullying is something that happens again and again -- it's not just your boss having a bad day every once and a while.
- The abuse can include yelling; intimidating or humiliating behavior, like angry criticism and personal insults; or sabotage, whether it's vicious gossip or taking credit for someone else's work.
- Generally, though, women aren't openly abusive; in fact, there's evidence that their style of bullying is usually subtler than men's.
- Women are better at reading emotions, so they're good at little digs that most men wouldn't even register: the quick glare, or turning away and talking to someone else.
Ten Tips For Dealing With Being Bullied At Work
- Don't get emotional. Bullies take pleasure in emotionally manipulating people. Stay calm and rational to diffuse the situation.
- Don't blame yourself. Acknowledge that this is not about you; it's about the bully. Don't lose your confidence, or think you are incapable or incompetent. They are usually beating you at a mind game, not based on your actual work performance.
- Do your best work. The bully's behavior will seem more justified if you aren't doing your best work, or if you do things like come to work late, take long lunches, turn in work late, etc.
- Build a support network. Instead of allowing the bully to make you retreat into your office, work on building your relationships with your coworkers so that you have support and the bully doesn't turn them against you as well (although she will try and may even be successful).
- Document everything. Keep a journal (on your personal computer or in writing, but never leave it in the office) of what happened when (and who witnessed it) so that if you need to escalate this problem to Human Resources, you have the information you need to make your case. Keep emails and notes.
- Seek help. If you think you're being bullied, it's time to start talking to others who can help you manage this situation. Try a mentor, advocate, seasoned/experienced friend, even a legal advocate who specializes in bullying and inappropriate or discriminatory behavior in the workplace. Tread lightly when approaching your human resources department. They work for the company, not you, so you have to be careful about what you share depending on how well liked and supported your bully is within the organization. HR doesn't have the luxury of keeping everything you say confidential so don't treat a meeting with them like a counseling session where you should share everything you think/feel or assume that they can or will fix the problem for you.
- Get counseling. It will help you deal with the stress, especially if the bullying is already affecting your physical and mental health. You have to take care of yourself.
- Stay healthy. Maintain a healthy and balanced lifestyle outside of work to help you cope with the madness at work. Work out, get a good night's sleep and eat a healthy diet.
- Educate yourself. Learn everything you can about bullying, your company's policies on inappropriate behavior and occupational law regarding this kind of experience. The more you know, the better your chances of successfully dealing with this situation.
- Don't expect to change the bully. Real behavior change is difficult and it takes time. You have no control over a bully's willingness to accept that they have a problem and to work on it. You can do your best to manage the situation, but it's really the company's responsibility to be observant and responsive to the needs of their workers and the general work environment. In the worst-case scenario you may need to leave your job or be prepared for a long hard fight with your bully and your employer.
© 2011 Dr. Michelle Callahan