5 Myths About Workplace Bullying: Debunked

by Jul 15, 2012

Myth 1: Bullying only happens in the schoolyard

If anyone tries to tell you bullying at work doesn’t exist, tell them 25 years of research says otherwise. Academics have been looking at this phenomenon since the first article published on the topic in 1984. Since then, thundreds of research articles have indicated that approximately 50% of the population is bullied at some point in their career. (Though research articles vary in their statistics… some say 30%, and one even says 90%…)

Recently the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) found that almost 25% of American businesses have some level of bullying – and they found that 11% of the bullying is committed against customers.

Myth 2: Bullying and conflict are the same thing

Conflict is about disagreement and interpersonal differences. It occurs when two people perceive that whomever they are in conflict with is in the way of getting needs met. Workplace bullying, on the other hand, is psychological abuse. You wouldn’t tell a target of domestic violence to see a conflict manager, and you shouldn’t tell a target of workplace bullying that either.

Myth 3: Bullies are evil psychopaths out for blood

The media loves to portray bullies this way because it makes for better news and it makes targets of bullying feel better about their situation. But most workplace bullies are unaware that their behavior makes others so uncomfortable. While there may be some bullies out there who are indeed malicious, the research does not support this notion that all bullies are purposefully evil.

Myth 4: Bullying is covered under current harassment laws

Harassment and hostile work environment laws in the U.S. only cover protected classes. That means that if the bully is an “equal opportunity bully,” and does not bully because of the nine protected classes, including race, color, gender, religious beliefs, national origin, age, familial status, or disability, then the bullying is legal.

Myth 5: Bullying can be solved by implementing an anti-bullying corporate policy

We can create policies until we run out of ink, but unless they are in alignment with the organization’s overall vision and leadership supports them 100%, it will be like they don’t exist at all. Corporate policies are only as good as management and employee’s support for them.

In order for a policy to be effective, it needs to be accompanied by training, performance management programs, and rewards systems. And, leaders have to set an example of appropriate behavior.

About Catherine Mattice

Catherine Mattice, MA, SPHR, SHRM-SCP is President of consulting and training firm, Civility Partners, and has been successfully providing programs in workplace bullying and building positive workplaces since 2007. Her clients include Fortune 500’s, the military, several universities and hospitals, government agencies, small businesses and nonprofits. She has published in a variety of trade magazines and has appeared several times on NPR, FOX, NBC, and ABC as an expert, as well as in USA Today, Inc Magazine, Huffington Post, Entrepreneur Magazine, and more. Catherine is Past-President of the Association for Talent Development (ATD), San Diego Chapter and teaches at National University. In his book foreword, Ken Blanchard called her book, BACK OFF! Your Kick-Ass Guide to Ending Bullying at Work, “the most comprehensive and valuable handbook on the topic.” She recently released a second book entitled, SEEKING CIVILITY: How Leaders, Managers and HR Can Create a Workplace Free of Bullying.

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