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Saturday, April 2, 2011

Childhood bullies and workplace bullies

Surviving a Shark Attack (On Land) by Dr. Laura Schlessinger is a great book. 

In it, the pop psychologist talks about her own experience of having a professional mentor stab her in the back.

While the book is not about bullying, it does provide a convenient entry point for a discussion of bullying at work, in school, in childhood and in life. Because betrayers and bullies share one thing in common: They abuse the trust of people who count on them and need them. 

Please note that I do not agree with all of Dr. Laura's views. But I know when someone is writing from the heart. This is a book worth reading.

It's not that you'll stop people from hurting you. But if you've been maligned by an evil backstabbing jerk, or witnessed same, it can help you recover.

Bullying is rampant among children - so rampant that President Obama and the First Lady took time out to speak out against it recently, with the President himself admitting to being bullied as a child.

Teachers are sometimes bullies. And bosses and coworkers can be bullies, too. Some quick stats:

  • Bullying is pervasive: According to research commissioned by the Workplace Bullying Institute, 34.5% of Americans experienced bullying at work last year. 
  • Bullies discriminate by race/ethnicity: In the 2010 WBI study, Hispanics were most likely to be bullied at work (40.2%), followed by African-Americans (38.6%), then Caucasians (33.6%), then Asians (13.5%). 
  • Bullies discriminate by gender: A 2002 article in the Orlando Business Journal stated that in a survey of 9,000 federal employees, women were nearly three times more likely to be bullied (42% vs. 15%) within a 2-year timeframe.
  • Bullies can be either male or female: The Orlando Business Journal article cites Campaign Against Workplace Bullying founder Gary Namie, Ph.D., whose research concludes that there is a "nearly 50-50 split" between men and women bullies. However, at the same time, a previous study (1998) cited in the same article says men are more than twice as likely to be the bullies.
  • Bullying is expensive: The survey mentioned in the Orlando Business Journal article concluded that the bullying cost agencies more than $180 million in "lost time and productivity."

I am not afraid to admit that I was bullied as a child. More than once. And I have been bullied at work, too. I don't know anyone who HASN'T been, actually.

What helped me, and the reason I am writing this, is that good people - good colleagues - stood up and rallied around me.

It's important to fight bullying on an institutional level, don't get me wrong. And there is a place for every other kind of remedy you can think of, to help people through what is a very difficult experience.

But how I personally got through it was the support of other people who knew me, who knew the situation, and who sympathized. Because we all go through it at one time or another.

Not just bullying, but even the thoughtless slights and well-thought-out insults that most of us have to live through at work. Just to be listened to, by a peer who knows the situation and can tell you - "It's not your fault" - is priceless in value. 

I do believe that all of us are connected. So we need others to pick us up sometimes.

Dr. Laura says that when good people stand by and see other people being harmed, but do nothing, the person being victimized experiences the trauma twice.

If you see someone at work or in school or anywhere being harmed or bullied, you don't have to put yourself in harm's way to help them. But at least step in and hear them out.

It's a "mitzvah" (good deed) that the other person - though they may never tell you about it - will never forget.

Have a good weekend, and like my grandmother Muriel, may she rest in peace, used to say: "Life is short. Take care of each other."