June: Mean Girls Grow Up and Go to Work

in Uncategorized
June 9th, 2011

Amanda was excited to start her new job in an administrative department of a local college. While she was being trained, Amanda noticed that Erin rolled her eyes when Amanda took notes.  Amanda felt uncomfortable when Erin nudged her shoulder and said:” You don’t need to take notes”.   Amanda began to feel that Erin was both impatient and condescending and she worried that she wasn’t doing well.  At lunch, Erin sat with a few friends and Amanda overheard them making fun of one of the other workers.

When Amanda sent a student to have Erin approve some time-sensitive forms, Erin was too busy.  Amanda then sent the student to Erin’s boss to approve the forms.  The next morning Erin came in and flung her daily schedule on Amanda’s desk, yelling “I lost sleep because you went to my boss!”  Except for official business matters, Erin and her friends stopped talking to Amanda.

Amanda grew guarded and quiet, feeling anxious about her future in the department.  Her enthusiasm, productivity and energy waned.  She was afraid to reveal her distress about what was causing her behavior as she feared retaliation by Erin.  Discouraged and depressed, Amanda waited a year and found another job.

Forbes estimates that 37% of American workers are targets of bullies at some point in their careers, yet many people lack awareness of bullying behaviors. These deliberate hurtful behaviors include yelling at someone in front of others; belittling or critical comments; excluding the person from meetings or lunch; spreading critical or untrue comments; condescension or contempt; glaring; silent treatment and outright rudeness.  Humiliating or shaming someone, physically blocking a person are also forms of bullying. Organizational cultures that allow disrespect and a lack of civility are fertile grounds for bullying.  No one should make another person feel uncomfortable at work.

What can you do if you are aware of bullying in your workplace?  Leaders can work towards prevention by publicizing a zero tolerance of bullying and creating an organizational culture that expects and gives respect to all.

Individuals who suspect they are targets of bullies can do several things.  Most of us are reluctant to accept that someone might be a bully so pay attention when you feel uncomfortable interacting with a colleague and look at their behavior towards you.  Talk to someone about it, possibly a friend, a family member or another person you trust to react in a reasonable, rational and mature way.

In some instances, you can confront the bully.  For example, Amanda might have said to Erin: “I understand that you didn’t like me going to your boss but I need to ask you to talk to me in a respectful, less hostile way.”  In other situations, you may seek professional consultation with either the Faculty Staff Assistance Office (www.bu.edu/fsao) or the Office of the Ombuds (www.bu.edu/ombuds).  Both are free confidential resources offered by Boston University.

by Bonnie Teitleman

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