Workplace bullying a growing problem for employers, employees

Stepping into a bully-free work environment may seem a luxury these days. Reported incidents having to do with bullying and harassment are on the rise, and believe it or not, workplace homicides are a daunting reality. In one year alone, workplace violence accounted for one out of five work-related deaths in the U.S. 

“Going postal,” a slang term used in some circles to characterize an extreme reaction to excessive stress, is no laughing matter. U.S. Army Garrison Stuttgart took a proactive stand against workplace violence on June 28, when the Equal Employment Opportunity Office hosted a lunchtime class at Panzer Kaserne on bullying in the workplace.

Bullying is defined as “repeated and unwanted actions by an individual or group intending to intimidate, harass, degrade or offend,” according to the Alternative Dispute Resolution Interagency Working Group, a central forum for information about the federal government’s use of ADR. According to the group, it is also an abuse or misuse of power, and psychological violence. “As a garrison, in order to make our environment more conducive to working, we need to address these issues,” said Dr. Ronnie Holmes, the EEO manager. The good news is that bullying can be lessened with recognition of the problem, desire for change and practice from the parties involved.

The not-so-good news, reported Holmes, is that “Seventy to 80 percent of the bullies aren’t aware of what they are doing.” He noted the negative impact they can have on an entire organization, and touched on “the grey line between bullying and harassment,” noting the legal implications of the latter. “The bully … may stretch [bully behaviors] up to that line, knowing they are safe,” Holmes said.

The effects of bullying weigh on productivity, morale and psychological health, and may become an unbudgeted, heavy-hitting fiscal issue, as well. Holmes reported that the costs involving a case of harassment, which generally begins with bullying, “can range anywhere from $60,000 to $300,000, depending on how far it may go from the initial point of filing a complaint to as far as litigation and settlement.”

The objectives of the EEO session were to define workplace harassment and bullying in the workplace, define employee responsibility as it relates to workplace bullying, and identify the best route for resolution of bullying complaints.  

Eshe Faulcon, an EEO specialist, was present and said the lunch and learn-style forum was chosen for the topic because “It is a casual, informal way to learn more [about a subject] that is hard to address in typical training environments.”

Sonia Greer, an educator in family advocacy for Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation, joined the class to gain knowledge. “There is a lot of media attention [on this topic] with kids and adults, as well. You can never go wrong with a refresher,” she said. Holmes closed the session with a stark forewarning, calling it “the calm before the storm. … Workplace violence is a result of bullying and harassment.”

An EEO handout suggested that prevention is a fundamental solution: “… Remember the “golden rule” — treat coworkers exactly like you would like to be treated, — with dignity, respect, fairness and equality. Everyone deserves a workplace where they can perform their duties and responsibilities to the best of their ability — a workplace that is free of fear and full of respect.”