Q. My friend works in a legal office as an administrative assistant with much experience and excellent reviews. Occasionally, she must give coverage to a certain female attorney. This woman “goes off” frequently—at every real or imagined “wrong” that this assistant does. She “scolds” in a loud, belittling, and sarcastic way. Several people in the office have, over the years, left, supposedly because of this woman’s rude behavior. My friend gets incredibly stressed over this, but because she is nearing retirement age, doesn’t want to “rock” the boat and worries that she will be the one reprimanded. She has been told to “suck it up” by other workers.
What can be done? It is bullying!
A. Unfortunately, because your friend is close to retirement and doesn’t want to take an action that will possibly jeopardize her job, her best option may be to “suck it up.” Here’s why: In American business the bully, who is statistically likely to be a person of a higher status, is also likely to have a protector, a person or people of equal or higher status. A study commissioned by the Workplace Bullying Institute found:
- 62% of bullying incidents result in no consequences for the person doing the bullying.
- 72% of bullies are a person of higher status.
- 64% of those bullied either leave their job voluntarily (40%) or are terminated (24%).
- 23% of the bullies were terminated (14%) or punished (9%).
For your friend, these statistics paint a grim picture, suggesting that by reporting the behavior she may end up being the person who suffers the consequences. Understandably, she may not be willing and, perhaps, she shouldn’t take the chance. Possible other courses of action include:
- Talking to the bully. Don’t have the conversation when the bullying is occurring and focus on discovering the underlying issue and how to get past it.
- Convincing the other workers to bring the issue up as a group with management. There is strength in numbers and, short of leaving her job, this approach may have the best chance of success.
- Trying to identify and talk to a person in management who is not a protector of the bully. Remember, more often than not the bully is the person who is protected.
If she chooses to address the issue in these ways, she needs to do so with her eyes wide open that the result may not be good for her. Only she can decide whether she is willing to risk her job to expose the issue, and that even in risking her job, the bully may not be thwarted.
Bullying is a scourge on the workplace. Bullying negatively impacts businesses and individuals as it leads to reduced work effort, stress in the workplace, people quitting their jobs, lost profits, and problems with recruitment. An excellent source for more information, The Bully At Work by Gary Namie and Ruth Namie spells out the rather depressing realities of bullying in the workplace. Please, have your friend read this book.