It’s Not Just a Playground Thing

Workplace Bullying

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I usually write about law, science and technology as, in combination, these topics are of great interest to me and areas I enjoy discussing. However, I was recently asked to join a LinkedIn group on employee relations. And that got me thinking. It got me thinking about productive, healthy, enjoyable work environments and incidents that undermine these environments, such as workplace bullying. The definition accorded by The Workplace Bullying Institute is:

[R]epeated, health-harming mistreatment of one or more persons (the targets) by one or more perpetrators. It is abusive conduct that is: a) threatening, humiliating, or intimidating; 2) work interference — sabotage — which prevents work from getting done; or 3) verbal abuse.

Unfortunately, law firms and “legal workplaces” have been touted as “breeding ground[s] for bullies” (The Balance, 2017) based on the personality types attracted to this professional area. Since it takes two to tango, there is a bully personality and a target personality, not that the latter is an excuse for the former.

The target’s personality often makes it difficult for him or her to stand up to the workplace bully. Having experienced several incidents of “not nice” behavior in a “legal workplace” I can attest to this fact. In retrospect, I should have confronted the individual and had a serious professional tete-a-tete that I do not tolerate her behavior. This individual was not my boss, so I did not have the fear that I could be terminated, something that stops others in similar situations from speaking up. So, why did I not say anything? While underhanded, her acts were subtle and I always blew them off as not worth the anger they were causing. I couldn’t prove malevolence and so I just let it go. Plus, I’m a “do not rock the boat” type. While the childish behavior I encountered would likely not qualify as “bullying” per se, it did have a negative effect on my workplace experience as a whole.

Several states have introduced bills against workplace bullying and a couple of states have “Healthy Workplace” legislation in place. In addition, most companies have workplace policies strictly forbidding workplace bullying. While there has been much controversial discussion of school “safe zones” and student “snowflakes” I do believe workplaces should have a policy and non-retaliatory reporting system in place. A work environment is only as good as its people. Not everyone will be everyone’s best friend. But we are a collection of grown-ups and should leave old playground antics behind, to foster a productive, healthy and enjoyable work environment.

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