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The adult bully in the workplace

Lately, topics on school bullying are gaining the recognition and concern needed to prevent America's youth from developing mental and perhaps physical damage. For many of these young people, leaving junior high or graduating from high school is a relief.

The relief may be short-lived. Bullying is alive and well in the adult workplace. World Mental Health Day's 2017 theme focused on workers and mental health. Sometimes, the difference between a playground bully and a breakroom bully is not significant. Their victims know something is wrong, but they may not be able to prove it.

How do workplace bullies thrive?

Generally, a workplace bully is in a protected position. The toxic person may be a manager, the boss or an owner of the company. Other bullies gain protection by being the personal assistant to the Corporate President. They use their power-by-association to intimidate other employees.

What are signs an employee is the target of an adult bully? 

People who dread going to work should trust their feelings. They may be the victim of the office bully. Some signs to watch for include the following:

  • Pressure to conform against personal objections. For example, an executive assistant pushes every employee to donate blood, even though some people do not feel comfortable with invasive medical procedures unrelated to work.
  • An overload of work. A bully in a managerial capacity may sabotage their workers by giving them impossible deadlines or a workload no employee could perform in a regular work week.
  • Blame for others' mistakes. Employees blamed by one or more coworkers can be part of the bully's clique of sycophants; they follow the bully's lead to protect their job security.
  • Illegal discrimination. A bully can taunt certain people when no witnesses are nearby, such as people of a different race, gender, age, religion or political group.
  • Loud insults or confrontations. A manager may bully and humiliate an employee by publicly yelling at the person.

Any employee harassed by a workplace bully may want to investigate whether a specific type of behavior is illegal.

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