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Bullying in the workplace: How to recognize and address it

Bullying is an issue people may think is reserved for the schoolyard, or even cyberspace.

But adult bullying in the workplace can have devastating effects on people's lives.

One in 10 U.S. workers say they are being bullied at their jobs. 

Forty-five-percent say they've been bullied at some point during their career, and another 25% say they've witnessed workplace bullying.

We spoke to NDSU professor and researcher Pam Lutgen-Sandvik, who has been studying workplace bullying for nearly 15 years.

She defines bullying as persistent, hostile, aggressive behavior that can be verbal or non-verbal.

Research shows adult bullying can lead to depression, eating disorders, sleeping disorders, PTSD and physical ailments.

It also increases the person's stress levels and degrades their mental health by making them feel crazy, scared, and anxious.

"It also bleeds into families. When you're bullied and abused at work you go home and sometimes there's displaced aggression when you're screaming at your family members, sort of that, 'kick-the-dog' kind of thing. We do know for sure it reduces people's satisfaction with their personal lives," says Lutgen-Sandvik.

Here's what she says you should do if you are being bullied at work:

  1. Give it a name - define it as workplace bullying.
  2. Remember that it's not your fault - bullies often make the victim feel crazy.
  3. Get some social support - like a counselor - as bullying can degrade your mental health.
  4. Take some time off from work to regroup and figure out how to address the problem.
 "Trying to make sense of it and figure out what you're going to do is really difficult when you're in the environment and you're constantly bombarded with this aggression and hostility. If it's possible, take some time off of work so you can kind of get your bearings and figure out, 'am I going to stay? If I'm not going to stay, what am I going to do here?'"

Many people in a bullying situation at work might want to fight back, but that can be risky.

Often, bullying situations at work involve an element of power. In the U.S., it's usually a manager, but can also be a peer.

If you do choose to fight back, Lutgen-Sandvik says the best way is to talk to someone who has power over the bully.

Bring specific examples of bullying, have other co-workers to back you up, and have a clear goal in mind.

Lutgen-Sandvik says it is not a good idea to confront the bully directly.

"They will escalate the abuse worse than it ever was before, and drive the people out of the workplace because now they've become serious threats to the perpetrator. So, directly confronting the perpetrator, it's really a very, I would say, dangerous thing to do."

October is Bullying Prevention Month.

Becky Parker

Becky Parker - Becky Parker joined the WDAY 6 News team in July of 2012. She was born and raised in Williston, North Dakota.  She graduated from North Dakota State University with a degree in broadcast journalism and a minor in political science.   At NDSU, Becky served as News Director for ‘SU TV News, the university’s first ever student-run newscast. She was also an anchor and reporter for the organization.   Before coming to WDAY, Becky was reporting for Lakeland Public Television at their Brainerd, MN bureau. She also spent internship hours at WDAZ in Grand Forks and KVRR Fox in Fargo.   If you have story ideas or questions, please e-mail Becky at bparker@wday.com

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