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Bullying a common problem at work

Ever been bullied at work? If so, you're not close to being alone.

A new survey by job-search site CareerBuilder found that 28 percent of U.S. employees have experienced bullying at work. The employees most likely to feel bullied on the job are the disabled, with 44 percent of people with disabilities reporting that they have been the victim of such behavior, and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender workers (30 percent).

By gender, women are more likely to experience workplace bullying, with roughly a third reporting such incidents, compared with 22 percent of men. Perhaps not surprisingly, a greater share of lower-paid and less-educated workers say they have been bullied than higher-income employees -- 28 percent of those earning less than $50,000 a year say they have been bullied, versus 19 percent for people making more than that amount.

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But bullying isn't isolated to lower-skilled jobs. Some 27 percent of managers, directors, vice presidents and other workers in higher-level positions have been subject to bullying, according to CareerBuilder.

For businesses, bullying can lead to high turnover -- 19 percent of those who felt bullied at work left their job. Because it is expensive to replace employees, that raises costs for businesses.

Here are the most common forms of bullying, according to the survey, along with the percentage of employees who reported it:

  • Falsely accused of mistakes the worker didn't make (43 percent)
  • Comments were ignored, dismissed or not acknowledged (41 percent)
  • A different set of standards or policies was used for the worker (37 percent)
  • Gossip was spread about the worker (34 percent)
  • Constantly criticized by the boss or co-workers (32 percent)
  • Belittling comments were made about the person's work during meetings (29 percent)
  • Yelled at by the boss in front of co-workers (27 percent)
  • Purposely excluded from projects or meetings (20 percent)
  • Credit for the person's work was stolen (20 percent)
  • Picked on for race, gender, appearance or other personal attributes (20 percent)

Bullying generally isn't illegal, provided the culprit hasn't targeted you because of your race, gender or other protected classification. That means workers often can't count on employers to address their complaints. But there are some ways employees can counter bullying themselves:

Directly ask the bully to stop. This may seem foolish since the bully presumably knows what he or she is doing, but that's not always the case. Some people have no concept of how their actions affect other. Speak up.

Go to the boss. If the bullying is at the hands of a co-worker or someone from a different department, your boss has a moral and professional obligation, if not necessarily a legal one, to put a stop to it. Try to be clear and unemotional in reporting the behavior. For instance: "Jane often says rude things about my performance during meetings. Can you speak to her about her behavior? It's demoralizing and damaging to the whole team."

And if the bully is your boss? You can go to human resource or to the boss's boss, but be prepared to be ignored. If your boss is meeting her performance goals, HR may not care how you feel. If you can get your co-workers to come with you and present the information as a united force, it may help.

Speak up when you observe bullying -- even if it's not about you. Bullies often effectively coerce others to go along with their bad behavior. Don't acquiesce. Every time you see a co-worker badmouthing someone, speak up. Every time you hear someone lying or attempting to spread malicious gossip, confront it. Defend the victims.

If a company won't stop bullying, consider looking for a new job. When you find it, leave at the first opportunity, and don't look back.

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