These Bullies are All Hype

Last Updated Apr 21, 2011 8:58 AM EDT

This sounds alarming: Some 27 percent of workers say they've been bullied in the office, according to a new survey by CareerBuilder. In particular:
  • Women were more likely to say they'd been bullied than men. Some 34 percent of women say they've been bullied, compared to 22 percent of men.
  • Most victims of bullying didn't go to their human resources department, and of those that did, few got satisfaction. Only 28 percent of people complained to HR about their bully, and in 62 percent of those cases, no action was taken.
  • Most often, the bully is the boss or someone higher up in the organization. Less often, it's a customer or co-worker.
I'm not convinced this is quite as terrible as it appears at first glance. Here are the list of offenses the survey participants said they had suffered at the hands of a workplace bully, and the percentage of people that reported them. Admittedly, context is everything here.
  • My comments were dismissed or not acknowledged â€" 43 percent
  • I was falsely accused of mistakes I didn't make â€" 40 percent
  • I was harshly criticized â€" 38 percent
  • I was forced into doing work that really wasn't my job â€" 38 percent
  • Different standards and policies were used for me than other workers â€" 37 percent
  • I was given mean looks â€" 31 percent
  • Others gossiped about me â€" 27 percent
  • My boss yelled at me in front of other co-workers â€" 24 percent
  • Belittling comments were made about my work during meetings â€" 23 percent
  • Someone else stole credit for my work â€" 21 percent
Do all these offenses seem like bullying to you? If you ask me if I've ever had my comments dismissed or not acknowledged at work, I'd say yes, it has happened. But I wouldn't say I've ever been bullied at work. Have I ever been drafted to do work that isn't 'mine'? Yep. It wasn't bullying, though. It was called teamwork--regardless of how irritated I was at my colleague who appeared to have dropped the ball. Similarly, if people are gossiping about you, I don't think it means you're necessarily being bullied. Maybe those other people are just petty jerks, and what they say couldn't matter less.
That's not to say there aren't some pretty serious infractions on this list, or that bullying isn't a real problem. As my BNET colleague Laurie Tarkan writes, it's a huge problem. I once spoke with someone who was forced to leave their job because a co-worker falsely accused them of making mistakes. That seems like bullying of the worst sort. If your boss yells at you in front of co-workers, that's both bullying and horrible management. No workplace should tolerate that behavior. And to put it in the same category as office gossip only makes it less likely that the real problems will be properly addressed.
Do you think all of the bad behavior listed above is bullying? And does it make sense to try to stop real bullying by legislating against it?
Image courtesy of flickr user Francisco M.
Kimberly Weisul is a freelance writer, editor and consultant. Follow her at
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    Kimberly Weisul is the co-founder of One Thing New, the free email newsletter for smart, busy women. She was previously Senior Editor at BusinessWeek, responsible for all coverage of entrepreneurship and for launching BusinessWeek SmallBiz, a bimonthly magazine. She is also a freelance writer, editor and editorial consultant.