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Bullying happens at work, too

It can affect emotional health, impact productivity, increase turnover

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Bullying doesn't stop when you graduate from the playground.

It happens more often than we think in the workplace. One study showed that 16 percent of U.S. employees are bullied at work, according to the Workplace Bullying Institute in Bellingham, Wash. The study, published in 2000, took a random sampling of 1,100 people, according to the institute.

Bullying not only can impact productivity and increase turnover but affect the emotional health of the targeted worker.

Indeed, workers who've experienced bullying say it can feel like a battle, water torture or a nightmare, according to a recent study conducted by three researchers at Arizona State University and the University of New Mexico.

The study, published in Management Communication Quarterly last month, analyzed those metaphors and others described by abused workers to better articulate emotions associated with workplace bullying.

Jess Alberts, a co-researcher and professor at Arizona State University, hopes the research can help employers recognize that bullying is a real problem.

"They need to move away from blaming the target and look more at the perpetrator or the organization that permits that," Alberts says.

Employers should establish workplace bullying policies, which can "educate people on appropriate behavior," Alberts says.

For workers caught in a bullying situation, there are ways to defuse it, says Debra Shapiro, a Clarice Smith professor of management at the University of Maryland who researches workplace-related conflict.

For starters, tell the bully that you are being hurt by his or her actions or words. Be respectful and cordial in your approach.

"In many cases, they will adjust their behavior accordingly," Shapiro says.

If the bullying doesn't stop, report the situation to a person of authority, she says. If possible, keep a record of the bully's actions.

These steps could lead to punitive action for the bully if the behavior doesn't change, Shapiro says. But she acknowledges it is easier said than done.

"Often it does (lead to action) when someone has the courage to call it to someone else's attention," she says.

From the mailbag

Pay isn't everything for one reader who responded to a recent column. The column addressed two surveys showing that workers put more emphasis on salary when it comes to job attraction and retention.

John Aaron Wheeler, a reader from the Mount Washington area of Baltimore County, says the most important thing to him is job satisfaction. Wheeler serves as a paralegal for a private, not-for-profit disability rights law firm.

"Job satisfaction means knowing that I know that I am helping someone, that I feel secure in my employment, that my job is respected by others and by my having the desire to rise every work day feeling good about having a job to go to," Wheeler says.

Have you been bullied at work? Send your stories, tips and questions to working@baltsun.com. Please include your first name and your city.

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