Reasons Why Workplace Bullying Is a Silent Epidemic

Discover why workplace bullying is on the rise in the U.S.


Workplace bullying is growing problem in the United States. According to the Workplace Bullying Institute, up to a third of workers may be the victims of workplace bullying and about 20% of workplace bullying crosses the line into harassment. In fact, Psychology Today referred to it as a “silent epidemic.” There are a number of reasons why workplace bullying has become a silent epidemic. Here are six of the top reasons why workplace bullying is on the rise.

People do not talk about it. Being a victim of bullying is an embarrassing and humiliating experience. As a result, it is highly unlikely they want to talk about what they have experienced. Most prefer to try to forget about it and just do their jobs. Meanwhile, bystanders to bullying feel uncomfortable and powerless to do anything to help. They, too, are at a loss for what to do. Consequently, no one ends up talking about the bullying that is taking place. Instead, everyone keeps their heads down and mouths shut and try to avoid becoming the next target of bullying. And the elephant in the room just grows in size.

There are very few laws in place to address it. While a number of states have introduced workplace bullying bills to help eliminate bullying at work, no states have enacted the legislation. As a result, there are very few laws in place that could be used to protect someone who is being bullied at work.

About the most useful laws are the Americans with Disabilities Act and harassment laws. Even then, it is very hard to use these laws to punish those who engage in workplace bullying.

Bullying is often part of the company culture. When workplace bullies are rewarded for stepping on others to get to the top, workplace bullying becomes part of the culture.

Employees quickly learn that to succeed at the company they need to be willing to stab others in the back, steal their work, take credit for things they didn’t do and slander others who get in their way. If companies want to put an end to workplace bullying, they need to stop rewarding bullying bosses and employees for intimidating and controlling other people in the company.

Employees are unable to recognize the signs of bullying. Many times, when bosses yell, belittle their employees and make unreasonable demands, employees do not recognize this as bullying behavior. Instead, they just chalk it up to having a demanding boss or working for a tyrant. As a result, the idea that they might be experiencing bullying seems foreign to them. They assume that all people in their industry work under the same conditions.

There are no designated channels for reporting bullying. Because many companies do not consider workplace bullying an issue, they have not created a reporting system for handling complaints. Likewise, companies that are small often do not contain human resources departments where complaints can be filed. As a result, many employees keep silent about the treatment they are experiencing because they feel like there is no one to turn to.

In a difficult economy, employees feel like they have to tolerate bullying in order to have a job. When times are tight, employees will do just about anything to hang on to their jobs, including suffer through workplace bullying. The fear is if they speak out about the mistreatment that they will be retaliated against, or worse, lose their job. So many employees just simply put their heads down and try to survive the onslaught of workplace bullying.

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