Remedy for Workplace Bullying Is Standing Up for People


Bullying often has witnesses, but bystanders often don’t come to the target’s aid. Schools are trying to get the bystanders involved. Can workplaces?/iStockphoto © Paula Connelly

By Joe Grimm
A couple weeks ago, I wrote about how the term “bullying” is being expanded to cover workplace aggression.

This is relatively new in the United States, which began looking at bullying in schools. Some countries focused first on workplaces. In England, for example, workplace bullying is called “mobbing.”

I asked journalists who have experienced newsroom bullying to write to me. These excerpts come from a series of emails with a journalist who responded:

“ . . . I quit the paper because in the two years I was there, I heard black and Hispanic jokes get made in the newsroom. One of the black jokes was made in front of my section editor who did nothing to stop it. Nor was the individual punished. One of the Hispanic jokes was made by the managing editor. She told the photo editor, ‘I like the name Octavio but I can’t name a white child that. I’d have to adopt a child from a third-world nation or something.

“As someone who is black and Hispanic, I didn’t take kindly to these comments. I opted to shut myself down and out from the newsroom by not communicating with people. Even though I was still being productive, my lack of social interaction resulted in me being written up because of my attitude. Two weeks after this happened, I decided to put in my two-week notice. I informed HR of my decision. Five hours later, I was told that I would not be given two weeks and that I needed to leave immediately.

“Discussing race couldn’t be done in the newsroom for a few reasons. I once tried by telling my editors that I received some dirty looks while on assignment in a locale not exactly known for being diversity-friendly . . . I addressed this with my editors and they didn’t care. Another reason I could not address it was because in the paper’s 120-plus year history, I was its first full-time black and/or Hispanic reporter so race was something no one ever had to deal with. . . .”

“ . . . I’ve interned or worked in four newsrooms and in all of them, there have been some sort of racially based remark or action made by people who didn’t see anything wrong with it. . . . Because I wore dress shirts that had pink or purple in them, I got called gay by co-workers . . . On top of that, I had to hear from them how I wasn’t black enough.

“ . . . what makes this bullying is the fact it can be prevented, it doesn’t have to occur but it continues due to a lack of wanting to understand someone else’s perspective.

“When I think about the way children bully each other, most times it is because there is something the bully doesn’t like about the person they’re picking on. Sometimes it is looks, being the smart kid in class, being physically weaker than everyone or just the fact someone is different and you don’t know why. Using what I’ve found and read to be the sources of bullying, that would be my criteria. I believe most of my experiences were bullying because it involved isolating someone and flexing your muscle, for the lack of a better phrase.”

This reporter is correct. Bullying is about achieving power and control by persistently hurting someone else. The aggression can be physical, verbal or psychological. Bullies usually target someone they perceive to be different.

During my exchange with this journalist, a teacher wrote in to “The New Bullying,” a website-turned-book created by one of my journalism classes at Michigan State University.

The teacher wrote, “I am a victim of workplace bullying, I am 52 and unemployed. I had a great career until I was supervised by my predator. He had a history of going after women in their 50s and no one would listen. They said it was a personal issue. . . . I resigned last year under duress.”

As the journalism students reported on what’s new about bullying, they discovered trends. One was an increasing move to bring bystanders off the sidelines and get them into the situation. While many report having seen others bullied, few intervene. No doubt, they not eager to be the next target.

But schools are trying to make it safe for students to intervene and to tell bullies to stop.

It can be pretty lonely to be the only staffer who represents a point of view or who receives a certain kind of mean treatment from others.

If young children are being taught to stand up to bullies in classroom and hallways, adults should be able to do it in newsrooms and offices.

Have you been bullied at work? Tell me about it with the link at the end of this post. You can also check out workplace bullying on “The New Bullying.”

Joe Grimm, a consultant and adjunct faculty member of the Freedom Forum Diversity Institute, recruited for the Detroit Free Press, Knight Ridder and Gannett from 1990 until 2008. He now teaches at the Michigan State University School of Journalism. He has run the JobsPage journalism careers site at www.jobspage.com since 1996. Questions about careers? Email Joe for an answer.

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