U takes on workplace bullying

Faculty and staff are learning how to recognize and address bullying.

by Meghan O'Connor


Employers nationwide increasingly have had to implement policies to handle concerns beyond typical workplace dilemmas –– or what’s now called workplace bullying.

This week, the University of Minnesota’s Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action held a session about the issue to ensure staff and faculty know how to recognize and address it.

The University’s Office of Human Resources defines bullying as an imbalance of power and the intent to cause harm and repetition. It is not outlined in Minnesota state laws like harassment or discrimination.

Acts of bullying are specific to each case, but scenarios could include spreading rumors, undermining the work a person does or giving a poor evaluation to put an employee’s job at risk.

“Most people put up with it, and many of the people who are bullied think that they deserve it,” said Sean Lunsford a consultant at the Workplace Bullying Institute.

During Tuesday morning’s workshop “Addressing Bullying Behavior in the Workplace,” EOAA presented scenarios that could happen in the workplace at the University.

“Like, if you are dealing with a long-time faculty member who is well respected but displays curt behavior in the workplace,” said Kimberly Hewitt, EOAA director.

After the presentation, the floor was opened up for discussion among attendees to respond to each scenario.

When EOAA receives a complaint, it becomes their responsibility to investigate the accused and to carry out a source of action.

Sometimes victims of bullying are reluctant to come forward, but someone from the same office can file a complaint on the victim’s behalf, which the EOAA would investigate.

This can result in a recommendation letter sent to the place of business or various training sessions addressing the situation for both office bullies and their targets.

“We have obligations to take action but again, it depends on the situation,” said Hewitt.

Beyond the campus, workplace bullying is fairly common.

A national 2010 survey conducted by the Workplace Bullying Institute found more than one-third of employees have experienced some kind of bullying behavior while at work. The majority of bullies are men, but most of it is same-gender harassment. Female bullies target other women in 80 percent of cases.

Ruth Namie, a psychologist for WBI, works closely with victims of workplace bullying.

 “Many people don’t realize what is happening to them … they can’t put a name to it,” she said. “When people can finally figure out what exactly is happening to them, it provides some relief. That’s where we come in.”

WBI, founded in 1998, travels around the country giving seminars and speeches to provide employees the tools to identify and address this kind of behavior.

While laws remain nonexistent, companies are being urged to create their own protocol and possible resolution.

“Being aware of this behavior helps people get back to living their lives,” Lunsford said.

“Sadly, most people who are affected usually end up leaving their jobs or being fired.”