Many of us, growing up, had periods in our lives where we were either the subject of bullying or bullied others. Usually in school anywhere from grade 1 to 12 and varying in intensity. For myself, I was the bullies object of choice.

I was very much a loner in school, content to play by myself, as the other kids were very confusing to me. I grew up around teenagers and considered them normal. Kids my own age were boring and immature. Why, they didn’t listen to groups like Nazareth or Led Zepplin and had never even heard of the movie “Tommy” or “The Posiedon Adventure”. What on earth did I have to talk to them about? I think the other kids were just as confused about me and, in the way of kids, dealt with it through teasing and bullying. At one time it got so bad that I had to be switched to another junior high school one month in as I was being beat up on a daily basis. My parents feared for my safety.

Once we graduate high school (or in a few rare cases, university or college), that’s all over with. Right? Adults don’t bully and if they do, they’re one of “those people” and we don’t associate with “them”. You know the type; no job, in and out of jail, abuse their kids/wife/husband/neighbours/whatever. Shiftless, dirty, uneducated. Those are the only adults that bully. Right? What if they’re not?

If you’ve ever held down a job in your adult life, you’ve probably gotten involved in or been subjected to office politics. Those little mind games that people in a job do to one another to get ahead and make themselves seem more important. There’s another name for it recently coined; “office bullying” and it’s just as damaging now as it was in school.

What is office bullying? Office bullying is any behaviour which is detrimental to an employee’s mental, physical or psychological health. You have probably been subjected to it at one time or another and either put up with it for the sake of the job (bills have to be paid, after all) or switched jobs. The problem is that neither option deals with the heart of the matter.

There is several types of bullies and most of them have learned that this aggressive behaviour is the way to advance their career. What amazes me is that adults think this behaviour is acceptable in the work place. We expect children to treat each other with dignity and respect but when we fail to do it ourselves we call it “office politics”. Bullshit. If we cannot treat others in a manner that is productive, respectful and healthy then we cannot reasonable expect children to do so. “Do as I say, not as I do” is a bad idea and never works. You want to stop school bullying? Then show your kids that bullying in any form is not acceptable.

So how do you know if you’re an office bully? Here’s my criteria; if your child said something similar to a peer that you say to a co-worker, would you be proud or ashamed? If your child behaved at school in the way you behave at work, would you praise or punish him or her? (This also works if you don’t have kids. Just imagine how you would feel if you saw kids behaving the way you do) If you’re not proud and praising your child for the behaviour you do then you’re an office bully and you need to stop.

How do you know if you’re a target of a bully? Personally, I think you’d know, but just in case you didn’t, here’s my criteria; if you feel harassed, violated or threatened, you’re the target. If you think your job is in jeopardy, you’re the target. If you saw your child being treated the way you are, would you stand for it? (Again, you can substitute a generic “child” if you don’t have kids). If you wouldn’t stand your child being treated this way, then what makes it okay for you to be treated this way?

Bosses: if you have office bullying going on, you have the power and ability to stop it. As the employer/supervisor/manager, you have an obligation to create a safe and healthy work environment. Bullying is not only detrimental mentally, emotionally and psychologically but physically the stress can cause illness. It also detracts from the quality and quantity of work produced by your employees. If they’re worried about the office politics going on, they’re not working and you’re losing out. It’s up to you to put an end to it. If you are the office bully, then shame on you. You should really know better.

Office bullying is a problem and so far there is very little attention paid to it in Canada. Yes, most offices have a “mutual respect” policy, but that doesn’t go far enough. There needs to be a venue for those being targeted to go and discuss their issues with either human resources departments or management. The employer needs to have clear steps to deal with office bullying in place.

You can stop office bullying. If you’re the target of office bullying then make sure your boundaries are understood and respected. If they aren’t, you need to tell someone. If you are the office bully, then it’s up to you to stop it. Work should be a place where you can feel respected and like you’re a contributing member. It shouldn’t make you feel like you’re eight years old and in the school playground again.