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See Inside June/July 2008

The Cubicle Bully: Workplace Conflict Ruins Careers

Nonsexual harassment may be even more devastating to its victims

Most people think of bullies as a playground issue for schoolchildren. Adult bullying in the workplace, however, can be extremely harmful to its victims—even more so than sexual harassment—and it may be far more common than most people realize, according to new research.

Business researchers Sandy Hershcovis of the University of Manitoba and Julian Barling of Queen’s University in Ontario combined and analyzed 111 studies on workplace social dynamics. They discovered that as compared with workers who have experienced sexual harassment, victims of bullying report feeling angrier and more stressed at work—and are more likely to quit their job.

Workplace bullying, which includes ostracizing co-workers, spreading office gossip, and insulting people about their job performance or private life, is also more prevalent than sexual harassment. According to the Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI), a nonprofit organization that advocates for victims’ rights, 37 percent of U.S. employees have been bullied at their job, as opposed to 8 to 10 percent who have been sexually harassed.

Psychologist Gary Namie, director of the WBI, thinks the lack of legal consequences is one reason bullying causes more harm than sexual harassment does—its victims often suffer without receiving much help or sympathy. “Bullying situations are minimized as ‘mere personality conflicts,’ and targets feel delegitimized,” Namie says. Hershcovis thinks the simplest solution is for companies to take things into their own hands: “Implementing [company] policy and enforcing it is the best way” to stop bullying, she says.

This story was originally printed with the title, "The Cubicle Bully".

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