Just like any other bullying, the workplace bully doesn't just wreck havoc on the life and mental health of the person or persons they bully. Workplace morale suffers, productivity suffers, and ultimately the bottom line of the company suffers if the bully isn't stopped.
Let us start with the most immediate impact and work our way out.
Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs postulates that human beings are motivated (or demotivated) based on how well our needs are being met (or not) in a given situation. These needs are catagorized thus:
The foundational level concerns how well our physical needs are being met. We need essentials like sleep, breathable air, nourishment, water and a place to live. The workplace bully might start undermining his or her employees right at this very basic level with unrealistic expectations that must be met in order to remain employed, necessitating that the employee work more hours than is physically healthy.
The second level is all about security. Notice that this need is directly connected to level one, particularly when we are talking about job security and workplace bullying. Without job security physical needs may not be met sufficiently. Worrying about that may contribute to sleeplessness, compounding the problem. Continuing with the above example, if the sleep deprived employee is constantly remind that his or her position could be terminated at any moment, he or she is now concerned with primarily just keeping the job, which means job performance may suffer.
We can move up to level three concerns only when needs are met at the first two levels. Here we reach out to others and build relationships, which are integral to a safe and efficient working environment. If needs are not met at this level, motivation and productivity suffer. A bully manager works by pitting people against each other, as well as making everyone in his department focus so hard on the basic needs of the first two levels that they may begin competing instead of collaborating. Here the unchecked bullying ripples out from the individual employee to the department and ultimately the company.
Level four relates to concerns about our need to feel good about ourselves and our accomplishments. We begin to really feel the negative impact of this bullying on an employees mental health. Already concerned about basic needs, and perhaps feeling a bit isolated, if the bully manager then uses public humiliation, constantly criticizes with no positive feedback, or even actively engages other employees in the bullying, this results in low self-esteem. It is here that the high turn over really begins to affect a company's bottom line. Once the employee's mental health, physical health and professional future are compromised, if the company does not address the problem, the only solution is to leave out of self-preservation. The cost of training new employees as the bully destroys his team one-by-one becomes a much bigger issue. This may also be where the costs include legal fees as every aspect of an employee's life is destroyed.
Self-Actualization is the final level. If a manager intentionally defeats his team members at every turn and an employee has no possible way not only reaching their full potential, with every single need on the Hierarchy of Needs compromised, the effects may reach out even further.
Tragically, death is one final outcome, either due to the disastrous health consequences of chronic and excessive stress, suicide or homicide .
It is imperative that when a workplace bully is identified, he or she is stopped! It is in the best interest of the employee, his or her family, the employer, and society.
Workplace Bullies-Managing or Damaging? Part 1-Recognizing Bullying
Jumping to conclusions seems to be human nature. In psychology the phenomenon is identified as "inference-observation confusion" and is a form of cognitive distortion. In Integrative Wellness circles, unfavorable over-generalizations are often made to describe a complex perspective on health by those who do not fully understand the paradigm from which integrative care operates.
I see this in my work as a wellness mentor in both birthing and in stress management.
In birth, it manifests with a number of misconceptions which I've explored in Mother's Intention: How Belief Shapes Birth.
In stress management and the many sequelae associated with stress, like depression, the assumption might be that if testing for a vitamin D deficiency is suggested, the practitioner is rejecting conventional approaches to treatment. That is simply not how integrative wellness works.
Integrative physicians are medical practitioners who can, and do, use traditional approaches. The difference is that an Integrative physician will try to find the source of the problem instead of treating symptoms. Once treatment is initiated, it starts out with the least risky interventions.
The reason for this conservative approach is that they are fully aware of the limitations of traditional medicine and the risks that it holds. More than 700,000 people die each year due to iatrogenic causes. That means conventional medicine kills that may people each year. More than half of these deaths are due to medication errors or adverse reactions. Thus, it makes perfect sense to minimize the use of pharmaceuticals to true medical indication.
Let us look at an all to common example of this before applying this approach to stress.
In conventional medicine, antibiotics are prescribed as the first option for everything from the common cold to ear infections and beyond. This, despite continued admonishment from the CDC that this NOT be the preferred treatment due to the very concerning rise of antibiotic resistance. Conventional thought encourages parents to give their children fever reducers and send them off to school, despite the fact that fever has a purpose. The child may not feel sick for awhile, but they ARE still sick. And now they are out getting everyone they come in contact with sick as well.
This approach of throwing and antibiotic at unknown organisms has serious repercussions, and in situations where the sick person is making or serving food to the public, treating the symptoms so that the person can work while still ill can lead to epidemics.
What would a person do if they preferred an integrative approach? The first line of defense would be prevention. Hand washing, probiotics, and perhaps elderberry syrup if the bug was thought to be the flu. If the illness persists and the body's own defenses aren't adequate to the job, a culture might be done to determine if the infection is viral or bacterial. If bacterial, an antibiotic might be warranted, with proactive measures to try to limit the risks of the antibiotic, like yeast infections. If viral, an antibiotic would do nothing except introduce risk, so other options would be explored. Throughout, proper nutrition, hydration and hygiene would be maintained, with more risky interventions introduced in a way to minimize their risk. Notice that medication was not rejected; it just wasn't introduced first.
Now on to stress…
The first and best option in following an integrative approach is to prevent stress in the first place. Obviously, this isn't always possible, since even positive life events are stressful. Unavoidable stressors are introduced into all of our lives, every day.
Next, we need to recognize stress when and how it presents. We need to know how it affects our bodies, our minds, and our relationships. We might add exercise or yoga, which also shows promise in not just reducing anxiety, but treating depression that often accompanies prolonged stress and anxiety. Meditation, hypnosis or guided visualization (all theta brainwave states) might be incorporated, also beneficial for depression. Zentangle has been used in stress management and anger management. Vitamin D levels might be checked, as cortisol may deplete vitamin D, and vitamin D deficiencies are associated with depression, in addition to other mental illness and chronic pain. Also helpful for anxiety, depression and insomnia is the FDA approved Alpha Stim.
If stress were still unmanageable, therapy might be considered next, or at the very least learning cognitive behavioral therapy techniques to manage stress.
If the stress is so chronic and severe that it is unmanageable, medications might be appropriate, or even hospitalization. Again, the holistic provider is going to choose the medication with the fewest risks, and is going to suggest that all of the above mentioned therapies are continued so the least possible dose of the appropriate medication can address the issue. Notice again that at no time is conventional care rejected. ALL of the natural treatments for stress, anxiety and depression are compatible with medication and therapy. The only natural treatment options that may not be would be herbs or perhaps some supplements useful for anxiety and depression.
One of the criticism of integrative medicine is that people eschew modern medicine for old wives tales. As you can see, Integrative care is all inclusive. It does not suggest that all issues can be solved with natural remedies, but that often the root cause begins with imbalance that can be corrected. When that is not possible, each option up the ladder is embraced, so long as it proves to be effective. Many of the interventions have been studied and shown to be effective, while others still need to be studied, but are at least not harmful.
My stress management/reduction workshops are designed to meet several time and budget constraints.
Perhaps one of the best reasons to opt for the 3-hour or full day workshops is the live demonstration of the Wild Divine Relaxing Rhythms program. When possible participants will even be able to try it out themselves!
Click the image above to visit the Wild Divine website to learn more!
This post initiates a series regarding workplace stress that is created, not encountered.
Stress that is encountered is not preventable by an individual or company: the downturn in the economy that causes restructuring, or the cyclical nature of a product that causes a 'feast or famine' work environment of extreme overtime and frantic order fulfillment followed by layoffs. This stress may be acute or chronic. Either way, it requires that we find ways to reduce or manage stress to the best of our ability as individuals in order to avoid the physical, emotional and psychological consequences of stress. The workshops I offer deal with this type of stress.
A created stressor is one that is preventable, perhaps predictable, and certainly manageable, but not by the individual employee. This stressor impacts not just one individual, but many, and the only way to minimize or eliminate it is for the employer to be proactive. I'm talking about the bullying manager.
How bullies land positions of leadership and management is a quandary. One would think that at the bare minimum, if a person is entrusted to manage people, that person would have people skills. Further, if a person is known to be a bully, it is inconceivable that a company would allow the bully continued access to victims, as Workplace Bullying [is] Emerging As Major Employment Liability Battleground.
My work is about limiting the damage stress inflicts, so these posts will not focus on the responsibility of the employers. I want to explore the intricacies of what constitutes workplace bullying, what the mental and physical consequences of bullying may be, what the costs are to employees and employers alike, and ultimately what can be done about it.
How to Spot a Bully
There is a high probability that every body not only knows who their resident bully is, but he/she has been reported to HR for inappropriate behavior. Who are they? They are the bullies from preschool, grade school, high school and college. As long as they get away with reprehensible behavior, they will continue. They will be the bullies of retirement villages.
They are not people who have just had a bad day and lost their temper once. They are not just demanding bosses who lack a few interpersonal relationship skills, nor are they managers who have to take a hardline on slacker employees. Bullies are identifiable by consistent, crazy-making behavior: they are constantly over everyone's shoulder micro-managing to the nth degree; they use tactics like isolation, invalid criticism, constantly changing expectations, and unrealistic deadlines; they prohibit adequate training opportunities, but then scream or humiliate if the self-directed training is inadequate. Simply put, these people abuse power. They are not managing, they are damaging.
Employers can recognize bullies in a managerial position by an overabundance of disciplinary actions, increased number of sick days by employees under that manager, requests for transfers, high rate of turn over and failure to meet organizational goals.
Considering 41.4% of US workers in one study reported being bullied, there is a good chance that you or someone you know works for (or is) a bully. Corporate/Institutional bullying "...occurs when bullying is entrenched in an organization and becomes accepted…" In some instances, it may not be the company culture, but has become the norm within a division or department. Whether it is one bully, a team of bullies, or a systemic bullying corporate culture, real damage is done to companies, people and families. Shots In The Dark: "Murder By Proxy" Takes On The History Of Workplace Violence explores the role workplace bullies have in workplace homicides, and suicide is often cited as a consequence of bullying as people struggle to cope.
With these serious considerations in mind, we will continue the series with precisely how the bullied employee is affected physically.
Workplace Bullying-Managing or Damaging? Part 2-The Effect of Bullying
That extreme or chronic stress is harmful seems self-evident. I mean, it feels bad to be stressed out, right?
But what is it that is actually happening to our body when we are 'stressed out'? How can it be that stress is implicated in the 6 leading causes of death, "heart disease, cancer, lung ailments, accidents, cirrhosis of the liver and suicide" ?
High blood pressure-Stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline cause the heart to beat faster and blood vessels to constrict in an effort to shuttle blood to the core organs. This raises blood pressure. This may lead to chronic hypertension, which can lead to increased risk of stroke, heart damage, damage to arteries, dementia and kidney damage.
Suppressed immune system-The immune system fights off disease with the help of B-cells and T-cells which are lymphocytes. The stress hormone corticosteroid can lower the number of lymphocytes, thus rendering the immune system less able to fight off pathogens...disease causing viruses and bacteria.
Stress also negatively impacts the digestive system, the first line of defense for the immune system. People under stress are more likely to engage in behaviors detrimental to health as well, such as smoking and alcohol consumption. Smoking contributes to heart disease cancer and lung issues, and excessive alcohol consumption damages the liver.
Lack of sleep-The hyper-aroused state caused by the physiological components of stress outlined above can make sleep elusive. Inadequate sleep can contribute to inattentiveness and poor concentration, which can lead to more accidents. This is not just a problem in situations such as driving...it costs the workplace a substantial amount of money in preventable accidents.
Depression-Elevated stress hormones like cortisol along with the inhibition neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine, have been linked to depression. When the fight or flight response is a chronic state of being, it can lead to depression. If lack of sleep and illness from a suppressed immune system are tossed into the mix, or the initial stressor is something like loss of a job that also cuts off a support system, depression may be even more likely. Making matters worse is if lifestyle factors create a downward spiral of stress and deepening depression; nutritional deficiencies, lack of exercise, excessive drinking, etc. In susceptible people, this increases the risk of suicide.
There are so many easy and inexpensive ways to deal with situational and job related stress that make all of these potential problems less likely!
"I am so stressed out!"
"My job just stresses me out!"
"I am stressing myself out over these wedding plans!"
"This stress is just killing me!"
The word is tossed as both noun and verb, but do we really understand what it means?
One dictionary definition is that it is, "A state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances." This is only partially true, but is probably what we mean when we utter any of the first three sentences above. Unfortunately, the rest of the story, the heart of the story, is in that forth sentence.
Stress is a physiological condition. It is not just a mental response to environmental cues. Our bodies automatically respond to outside stressors with the 'fight or flight' response. This fight or flight response is the physical condition our bodies will adopt to protect us by making fighting or fleeing the top priority. Fat and glycogen (sugar) are liberated to enable the muscles to work very hard very fast. Digestion slows down or stops. The heart beats faster and harder.
The interesting thing is that just thinking about stressful things can cause the same response. This doesn't even have to be a conscious thought. If a person is worried about job security, for instance, they are not constantly consciously thinking about what will happen if they lose their job. Yet their subconscious mind is very aware of what that might mean to the survival of the organism. Thus, stressful environments, whether outwardly stressful or inwardly, causes chronic stress. If the body cannot fight, flee or otherwise discharge this energy, the body is always in a state of fight or flight.
Stress related complaints comprise about 85% of all doctor visits. The top causes of death are all stress related. As much as stress costs us personally, stress in the workplace costs a staggering $300 billion (with a 'B') per year...about $5000 per employee.
And all of that is avoidable.
While we can't always avoid stressors, sometimes the stress response itself is preventable. At the very least, when it isn't preventable it can be managed to minimize the physical, mental, emotional, financial and societal effects. We know how!
I can help.