Bullying. We read a lot these days about that. But how often do you read about “bullying” and “boomers” in the same piece? Well, it might surprise you that sometimes, sadly, they do go together. Two baby boomers have studied it and written about it. Rick Miller, from Columbia, Maryland, and Eric Mondschein, from Queensbury, New York, are the co-authors of Sexual Harassment and Bullying; Similar But Not The Same. And they wrote this piece for BoomerCafé: Boomers and Bullying: Victims, Perpetrators and Bystanders.
As Boomers, we would like to believe that bullying ended when we left school. Sadly, this is not the case. Bullying is occurring on the job, in nursing and assisted living homes and in almost any place where adults gather. Heck, baby boomers are experiencing or seeing bullying in everyday life—including at the movies, grocery stores, and in traffic.
Bullying refers to repeated, unreasonable actions of individuals or a group directed towards a person or a group which are intended to control, dominate, intimidate, degrade, humiliate, undermine, or which create a risk to the health or safety of a person or persons. In the workplace bullying often involves an abuse or misuse of power.
Many boomers are reaching the pinnacle of their careers and others have already started into retirement. They can face several sorts of bullying. In a 2016 poll 37% of workers in the U.S. reported that they’ve been bullied at work (Workplace Bullying Institute and Zogby International). Another survey found that 29% of HR executives had one or more employees in their workplaces resign due to workplace bullying (Challenger Gray & Christmas). Between 12% and 18% of psychologically-based disability claims are directly related to bullying. The workplace can be filled with stress and dissonance that is not related to the job or productivity, but rather is the result of bullying and its concurrent impacts.
The targets of bullying experience significant physical and mental health problems that can include reduced self-esteem, absenteeism, sleep and digestive disorders, family tension and stress, financial problems due to absenteeism or job loss. In some instances, post-traumatic stress disorder has occurred. In one case a boomer committed suicide rather than face the ongoing bullying by his supervisor and coworkers just months before he was eligible to retire with full benefits.
In another situation, a boomer of an undisclosed company, had his coworkers turn against him. The main bully undermined the victim when he was not present and then bullied him in front of his co-workers by making funny and disparaging comments concerning his looks, abilities and performance. It culminated when the bully fabricated evidence to implicate the victim for gross misconduct, which led to his firing. The reason for all this was that the victim was a potential successor to a senior position which the aggressor had been coveting for a long time. Industry reports indicate that bullies in the workplace are usually men (60%) and supervisors (56%).
Other boomers who are leaving the workforce may have a parent, spouse, brother or sister, or they themselves may have moved into a nursing homes or assisted living facility Even in the so called “Golden Years” we are not exempt from bullying. An estimated 10-20% of aging facility residents are bullied by a staff member or other residents.
So, what’s a Boomer to Do?
If you are the victim, first recognize and accept that you are being bullied and that you are not the source of the problem. Remember that the bullying is about control or humiliation and therefore has nothing to do with your performance. Note and keep a diary detailing the bullying actions, including the date, time, circumstances and if there were any witnesses. Obtain and hold onto any documents that substantiate your claim. Be aware that if you try and talk to the bully they will deny and obfuscate what you are saying. It is advisable to have a witness with you during any meetings. Find out if your organization/ assisted living facility has a policy on bullying and if so, report what is occurring to the appropriate person or department.
If you are a supervisor first examine your own behavior to ensure that your supervision is based on sound management principles, that you treat everyone fairly and that your feedback is focused on performance and not other criteria. After this self-assessment, commit to a zero tolerance anti-bullying policy, address bullying incidents when observed or reported, communicate to your employees that bullying is not acceptable and encourage reporting, have an open-door policy and be actively engaged in supervision rather than detached. What you do will affect your employees yourself and your organization. Do nothing and the situation will worsen. Do the right thing and you can look yourself in the mirror.
If you’re a bystander, don’t ignore it and don’t be afraid to speak up to either the bully or the victim. Studies have shown that bystanders can have an impact just by spending some time or standing with the victim. If bullying behaviors continue, report it in a clear concise manner and don’t wait for multiple episodes. Several studies indicate that bystanders observing bullying undergo similar emotional stress to that of the victim. If your loved one is in an assisted living home, talk to them and listen if they declare someone is “being mean or always picking on them.”
Note bruises or other indications of physical abuse and schedule more frequent visits. Again, you may want to document what you observe and report it in a courteous non-judgmental manner. If the bully is a fellow resident they may be suffering from dementia or some other mental disability and corrective actions can be taken. If it is a staff member who is bullying a formal complaint is in order and the employee may need to be terminated.
So, we boomers cannot escape our responsibilities, challenges or, sadly, the bullying that can occur. However, when we confront and address bullying, we can reduce the behavior and its impact, and feel better about ourselves and others.
The book “Sexual Harassment and Bullying” can be ordered here.