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When health affects wealth: Bullying in the workplace

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news Alexandria, 56308
Alexandria Minnesota 225 7th Ave E
P.O. Box 549
56308

The primary definition of harass, according to Merriam-Webster's, is "to annoy persistently." Webster's defines bully as "to treat abusively." Harassment is illegal. Bullying in the workplace is not prohibited by law.

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"We don't use the word 'bully' as we grow up. We think it's a kid thing," said Susie Trexler, a Someplace Safe advocate in Alexandria.

It used to be stolen lunch money on the playground. Now it's becoming more apparent that bullying is a trait that remains intact into adulthood and is affecting people's professional lives.

Trexler said that when an employee is bullied at work, it affects the company as a whole. When a person's self esteem is down, their productivity follows suit.

"It's all part of an imbalance of power and control," Trexler said. "Abusers feed off of fear. After a while, victims start believing what a bully says and they lose their power."

Trexler said the relationship between a bully and a victim is similar to that of a domestic abuse relationship. Bullying has resulted in employees needing counseling services, leaving jobs and post traumatic stress disorders.

The Workplace Bullying Institute, an organization committed to preventing bullying, reported that one-third of workers may be victims of workplace bullying. Bullying can be done by a single individual or can be an encouraged company culture, often prevalent in larger corporations. A manager may not even know they are bullying their employees.

"Managers being terse and unapproachable is a form of bullying," Trexler said. Instead of lecturing, Trexler said, praise is needed to get more out of workers.

"We just need to think before we speak," Trexler said. "How would we like it if someone spoke harsh all the time or acted mean to us on an ongoing basis?"

Just because we are no longer children doesn't mean we should abandon the Golden Rule. Trexler added that employees should stand up for each other. "The person who is bullying in the workplace might back off if they realize others do not like them treating someone in a bullying manner," she said.

Examples of workplace bullying include rude comments, shouting or swearing at an employee, isolating or singling out one employee, sabotaging work, intentional humiliation or repeated jokes. A single act is not considered bullying, it must be ongoing and cause tangible harm to an employee. If a person feels bullied, they should first tell their manager, or human resources if the manager is the bully. Still, a lot of people won't report an incident.

"Living in such a small community, they fear for the job they have and for any future job," Trexler said.

In addition to company culture, television also sets an example for bullying, Trexler said. Gordon Ramsay's continual shouting at chefs is a form of bullying. Trexler noted that restaurants probably have the highest incidence rate among the workplace bullying cases she has encountered.

While Someplace Safe is known for its work toward ending domestic violence, the organization can also help people who feel they are being bullied. Trexler said a Someplace Safe advocate can listen to a person's situation and help them devise a safety plan. In more rare cases, Someplace Safe has aided in establishing a harassment order.

"Absolutely anyone who needs assistance with workplace bullying can turn to us," said Susan Keehn, crime victim advocate with Someplace Safe. "We will assist in the best way we can."

Trexler said that bullying comes in many forms. Sexual harassment can start out as flattery and quickly turn into harassment, which is also bullying.

"It can be so subtle," Trexler said.

Sexual harassment and racial or other minority based claims are investigated because state and federal law requires employers to comply with anti-discrimination laws. The Workplace Bullying Institute reported that illegal discriminatory harassment occurs in 20 percent of bullying cases, meaning that 80 percent of bullying cases are not unlawful.

Twenty-three states have introduced a healthy workplace bill to bring more attention to the national bullying problem. Minnesota was the 21st state to act on a healthy workplace bill. The bill, S.F. 1352, was introduced into the state Senate and turned over to the jobs and economic growth committee on May 2, 2011. Senators Ron Latz and D. Scott Dibble authored the bill.

Until the healthy workplace bill is passed or the movement catches on, 44 percent of reported bullying incidents will go unaddressed. The Healthy Workplace Campaign reported that 18 percent of the time, bullying actually worsens once a complaint is made to management.

The bill introduced in Minnesota will define abusive conduct and work environments, disciplinary action and proper employee and employer conduct. Healthy workplace bills do not use the term "workplace bullying," nor do the bills involve state agencies to enforce provisions of the law. "Workplace bullying" was first coined in Britain.

Victims of workplace bullying, domestic violence, sexual assault or other general crimes can visit Someplace Safe at www.someplacesafe.info, 700 Cedar Street, Suite 237 in Alexandria or call (320) 762-1995. The Alexandria location is open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. and has a 24-hour crisis hotline, 1-800-974-3359. Someplace Safe has offices in Big Stone, Douglas, Grant, Otter Tail, Pope, Stevens, Traverse, Wilkin and Wadena counties.

DeyCrystal Dey Crystal Dey is a staff reporter for the Echo Press. Originally from Minnesota's Iron Range, Dey worked for newspapers in North Dakota, Florida and Connecticut before returning to her home state to join the Echo Press in October 2011. Dey studied Mass Communications at Minnesota State University Moorhead with an emphasis in Online Journalism. Follow Staff Reporter Crystal Dey on Twitter at @CrystalDey_Echo.

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