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For young people who feel bullied at school, graduation and emergence into the work force might appear to hold relief. But then, they might be in for a rude shock.

When, an employment website, looked into whether bullying was a problem in the workplace, the results were surprising. Bullies don't stay in high school their entire lives – they graduate and get jobs too.

“One of the most surprising takeaways from the study was that bullying impacts workers of all backgrounds regardless of race, education, income and level of authority within an organization,” said Rosemary Haefner, Vice President of Human Resources at CareerBuilder.

Haefner says the researchers discovered something else; many of the workers who said they were being bullied didn't confront their tormentor and didn't report the incidents. The solution for some was to hand in their resignation and find another job.

While 28% of workers in the survey said they felt bullied at work, 19% of those resolved the issue by leaving their job.

Expanding definition?

But is it bullying or something else? Is it possible the explosive growth in bullying is a result of expanding the definition of a bully?

Drilling deeper into the numbers suggests there might be something to that. For example, some bullying may in fact be discrimination.

In the CareerBuilder survey, minorities were more likely to report being the victim of bullies. Forty-four percent of employees with a physical disability reported encounters with bullies. For lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LBGT) workers, the total was 30%.

Female workers were significantly more likely to report bullying at work than their male counterparts, 34% to 22%. Twenty-seven percent of African American workers and 25% of Hispanic workers said they have been bullied at work compared to 24% of Caucasian males.

The victims of bullying identified in the survey don't complain of getting wedgies or other physical hazing typically thought of as bullying behavior.

Instead, they report being falsely accused of making mistakes, being the object of office gossip, being criticized or yelled at by the boss, or having credit for their work poached by a co-worker.

The boss is a jerk

Many would contend this nasty behavior in the workplace is nothing new. And that feeling grows once the researchers begin identifying who these bullies are.

It turns out they are in many cases the same people who have making life miserable for employees for generations – the boss.

Of workers who felt bullied, 45% singled out their supervisor, while 25% said the person was higher up in the organization, but not the boss. So it needs to be asked whether it's a case of bullying or a case of extremely poor management by a boss who is simply a jerk.

That said, it's clear from some of the responses that isn't always the case. One in 5 respondents said the bullying involved more than one person, suggesting that mean high school cliques have migrated to the workplace.

More mean people?

So the question needs to be asked – has the definition of bullying been expanded in recent years to include any unpleasant human contact, or have people everywhere become meaner and more insensitive?

“The definition of bullying at work will vary considerably depending on whom you talk to,” Haefner said. “It’s often a gray area, but when someone feels bullied, it typically involves a pattern of behavior where there is a gross lack of professionalism, consideration and respect.”

A lot of people in the survey reported confronting their tormentor. Nearly half – 48 percent – reported taking matters into their own hands and confronting the bully. Of these workers, 45% said it took care of the problem while 11% said it made matters worse.

Tips for handling a workplace bully

Here's how CareerBuilder suggests people who feel bullied at work should respond:

  • Keep records of all incidents of bullying, documenting places, times, what happened and who was present.
  • Consider talking to the bully, providing specific examples of how you were treated unfairly. Chances are the bully may not be aware that he/she is making you feel this way.
  • Always focus on the resolution. When sharing examples with the bully or a company authority, center the discussions around how to make the working situation better or how things could be handled differently.

Whether it's called bullying or something else, Haefner says allowing a work environment in which people feel threatened or abused is simply bad for business.

“Whether it’s through intimidation, personal insults or behavior that is more passive-aggressive, bullying can be harmful to the individual and the organization overall,” she said.

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