The term workplace bullying describes a wide range of behaviors, and this complexity makes addressing it difficult and often ineffective. For example, most anti-bullying advice, from “anger management” to zero-tolerance policies, deals with more overt…
While the organizational costs of incivility and toxicity are well documented, bullying at work is still a problem. An estimated 48.6 million Americans, or about 30% of the workforce, are bullied at work. In India, that percentage is reported to be as high as 46% or even 55%. In Germany, it’s a lower but non-negligible 17%. Yet bullying often receives little attention or effective action.
To maximize workplace health and well-being, it’s critical to create workplaces where all employees — regardless of their position — are safe. Systemic, organizational-level approaches can help prevent the harms associated with different types of bullying.
The term workplace bullying describes a wide range of behaviors, and this complexity makes addressing it difficult and often ineffective. Here, we’ll discuss the different types of bullying, the myths that prevent leaders from addressing it, and how organizations can effectively intervene and create a safer workplace.
The Different Types of Bullying
To develop more comprehensive systems of bullying prevention and support employees’ psychological well-being, leaders first need to be aware of the different types of bullying and how they show up. We’ve identified 15 different features of bullying, based on standard typologies of aggression, data from the Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI), and Ludmila’s 25+ years of research and practice focused on addressing workplace aggression, discrimination, and incivility to create healthy organizational cultures.
These 15 features can be mapped to some of the common archetypes of bullies. Take the “Screamer,” who is associated with yelling and fist-banging or the quieter but equally dangerous “Schemer” who uses Machiavellian plotting, gaslighting, and smear campaigns to strip others of resources or push them out.
The Schemer doesn’t necessarily have a position of legitimate power and can present as a smiling and eager-to-help colleague or even an innocent-looking intern. While hostile motivation and overt tactics align with the Screamer bully archetype and instrumental, indirect, and covert bullying is typical of the Schemer, a bully can have multiple motives and use multiple tactics — consciously or unconsciously.
Caroline mediated a situation that illustrates both conscious and unconscious dynamics. At the reception to celebrate Ewa’s* national-level achievement award, Harper, her coworker, spent most of the time talking about her own accomplishments, then took the stage to congratulate herself on mentoring Ewa and letting her take “ownership” of their collective work. But there had been no mentorship or collective work.
After overtly and directly putting Ewa down and (perhaps unconsciously) attempting to elevate herself, Harper didn’t stop. She “accidentally” removed Ewa from crucial information distribution lists — an act of indirect, covert sabotage.
In another example, Ludmila encountered a mixed-motive, mixed-tactic situation. Charles, a manager with a strong xenophobic sentiment, regularly berated Noor, a work visa holder, behind closed doors — an act of hostile and direct bullying. Motivated by a desire to take over the high-stakes, high-visibility projects Noor had built, Charles also engaged in indirect, covert bullying by falsifying performance records to make a case for her dismissal.
Workplace Bullying Myths
Common myths about bullying — for example, that it’s simply “holding people to high standards” or having a “competitive personality” — suggest that bullying does not harm and may even spur performance. However, bullying and the myths about it hinder outcomes.
A common assumption is that bullies are often star performers and that high performance justifies bad behavior. However, the actual star performers are more likely to be targets than bullies. Bullies are usually mediocre performers who may appear to be stars, while in fact they often take credit for the work of others. Moreover, bullies are not motivated by organizational goals.
They’re driven by self-interest, often at the expense of organizations. Research indicates that bullies often envy and covertly victimize organization-focused high performers — those who are particularly capable, caring, and conscientious. Not only are bullies not the stars, but one toxic employee negates the gains of the performance of two superstars and likely creates additional costs.
The “motivation” myth justifies bullying as “management” or “motivation,” helping low-performing individuals improve. Indeed, low performers are more likely to experience bullying than mediocre ones — but it does not help them improve. Rather, it can further hinder performance, creativity, collaboration, and delivering on business goals due to employee distress.
Research has thoroughly documented that bullying is detrimental to individuals’ productivity and organizational outcomes. Unfortunately, even when organizations attempt to address it, the interventions are rarely effective.
Kids who learn and think differently aren’t the only ones who can feel lonely or “apart” from other kids. Most people feel that way at some point.
But research shows that kids who learn and think differently are more likely than their peers to struggle with loneliness. And they often have a harder time dealing with those feelings when they have them. Learn more about loneliness and kids who learn and think differently.
Why kids who are different might feel lonely
Kids who learn and think differently might feel lonely for many reasons. For starters, they’re more likely to be bullied or left out. They can have a hard time making friends or connecting with people. And struggling in school and socially can make kids feel bad about themselves.
They may feel like nobody understands them or their challenges. And they might even withdraw. Kids with certain challenges are most likely to feel left out and isolated. These challenges include trouble with:
The difference between being lonely and being alone
Some people like spending time alone. That goes for kids and adults. As long as they have the ability to make friends and connect with other people when they want to, being alone is a preference, not a problem.
Being unhappy when alone doesn’t necessarily mean someone is lonely, though. Having a hard time entertaining yourself and feeling bored aren’t the same thing as feeling socially isolated.
Also, loneliness isn’t always about being alone. Some kids feel isolated even when they’re with others. They feel like nobody around them shares or understands their challenges. There’s nobody to connect with.
How loneliness can impact kids
When kids go through the occasional lonely spell, it usually doesn’t have a lasting impact. Feeling lonely all the time is different, though. It can affect kids in lots of ways. And it can lead to other difficulties.
Kids who feel lonely might be:
More likely to have low self-esteem. They might feel like others are rejecting them. Kids might lose confidence in themselves and eventually believe they have nothing valuable to offer.
Less likely to take positive risks. Trying new things can build confidence and lead to new interests and skills. But kids who are already feeling rejected and vulnerable may not want to take this leap. They may be afraid to call attention to themselves and risk failing.
More likely to be sad, disconnected, and worried. Kids deal with loneliness in different ways. They may keep their sadness inside and pull away from others. Or they may become angry and act out. The combination of negative emotions and isolation can lead to depression and anxiety.
More likely to engage in risky behaviors. Teens may drink, smoke or vape, use drugs, vandalize property, or do other risky things if they think it will help them feel accepted.
Keep an eye on signs of depression, too. Don’t hesitate to reach out to your health care provider if you have concerns. And if your child has ADHD, read about the connection between ADHD and depression.
If your child is struggling to make friends, there are ways to help. First, try to figure out why. Some kids need help with social skills. This is common for kids who are immature or have ADHD, autism or non-verbal learning disorder. Other kids are anxious. They may feel overwhelmed in new social situations or big groups.
Kids who are depressed often want to stay in their rooms. They may interpret things negatively and doubt others want to see them. Finally, some kids may have a hard time fitting in because they have different interests.
If you think your child is lonely, ask them. Start by describing a time when you have felt lonely. If they don’t want to talk, try again in a few days. Don’t push them.
If your child says they are lonely, try to be a good listener. Show that you’re listening by reflecting back what they’re saying: “It sounds like you’re having a hard time.” You can also say supportive things like: “That sounds tough. Would you tell me more about that?”
Once you know more, you can try to help. For kids who need practice with social skills, you can break things down into small steps. Then you can role play them with your child. For kids who have a hard time putting themselves out there, acknowledge how they feel. Then remind them that they’ll probably have a good time once they’ve made the effort. Give them lots of support and praise for doing something tough.
Some kids tend to misunderstand interactions. You can give a reality check: “What makes you think he’s mad? Are there other explanations?” For kids who interpret things negatively a lot, pointing it out each time can help break the pattern.
Finally, help kids find a group or activity that is interesting to them. Many kids find success online, where there are lots of virtual groups for kids with specific interests. Getting excited about something will help them feel more confident, too.
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Harassment on the platform can be uniquely cruel, and for many it feels like there’s no escape. No app is more integral to teens’ social lives than Instagram. While Millennials relied on Facebook to navigate high school and college, connect with friends, and express themselves online, Gen Z’s networks exist almost entirely on Instagram.
But when those friendships go south, the app can become a portal of pain. According to a recent Pew survey, 59 percent of teens have been bullied online, and according to a 2017 survey conducted by Ditch the Label, a nonprofit anti-bullying group, more than one in five 12-to-20-year-olds experience bullying specifically on Instagram. “Instagram is a good place sometimes,” said Riley, a 14-year-old who, like most kids in this story, asked to be referred to by her first name only, “but there’s a lot of drama, bullying, and gossip to go along with it.”
Teenagers have always been cruel to one another. But Instagram provides a uniquely powerful set of tools to do so. The velocity and size of the distribution mechanism allow rude comments or harassing images to go viral within hours. Like Twitter, Instagram makes it easy to set up new, anonymous profiles, which can be used specifically for trolling. Most importantly, many interactions on the app are hidden from the watchful eyes of parents and teachers, many of whom don’t understand the platform’s intricacies.
“There is no place for bullying on Instagram, and we are committed to fostering a kind and supportive community. Any form of online abuse on Instagram runs completely counter to the culture we’re invested in —a platform where everyone should feel safe and comfortable sharing their lives through photos and videos,” an Instagram spokesperson told The Atlantic in September.
This week, the company also announced a set of new features aimed at combatting bullying, including comment filters on live videos, machine-learning technology to detect bullying in photos, and a “kindness camera effect to spread positivity” endorsed by the former Dance Moms star Maddie Ziegler.
Still, Instagram is many teens’ entire social infrastructure; at its most destructive, bullying someone on there is the digital equivalent of taping mean flyers all over someone’s school, and her home, and her friends’ homes. After a falling-out with someone formerly in her friend group last year, Yael, a 15-year-old who asked to be referred to by a pseudonym, said the girl turned to Instagram to bully her day and night.
“She unfollowed me, blocked me, unblocked me, then messaged me days on end, paragraphs,” Yael said. “She posted about me constantly on her account, mentioned me in her Story, and messaged me over and over again for weeks.” Yael felt anxious even just having her phone in her pocket, because it reminded her of the harassment. “Every time I logged on to my account, I didn’t want to be there,” she said.
“I knew when I opened the app, she would be there. I was having a lot of anxiety over it, a lot of stress.” But still, she hesitated to quit the app entirely. Her friends on Instagram serve as a source of support. Also, quitting wouldn’t stop her tormentor from talking about her, and she’d rather know what the girl was saying. “You know someone’s talking about you, they’re posting about you, they’re messaging about you, they’re harassing you constantly,” she said. “You know every time you open the app they’re going to be there.”
Because bullying on your main feed is seen by many as aggressive and uncool, many teens create hate pages: separate Instagram accounts, purpose-built and solely dedicated to trashing one person, created by teens alone or in a group. They’ll post bad photos of their target, expose her secrets, post screenshots of texts from people saying mean things about her, and any other terrible stuff they can find.
“I’ve had at least 10 hate pages made about me,” said Annie, a 15-year-old who asked to be referred to by a pseudonym. “I know some were made in a row by the same person, but some were from different people. They say really nasty things about you, the most outrageous as possible.”
Sometimes teens, many of whom run several Instagram accounts, will take an old page with a high amount of followers and transform it into a hate page to turn it against someone they don’t like. “One girl took a former meme page that was over 15,000 followers, took screencaps from my Story, and Photoshopped my nose bigger and posted it, tagging me being like, ‘Hey guys, this is my new account,’” Annie said.
“I had to send a formal cease and desist. I went to one of those lawyer websites and just filled it out. Then she did the same thing to my friend.” The scariest thing about being attacked by a hate page, teens say, is that you don’t know who is doing the attacking. “In real-life bullying, you know what’s doing it,” said Skye, a 14-year-old. “Hate pages could be anyone. It could be someone you know, someone you don’t know—you don’t know what you know, and it’s scary because it’s really out of control at that point.
Teachers tell you with bullying [to] just say ‘Stop,’ but in this case you can’t, and you don’t even know who to tell stop to.”
Aside from hate pages, teens say most bullying takes place over direct message, Instagram Stories, or in the comments section of friends’ photos. “Instagram won’t delete a person’s account unless it’s clear bullying on their main feed,” said Hadley, a 14-year-old, “and, like, no one is going to do that. It’s over DM and in comment sections.”
Mary, a 13-year-old who asked to be referred to by a pseudonym, said that relentless bullying on Instagram by a former friend gave her her first-ever panic attack. It started, Mary said, after she made the cheer team and her former friend did not. “She would DM me, or when I was with my friends, if they posted me on their Story, she would [respond] and say mean stuff about me since she knew I would see it since I’m with them,” Mary said. “She would never do it on her own Story; she’d make it seem like she wasn’t doing anything.”
“There was literally a group chat on Instagram named Everyone in the Class but Mary,” she added. “All they did on there was talk bad about me.”
On Instagram, it’s easy to see what people are up to and whom they’re hanging out with. For teenagers who are acutely aware of social status, even a seemingly innocent group photo can set a bully off. Teens say that tagging the wrong friend in a photo can unleash a bully’s wrath. Every location tag, comment, Story post, and even whom you follow or unfollow on your finsta (a secondary Instagram account where teens post more personal stuff) is scrutinized.
“Lots of bullying stems from jealousy, and Instagram is the ultimate jealousy platform,” Hadley said. “People are constantly posting pics of their cars, their bodies. Anything good in your life or at school goes on Insta, and that makes people jealous.”
Many high schools have anonymously run “confessions”-style Instagram accounts where users submit gossip about other students at school. For instance, an account like Greenville High School Confessions will pop up with a bio asking followers to “send the tea,” i.e., gossip. Students will follow the locked account and submit texts of people saying bad things about one another or gossip they’ve heard about people at school.
The account admin or admins will select the juiciest rumors and blast them out on Stories or on the main feed, sometimes even tagging the student’s handle. When someone who runs a school’s confessions account doesn’t like you, it can feel like the whole school has turned against you. “There was a page made called DTS.gossip, the initials of our school,” Riley said. “The account was made to post rumors and crap about people in my school, but a lot of them were about me.”
Rory, a 15-year-old, said that confessions accounts had gotten so out of control at her high school that administrators had banned taking photos of other students on campus. “People at my school would … expose drama or make up stuff, Photoshop people’s faces, bully them basically. It’s all anonymous.”
But Rory said that the no-picture rule hasn’t really curbed bullying. Not long ago, someone posted an entire diss track saying awful things about a 15-year-old girl to SoundCloud, which students promptly set as the link in their Instagram bio. “I think a lot of kids get really invested in drama,” Riley said, “with beauty gurus, YouTube, stuff like that. When it happens at school, they’re very interested in it. It’s fun. Which is horrible.”
“Tons of people from my school saw it immediately and started to make memes of me, calling me anorexic,” she said. “Then there were others suggesting I wasn’t thin enough. On their finstas, people were posting these mean things, people I thought I was friends with. I would block their finstas and they would tag my main account.”
But even in the midst of the worst bullying, teens say they’re wary of logging off. Rory is still active on the platform, though she only uses one account. “Everyone has friends from Instagram,” said Liv, a 13-year-old. “Everyone makes friends that way. It’s inevitable. Everyone does it.” Some teens did say they’d deactivate or take a break if their parents forced them to, but quitting forever “wasn’t an option.”
“You can message someone on insta ‘Hey, you’re a bitch’ so easily,” Liv said. “People need to think more about what they say before they say it, even if it’s a DM you forget about and log off. The person you sent that message to, it can impact them. You can really screw someone’s life up.”
While most school children are educated in academic subjects such as math and English, there are other important life lessons that don’t always make it into the curriculum. Having empathy is a learned skill that comes with listening and understanding others. That’s why Danish schools decided to introduce mandatory empathy classes in 1993, as a way to teach children aged 6-16 how to be kind.
For one hour each week, during “Klassens tid,” students are invited to talk about problems they have been experiencing. During this time, the entire class works together to find a solution. This teaches children to respect the feelings of others without judgement.
The empathy classes are believed to help them strengthen their relationships, sympathize with others’ problems, and even prevent bullying. They also allow each child to be heard, feel valued, and become part of a community.
Naturally, kids grow up to become confident, emotionally intelligent adults and are more likely to raise happier kids themselves. It should therefore come as no surprise that Denmark is consistently ranked highly as one of the happiest places to live. According to the World Happiness Report—released annually since 2012—Denmark is the second-happiest country, after Finland.
The country took first place in 2016 and has remained in the top three ever since. In fact, Denmark was also number one in the very first World Happiness Report in 2012. Clearly, they’re doing something right.
Denmark has consistently been at the top of the UN’s World Happiness Report. In the latest report, Denmark stood in second place followed by Finland. Denmark has been at the top in 2012, 2013, and 2016. Perhaps the empathy classes have a lot to contribute in this aspect.
The Danish Way stated, “Empathy helps build relationships, prevent bullying and succeed at work. It promotes the growth of leaders, entrepreneurs, and managers. ‘Empathic teenagers’ tend to be more successful because they are more oriented towards the goals compared to their more narcissistic peers.” Empathy is also taught through teamwork where those excelling and those lacking are made to work together.
This not only helps with understanding the positive qualities of each other but also lift each other up to complete a task without being pulled down by competition with each other. Another popular program is called the CAT-kit. In this program, the aim is to improve emotional awareness and empathy by focusing on how to articulate experiences, thoughts, feelings, and senses, reported The Atlantic.
There are picture cards of faces, measuring sticks to gauge the intensity of emotions, and pictures of the body, included in the CAT-kit so kids can understand the emotions being exhibited while also learning to conceptualize their own and others’ feelings. In the classroom setting, along with the facilitator, the children are taught not to be judgemental but acknowledge and respect these sentiments.
“A child who is naturally talented in mathematics, without learning to collaborate with their peers, will not go much further. They will need help in other subjects. It is a great lesson to teach children from an early age since no one can go through life alone,” says Jessica Alexander, author of the book The Danish Way of Parenting: What the Happiest People in the World Know About Raising Confident, Capable Kids.
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Google is kicking off a new publicity campaign today to pressure Apple into adopting RCS, the cross-platform messaging protocol that’s meant to be a successor to the aging SMS and MMS standards. The search giant has a new “Get The Message” website that lays out a familiar set of arguments for why Apple should support the standard, revolving around smoother messaging between iPhone and Android devices. Naturally, there’s also a #GetTheMessage hashtag to really get those viral juices flowing.
For most people, the problems Google describes are most familiar in the form of the green bubbles that signify messages to Android users in Apple’s Messages app. While the iPhone app uses Apple’s own iMessage service to send texts between iPhones (complete with modern features like encryption, support for group chats, and high-quality image and video transfers), they revert to old-fashioned SMS and MMS when texting an Android user. Not only are these messages shown in a color-clashing green bubble but also they break many of the modern messaging features people have come to rely on.
“iMessage should not benefit from bullying. Texting should bring us together, and the solution exists. Let’s fix this as one industry. https://t.co/18k8RNGQw4— Android (@Android) January 8, 2022
To fix this, Google has been dropping a series of not-so-subtle hints in recent months for Apple to support RCS, which offers most (though not all) of the features of iMessage in a protocol that’s usable across both iOS and Android. The company said it hoped “every mobile operating system… upgrades to RCS” onstage at its annual developer conference this year as well as in varioustweets over the months.
The iPhone maker has everything to gain from the current situation, which has a lock-in effect for customers. It provides seamless communication (but only between iMessage users) and turns Android’s green bubbles into subtle class markers. It’s why Apple execs admitted in internal emails that bringing iMessage to Android would “hurt [Apple] more than help us.”
RCS has also slowly been gaining feature parity with iMessage’s encryption. It now supports end-to-end encryption (E2EE) in one-on-one chats, and E2EE in group chats is due later this year.
So, will Google’s new publicity campaign finally be the thing that pushes Apple to see the light and roll out RCS support on its phones? Given the huge incentives Apple has for not playing ball, I have to say the search giant’s chances don’t look good. At this point, Apple adopting RCS feels about as likely as the US collectively ditching iMessage and moving to an encrypted cross-platform messaging service like WhatsApp or Signal.
Google’s new “Get the Message” campaign consists of a page on the company’s Android website listing all the reasons why Apple should “fix texting” by supporting RCS in iMessage. It points out how Apple’s reliance on outdated SMS and MMS when texting non-Apple devices leads to a series of problems, not only for Android phones but iPhone users as well.
This includes low-quality media, group chat incompatibilities, the inability to send messages over Wi-Fi, and the lack of read receipts, typing indicators, and end-to-end encryption. Google even goes so far as to say that Apple’s green bubbles are hard to read. Google points to several articles and examples on social media expressing frustration over Apple’s lack of support.
It’s definitely a story we’ve all heard before and likely one we’ll continue to hear for some time: messaging between Android and iOS is a bit of a mess. And as much as we would all like to imagine a world where iMessage came to Android, that will never happen, so we have to settle for RCS coming to iMessage. But even that seems unlikely, and this isn’t the first time Google has publicly called out Apple.
Google has tried to mitigate the messy texting situation with RCS, which sports many of the features iMessage users are used to. The company even introduced a way to translate reaction emojis across platforms, so Android users no longer receive a “Nick liked an image” message. Google has also been rolling out new Google Photos integration to send videos without any of the expected quality loss.
And Google is also working on expanding its end-to-end encryption to support group chats in Google Messages. However, Google’s efforts are pretty one-sided, at least until Apple adopts RCS in iMessage. It also doesn’t help that Google’s messaging around messaging has been confusing, to say the least. However, there are signs that the company is now trying to clean up its act by shedding its superfluous messaging apps.
That said, Apple seems pretty content with not supporting RCS and has remained mostly silent on the matter. Court documents revealed that company executives saw iMessage as a big way to lock customers into the platform, so extending any additional support for Android was essentially a no-go.
So, while it seems unlikely that Apple will bring RCS support any time soon, at least no one can say it’s due to a lack of effort on Google’s part. Meanwhile, you can head over to the “Get the Message” website to share Google’s message on your Twitter account, complete with the #GetTheMessage hashtag.