Bullying in the Workplace: Recognizing and Acting on It

Scott Reed
Scott Reed, Vice Provost for University Outreach and Engagement and Director of OSU Extension Service
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Last week, OSU Ombudsperson Sue Theiss and Scott Etherton from the Office of Equity and Inclusion visited with the Provost's Council to explain the process of bullying. As faculty and staff, we can learn to recognize such behavior and take steps described in Oregon State University Bullying Policy. Bullying is defined as conduct that can cause substantial emotional distress and undermine one's ability to work, study or participate in regular life's activities or university activities.

Acts of aggression can be direct - consisting of verbal assaults, retaliation, altering job assignments or intimidating physical demeanor. It can also be indirect by inappropriately influencing others' actions, denial of behavior and/ or redirecting blame. Not all bullying is intentional - it may occur accidentally, or be health related. But too often it is predatory, chronic and opportunistic. It all looks the same to the person who is the target of bullying. According to Sue, bully's often "kiss up and bully down". Repeated aggressive behaviors are exacerbated by imbalance of power, organizational tolerance and inactive managers.

Of course, in an academic environment, healthy argumentativeness is important as a feature of academic freedom. However, that is not the same as dysfunctional verbal aggression. Academic freedom provides for alternative views and debate of science-based information and views. It does not allow for abuse of colleagues and co-workers in any way.

What can be done? Early intervention is key, as is maintaining a safe environment for conversation about climate issues and structural constraints. If you suspect that bullying is affecting the vitality of your workplace, I urge that you contact one the offices noted in the policy: Office of Equity and Inclusion and the Ombuds Office.