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  • Katie VanHouten

Bullying in the Workplace: Boredom or Isolation? Or both?

What’s your worst childhood nightmare? Being teased on the bus? Gum thrown in your hair? The school bully? Bullying can happen at any time, to anyone, anywhere in the world. Whether it takes place in the locker room, at the coffee shop or in line at the gas station, sometimes you can encounter a person with a short temper. But it’s commonly expected to feel respected at our place of work. Unfortunately, that is not always the case. Our threshold into incivility in the workplace has taken on another dimension after a full year of isolation.

An antagonistic co-worker could potentially be a positive factor upon the initial relationship. Perhaps your counterpart leads you to a higher level of motivation. Maybe the occasional intimidation could lead you to further scrupulous work had you not had an annoying cube mate. But some fiery rascals have risen to an elevated magnitude. As we all know, idle hands run free.

Bullying can stem from anxiety and a dysfunctional family history. The tendency of a person with low self-esteem is a need for attention, which typically can be caused by a negative childhood household. The result can be to lash out at others around them, whom they may spend many hours with per week. Hence, the workplace bully.

Following an entire year of COVID restrictions and regulations, some are beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel, regarding a frustrating work environment. Some circumstances had seen little to no change, but for most, the transition to an online life became their routine, and a mundane one at that. This opportunity for more free time led many existing ruffians to toy with co-workers and staff, wreaking havoc through passive aggressive emails and social media posts. But workplace bullying has been a prevalent issue before the days of lockdown. So is it boredom or isolation? Or both?

The increase in technology and digital usage in the workplace has increased in recent years and left many to an isolated work space. Many professionals have felt the loneliness and boredom in the office environment when meetings are at a minimum and you’re busy being tethered to your cube. Human interaction is necessary for productivity, but sadly, most communication has been reduced to email and the dreaded zoom calls.

The more stressful the work environment, the higher are the chances of a domineering individual to emerge. Generally, any repeated unreasonable behavior can be categorized as oppressing others and can come in many forms. During the year of 2020, with added time to toil, or slack off, the harasser type may choose to tease and torment other employees by using insults, raising their voice, blaming others for mistakes, humiliating them, using rude language or ignore someone's opinions.

The effects of the pandemic have left many feeling fatigued. We are pandemic fatigued, zoom fatigued and isolation fatigued. This is causing an increase in harassment by passive aggressive emails, group chats, social media posts and recently new to the bunch, the passive aggressive camera-off zoom call. The latter of the examples may not be viewed by all as a toxic work issue, but think of a time when you are presenting and someone is blatantly ignoring your prepared demonstration. That’s a form of disrespect too.

But the pandemic can’t be all to blame. The rise of digital usage and social media has been the catalyst of uncivil behavior in the workplace for several years, mostly due to the breakdown of civility in our society. Most people rely on Google instead of a dictionary, Facebook rather than The New York Times and speak freely to Alexa more often than their colleagues. This can create a sense of independence and a propensity to leave others out of their circle of allies.

Instead, many take on the know-it-all attitude when they are merely talking to themselves all day; there isn’t another person to show them the other side of the conversation. Your crew within your company should be a positive culture. Your fellow associates should be your squad, not the opposing team. But more people are choosing to avoid the group, throw staff under the bus and leave others out to dry. The school of C.Y.A. is in session, but you don’t have to comply. Assign yourself to civil behavior.


- Katie VanHouten, member of the Temple University Bateman 2021 Competition Team

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