Check out this story of workplace abuse from Chicago.
Back in August 2013 a story broke in Wheaton IL about a city worker who had been bullied for years. Unfortunately the Chicago Tribune no longer has a link to the story – but Workplace Bullying Institute still has the details up on their website: http://www.workplacebullying.org/2013/08/22/wheaton/
Basically, you had a culture of “rough housing” with one employee in particular, a male, always being the brunt of the jokes. At one point he was physically assaulted with a glow rod (use your imagination, it isn’t pleasant). This was an open joke within the group that this had been done to him.
A police officer heard about it and reported it and an investigation was launched. The victim didn’t want to press charges, because he just wanted to fit in.
This story shows several things.
1) Bullying escalates. This might have started as rough housing and jokes, but the fact that one person was always the victim was the problem. That their “jokes” ended up including a physical rape of the victim with a glow stick shows how office pranks aren’t really all that harmless. They escalate. If something is making you uncomfortable or the regular targeting of a co-worker makes you uncomfortable, speak up and ask that it be stopped. Yes, you may be targeted yourself, so what. Do the right thing, speak out.
2) Victims and witnesses can’t be relied on to report these things. The victim took the abuse. He didn’t like it, but he wanted to fit in, so he didn’t want to rock the boat. The administrators said, if we had known he didn’t like it, we would have done something. Note to all administrators and managers and HR professionals. People don’t report because they’ve learned through their entire lives that reporting only makes things worse. They do have a don’t rock the boat attitude. So when someone comes to you with an allegation, it’s already probably pretty bad. People don’t act rationally when being abused. Especially people who are chronically abused. You need to be more proactive. Perhaps allow an anonymous reporting ability.
3) Everyone is relieved when someone finally does something. This abuse had been going on for years, but it took an outsider to report it! Probably lots of other outsiders had heard about the rape and figured, it wasn’t their business, and so didn’t report it. Remember, this was an open joke in the office! They joked about how they had raped him with a glow rod!!! Openly!!! To a cop!!!! Other people knew and didn’t report. Don’t be the person who puts your head down. Bullying is serious. It has serious consequences. Don’t let it happen in your office. Speak up and be the whistle blower. Everyone will thank you for taking the lead, even if you have to take a bunch of crap in the meantime. Most people hate that this sort of thing happens and it’s so egregious they have no ability to really comprehend it.
Bullying in the workplace can be really really bad. Speak up quickly and consistently and don’t allow it to escalate.