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Changing the office culture to prevent workplace bullying

Posted at 8:33 PM, Feb 08, 2019
and last updated 2019-02-08 20:33:10-05

CLEVELAND — Experiences in our past could be hurting productivity, but more importantly our mental health.

One Northeast Ohio woman is on a mission to raise awareness about on-the-job bullying and the lingering trauma it leaves behind.

Of course, we've all had that one boss or co-worker that made it challenging to get through the work day. Whether we realize it or not we're carrying that baggage with us throughout our career.

For some, they look at it as a challenge that makes them stronger, but others struggle to cope.

"We know that bullying lives in silence and it's creating a culture of fear," Lauren Welch said.

Welch wants to see the culture of fear in the workplace talked about more.

"It's a conversation that needs to be happening, and it needs to be happening now, it's important for organizations to take this type of work seriously," Welch said.

The executive director of The Women’s Leadership Guild recently turned to social media to spark a conversation about distress during the workday.

"There were a number of people who reached out and said oh my goodness I dealt with this, I didn't know the signs or what it looked like," Welch said.

Welch said one-in-three people experience workplace trauma during their career.

"Too often we try to silence those people and tell them well everybody is dealing with this type of thing in the workplace," Welch said.

Changing office culture and how complaints are handled is what Welch hopes to accomplish during her awareness campaign.

"What I'm going to do is try to partner with some organizations on the ground floor and try and create some workshops around how to deal with trauma, how to deal with bullying in the workplace," Welch said.

Dr. Scott Bea, a staff psychologist at the Cleveland Clinic, said people can get roughed up in the workplace for a variety of reasons.

"There are lots of dynamics. Personality dynamics, power plays, insecurities that get played out at work and people can get injured," Welch said.

Recovering from those emotional injuries can take a while.

"Sometimes I think of it like a milk carton. You can really damage a plastic milk carton with just one blow - to get it back into shape takes a lot more effort," Bea said.

From the employer's standpoint, there’s some incentive to tackle the issue.

"We're walking around with some impairment and that gets in the way of efficiency," Bea said.

Bea said it's in their best interest to help staff recover, not only to improve productivity, but to prevent absenteeism.

"One thing that people do to avoid anxiety and trauma is avoidance behavior," Bea said.

Here are a few signs that you may need some professional help.

"If this is recurring for you in significant ways, if you are carrying too much anxiety, arousal, it's tough to go to work, you're fearful at work," Bea said.

Bea said our “suck it up and get with it” culture is changing and that’s encouraging more people to speak out.

However, Welch believes it is still not enough.

"I found that so many people are dealing with it but they're suffering in silence and we don't want them to suffer in silence anymore," Welch said.

In Korea, lawmakers recently addressed the issue there by passing two measures that create new employer obligations and guidelines when employees file a complaint about harassment and bullying.