Are there bullies in your 'Office Space?'

A recent Forbes.com article about bullies in the workplace reads like a primer for Office Space, that fine cult comedy that anyone who's ever set foot in a cube farm can relate to. With that in mind, here are some signs of bullying to watch out for, translated into some of the movie's best-loved catch phrases:

  • A case of the Mondays: You often feel physically ill at the start of each new work week.
  • Your TPS report needs a cover sheet: Your work is constantly criticized, and your mistakes are repeatedly brought up.
  • That's my stapler: Your boss is isolating you, going as far as to move your desk.
  • Yeah, I'll need you to come in this Saturday: Your boss always schedules last-minute after-hours meetings.
  • Not enough flair: Your supervisor finds nit-picky ways to ensure you'll fail at your job.
While the movie finds the humor in untenable work situations, actual workplace bullies can stress out their victims to the point where undergoing hypnotherapy or taking a baseball bat to a malfunctioning printer seems like a great idea. According to a 2007 Zogby International survey, an estimated 37% of U.S. workers, or about 54 million people, have been bullied at the office or repeatedly mistreated in a health-harming way, and about 45% of those targeted by bullies suffer stress-related health problems. This can lead to increased absenteeism and employee turnover, affecting a company's bottom line. Recruiting can also be difficult if stories begin circulating about bullying within an organization.

So how to cope with office bullies? In a 2007 report entitled "How to Bust the Office Bully," Arizona State University's Project for Wellness and Work-Life recommends that targets figure out a rational way to tell their stories to colleagues, bosses or human resources while managing their emotions. Emphasizing your competence and showing consideration for others' perspectives is also crucial, the report says.

Or, if you feel like your company supports this kind of negative behavior, you might want to take a cue from Peter Gibbons, the anti-hero of Office Space, and stop showing up to work. Unlike Peter, though, you'll probably want to actually quit your job first.

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