(OPRAH.com) -- Bullying in the workplace can begin innocuously enough. You might not even realize it at first.
Passive-aggressive comments from a cube mate here, a condescending look there. Maybe you've noticed you're being excluded from key meetings. Perhaps your work situation even includes behavior such as near-daily verbal humiliation by your boss in front of your peers.
Each scenario, no matter how banal or extreme, is classified as workplace bullying. A recent study conducted by France's national health agency finds that it might be costing you your health.
The latest study, conducted by Inserm, the French National Institute for Health and Medical Research, finds that one in 10 workers experience "hostile behavior" at work at least once a week. Those people, the study found, are twice as likely to have sleeping problems.
How prevalent is workplace bullying?
A 2007 study conducted by the Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI) and Zogby International found that 37 percent of all Americans report being bullied now or at some point in their careers.
The WBI calls it a "silent epidemic," with another 12 percent of people witnessing someone they work with being bullied. Employees are hesitant to report the behavior, according to the study, because an overwhelming percentage of bullies are bosses, and employees feel employers ignore the problem.
With nowhere to turn for answers, employees are taking their work frustration home with them, which the French study finds results in sleep disturbances, which begets fatigue and a host of health problems.
The WBI encourages employees to address a stressful work situation head-on before it robs them of their physical and mental health. It provides a list that includes the early signs of bullying. Use this checklist to determine whether the behavior you're experiencing at work is considered bullying and what you can do about it.
You know you're being bullied at work when:
•You feel like throwing up the night before the start of your work week.
•Your frustrated family demands that you to stop obsessing about work at home.
•Your doctor asks what could be causing your skyrocketing blood pressure and recent health problems, and tells you to change jobs.
•You feel too ashamed of being controlled by another person at work to tell your spouse or partner.
•All your paid time off is used for "mental health breaks" from the misery.
•Days off are spent exhausted and lifeless, your desire to do anything is gone.
•Your favorite activities and fun. with family are no longer appealing
•You begin to believe that you provoked the workplace cruelty.
•You attempt the obviously impossible task of doing a new job without training or time to learn new skills, but that work is never good enough for the boss.
•Surprise meetings are called by your boss with no results other than further humiliation.
•Everything your tormentor does to you is arbitrary and capricious, working a personal agenda that undermines the employer's legitimate business interests.
•Others at work have been told to stop working, talking or socializing with you.
•You constantly feel agitated and anxious, experiencing a sense of doom, waiting for bad things to happen.
•No matter what you do, you are never left alone to do your job without interference.
•People feel justified screaming or yelling at you in front of others, but you are punished if you scream back.
•HR tells you that your harassment isn't illegal, that you have to "work it out between yourselves."
•You finally, firmly confront your tormentor to stop the abusive conduct, you are accused of harassment.
•You are shocked when accused of incompetence despite a history of objective excellence, typically by someone who cannot do your job.
•Everyone -- co-workers, senior bosses, HR -- agrees (in person and orally) that your tormentor is a jerk, but there is nothing they will do about it (and deny saying what they said later when asked to support you).
•Your request to transfer to an open position under another boss is mysteriously denied.
Often a bully goes unchecked, according to the WBI, because it's either encouraged by employers or because there is no strategy in place to address the bully's behavior.
Wondering if you're guilty of being a bully? Review the WBI list of traits that often accompany a workplace bully and see if your behavior fits the bill.
You know you're being a bully at work when:
•You have to remind staff that you are the boss.
•You have the highest percentage of employees who request transfers out of your unit.
•You have to explain the meaning of your statements too often because others constantly misunderstand or misrepresent what you say.
•The number of constantly absent employees in your unit disrupts productivity.
•Several employees are on disability leave for stress.
•No one seems trainable; they never get work done as quickly or correctly as you like.
•People are too thin-skinned to accept necessary criticism.
•You get the most respect from executives and higher ups.
•The only social time staff or peers spend with you is when mandated to do so.
•You take disagreement with your ideas personally, and that compels consequences.
•You believe that today's workers do not accept personal responsibility to perform.
•Loyalty to you is the most important employee trait.
While confronting workplace bullying can be difficult, the WBI insists that employees can take action.
How to fight back
1. Identify the behavior. Because bullying is not illegal, the actions are not traditionally legitimized. By naming the problem, you own the experience.
2. Take time to bully-proof yourself. The WBI recommends speaking with a mental health professional, as well as a general physician. In addition, they suggest meeting with an attorney to discuss legal options you might have against your employer, as well as gathering any economic data that bullying has had on the employer, including turnover, demoralization from understaffing and lost productivity. Finally, they suggest you start your job search for a new position.
3. Expose the bully. When speaking with your employer, give him a chance to address the situation. Stick to the bottom line, and don't get emotional. Don't be ashamed, either. No one asks to be bullied.
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