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How to Report Verbal Abuse in the Workplace Video

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  • 0:04 Verbal Abuse in the Workplace
  • 0:58 Types of Verbal Abuse
  • 1:57 How to Report
  • 3:01 Healthy Workplace Bill
  • 3:56 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Millicent Kelly

Millicent has been teaching at the university level since 2004. She holds a Bachelor's degree in Criminal Justice and a Master's degree in Human Resources.

This lesson will discuss verbal abuse in the workplace, provide suggestions on how to handle such abuse, and discuss when and how verbal abuse in the workplace should be reported.

Verbal Abuse in the Workplace

Susan's boss is difficult to work for. He tends to fly off the handle for no reason, and his moods are unpredictable. He often lashes out at her by calling her a good-for-nothing and other derogatory terms. One day, while Susan is working, her boss hurls a report she completed across her desk. He accuses her of being incompetent, and calls her a worthless person, shouting loudly enough for everyone else to hear. Susan's boss tells her that, if he had the time, he would replace her in a heartbeat. This time, Susan has had enough.

What Susan experienced is a type of workplace bullying known as verbal abuse. In the context of bullying, verbal abuse can be defined as the regular use of critical, disrespectful, and negative words when speaking to another person. Although verbal abuse can take place in a variety of settings, it's particularly demeaning when it occurs in a professional workplace where it can impact not only the victim, but also office morale in general.

Types of Verbal Abuse

Although some verbal abuse is quite obvious, it can also be more subtle. The types of verbal abuse that can occur in the workplace include:

  • Loudly ridiculing, screaming, and yelling at a co-worker or subordinate (for example, by calling them stupid or incompetent).
  • Discussing a coworker, subordinate, or supervisor in a gossiping manner with others (for example, by spreading rumors about someone that are malicious and untrue).
  • Interrupting conversations with a coworker or customer (for instance, by sitting next to someone who's obviously on the phone with a customer and starting a conversation).
  • Threatening a coworker, subordinate, or supervisor (for example, by telling the victim that if you ever run into them outside the workplace, they better watch their back).

Regardless of the type of verbal abuse that's used, it can have long-lasting emotional effects on the targeted person. People who are verbally abused in the workplace often become depressed and withdrawn. They may also hesitate to talk to others because they're embarrassed by the situation.

How to Report

Since verbal abuse can have serious consequences for the victim, and has the potential to escalate to acts of workplace violence, such as physical attacks, or in the worst-case scenario, office shootings, it's important that incidents of verbal abuse, such as what Susan experienced in our earlier example, are promptly reported. Many verbally abused workers choose not to report the abuse because they fear they won't be taken seriously or that they might lose their positions. Human resource professionals should ensure that employees are educated about workplace bullying and verbal abuse and that they report the following information as quickly as possible after the event:

  • When, where, and at what time the event occurred
  • The exact statement made or wording used
  • The worker's response to the event
  • Previous incidents of verbal abuse

Although the reporting procedures for verbal abuse in the workplace can vary according to the policies specifically designed and implemented by different organizations, this information would be considered essential to such policies. As with any type of workplace bullying or harassment, documentation is key.

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