November 3rd, 2010
Bullying costs employers good workers
By Marcia Heroux Pounds, South Florida Sun Sentinel, November 3, 2010
After a workplace bullying experience that left him physically sick, Brad Grinde quit his job as a South Florida executive and became a teacher. Grinde, 53, says he spent three years being told by a boss that he was “stupid” and “didn’t know how to manage people.”
“Why did I put up with that? I didn’t know what I was going through,” says Grinde, who was always a top performer and didn’t understand until changing careers that he had been the target of a workplace bully. That’s common says Gary Namie, who operates the Workplace Bullying Institute with his wife, Ruth, once the victim of an office bully. “The person doesn’t know they’re being bullied. They just accept it – ‘it’s just more of the same.’ We rationalize it,” Namie says.
It’s often when the victim becomes ill and goes to the family doctor that the physician tells the victim to leave the job, he says. Physical signs of stress can include nausea, profuse sweating, rapid heartbeat, elevated blood pressure and chest pain.
At some companies, bullying “becomes a management strategy,” Namie says. “It’s seen as motivational. Or, the bully is the friend of the executive.” Employees know that “if they dare to raise a fuss, they’ll be retaliated against.”
Stress during the economic recession has only made the office climate more ripe for bullying.
Thirty-five percent of adult Americans say they have experienced bullying in the workplace, first hand according to surveys conducted this year by Zogby International for the Workplace Bullying Institute. The surveys defined workplace bullying as “repeated, health harming abusive conduct committed by bosses and co-workers” and “repeated mistreatment, including sabotage by others, verbal abuse, threatening conduct, intimidation and humilitation.
Of the bullies, 62 percent are male and 38 percent are female, according to the Institute survey. Nearly 60 percent of the bully targets are women.
Namie says people rationalize workplace bullying like they once did domestic violence: “If it was so bad, he should have left.” He says it’s important that workers who are targets of office bullies don’t suffer in silence. “
Learn to tell people about it and learn to ask for help. But don’t ask for help in an emotional way. Make a fiscal argument: ‘This is so costly. Why tolerate the turnover and the absenteeism?’ ”
If you have to leave, you’ve put the responsibility on your employer, he says. “At least you leave with your mental health intact.”
E. Carol Webster, a clinical psychologist consultant in Fort Lauderdale, says her recommendation to someone who is being bullied at work usually is to leave the job. “In certain cultures, it’s entrenched. People are walking around yelling and screaming,” she says.
Workers facing an office bully might try saying, “I don’t appreciate that tone of voice or the way you’re talking to me,” Webster says. But in today’s volatile office environment, she would advise workers who feel they are targets of bullies to complain directly to human resources or the company’s Employee Assistance Program.
Employees in a bullying environment usually get worn down mentally and physically, she says. “It shuts the employee down, makes them feel paralyzed and fully empowers the bully,” Webster says.
Workers often don’t speak up. “I see a lot of shaming. Professional people feel humiliated they have to go through that and don’t seem to be able to do anything about it,” she says.
One place to start is by filing a complaint, which also is a wise legal move. While there are no laws against bullying, it often falls within other legal action such as harassment or discrimination charges, says Suzanne Bogdan, a partner with the law firm of Fisher & Phillips in Fort Lauderdale.
Employers need to be proactive in counseling and disciplining workplace bullies, she says. Many don’t, because the bullies at the office “are often your top performers.”
But she tells employers, “If they don’t get it — and a lot of people at that level don’t — and if you don’t get rid of them and there’s a claim, you’re going to have a problem.”
A company facing a harassment or discrimination charge might argue that the bully involved “wasn’t mean to women, he was mean to everyone,” she says. But, “in this day and age, a lot of times, judges won’t dismiss those claims.” Employers don’t want these cases to go to a jury, she says, because jurors will likely put themselves in the victim’s shoes and rule for the worker.
When the behavior is repeated and outrageous, there could be a legal claim of “intentional infliction of emotional distress,” Bogdan says. An example might be a bully who relentlessly picks on a co-worker with a medical or mental impairment by calling the person ugly names.
Grinde has put his bullying experience behind him and is now a teacher at a local middle school. He can now recognize the early warning signs of bullying, which helps him guide students. ”
My mistake was staying in the industry when I should have moved on,” he says. Even though his pay was higher as a manager, “it wasn’t worth the psychological stress.”
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