December 16th, 2010

Employer Engagement in preventing/correcting workplace bullying: 2 Views

How engaged is your employer? It depends on whether you are asking the American public or people with direct experience being bullied.

Perspective 1 is through the lens of people who know bullying from the inside, from the perspective of being the target of a bully’s wrath. They have the experience with their employer’s involvement with bullying. People who visit the WBI website and complete a front-page Instant Poll weigh in on a variety of issues. From their answers, we can describe the world through the lens of bullied targets because site visitors (98%) declare themselves to be bullied targets. The research samples are called “self-selected” samples. Despite the polls being “unscientific,” they provide the most useful information for other bullied targets and shed light on the bullying phenomenon.

Perspective 2 is the national snapshot captured when we commission a national poll. We did this in August for the 2010 WBI U.S. Workplace Bullying Survey. Our pollsters, Zogby International, polled 4,210 individuals selected to represent all adult Americans. The sample was a “scientific” one because of the sampling methodology used. It allows WBI to extrapolate the findings to the general U.S. adult population. Surveys like these meet the requirement for publication in scientific journals and at academic conferences. However, when half of the population has no knowledge of bullying (49.6% of the 2010 WBI-Zogby respondents claimed never witnessing and never being bullied), results can be misleading.

What a difference personal experience makes. For instance, we asked in our National Survey and also in one of our Instant Polls:

How engaged is your employer with preventing or correcting workplace bullying?

A large portion — 36.9% — of the national survey respondents said they were “not sure” about employer activity. We did not give the online survey respondents the same opportunity. We eliminated the “not sure” people and adjusted the percentages accordingly for a direct comparison between the two groups. Here are the differences.

For each response category, the percentages for the survey groups are given.

Employer is … National Survey

Adult Americans
n = 2,658

Targets’ Survey

Online Sample

n = 332

Very engaged. Employer
has a specific policy, separate from harassment and violence policies. Policy
is enforced.
33.4% 2.7%
Partially engaged. Employer has the specific policy, but does not enforce it. 9.9 12
Promotes awareness. Employer sponsors training or seminars. No policy 11.8 4.2
Unengaged. No employer activity. Unaware. 42.6 35.2
Resistant to topic. Refuses to educate employees or to create policy when asked by union or
2.2 45.7

From the online targets’ survey, we see that 81% of employers are either doing nothing to address bullying or actually resisting action when requested to do something. The non-expert public direct comparison percentage is 44.8.

Most startling is how optimistic is the general public that employers are very engaged in the battle against workplace bullying. One-third of adult Americans gave employers credit for having specific policies and faithfully enforcing them. Perhaps this confidence assumes that since schools have been forced to deal with bullying, workplaces for adults would similarly address bullying. Of course, this statistic is not founded on truth. Bullied targets tell us that less than three percent (2.7%) of employers are actively engaged like the public thinks.

The two views about employer engagement are divergent. The differences are so great that the veracity of one or both groups warrants scrutiny. Who shall be trusted — the “average” American or a veteran of the bullying wars? We have 14 years experience with the latter group. They have proven themselves to us to be honest.

It also is true that one cannot imagine the intensity of the defense for the bully coupled with attempts to discredit and demoralize you, the target, until it happens to you. In other words, without direct experience, you might believe the promises that all employers care deeply about the health and safety of their workers. This is a naive belief not supported by the evidence — empirical (as shown in the above table) and anecdotal (if you talk to bullied targets).

The findings above illustrate a second point about the American public. Americans hold myths about employers as benevolent stewards of workers. They want to believe. And as most elections prove, they are susceptible to slogans, broad promises, and symbols. Facts and evidence pale by comparison. Americans are willing to ignore facts when their worldview dictates a contrary view. This indefensible ignorance about employer actions seems to have affected our own national survey.

It is critical that lawmakers understand the reality of the bullying phenomenon and employer resistance to voluntary action. A major point of our advocacy for the anti-bullying Healthy Workplace Bill is that without laws compelling action, employers will continue to ignore bullying. Employer lobbying groups promise that voluntary action will suffice. When lawmakers, the source of much of the over-hyped optimism and sloganeering in our culture, adopt the false belief that a third of employers are doing the right thing now, they will be reluctant to sponsor or support the legislation.

The danger of a society duped by untruths about workplace bullying is that action is stalled. The more credible truth about employer action is that very little is happening. Targets have told us so. And we see the resistance up close as consultants (Work Doctor®) who now focus our work with employers exclusively on eliminating workplace bullying in the workplace since 1998.

Gary Namie, PhD Research Director, Workplace Bullying Institute

© 2010 Workplace Bullying Institute

Zogby International was commissioned by the Workplace Bullying Institute to conduct an online survey of 4,210 adults from 8/18/10 to 8/23/10. The margin of error is +/- 2.2 percentage points. The sample was weighted to reflect accurate gender, age, and regional representation.

You can download a pdf version of this report.

<-- Read the complete WBI Blog

Tags: , , , ,

This entry was posted on Thursday, December 16th, 2010 at 1:31 pm and is filed under Bullying-Related Research, Employers Gone Wild: Doing Bad Things, Tutorials About Bullying. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

Having trouble? Click Here for Comments Guide

Facebook Comments


Disqus Comments

  • Monique Robillard

    I don’t know how engaged they are. I was bullied and decided to quit. Fought it at the Human Rights Level and won however it was only a slap on the wrist. They say Policy and Procedures are in place for harassment but it is not enforceable unless your own boss fights for you.

    • Stephanie

      I was bullied for almost 2 years before I broke. I went out on medical leave. Funny thing is, it was a school system. I tried talking to Central Office, but got nowhere. When a principal starts telling you that ABC songs that teach letter and sound correspondence are not appropriate for kindergarten, you know that there is nothing that you can do that will be right. I was 1 of 4 targets, and I don’t think the last one will hold out much longer. Funny thing is, we all had excellent improvement in our students’ scores.

      Is there any recourse for what we have suffered? And even if there is, how do you pick the pieces of your life back up? And to think I assumed bullying use to be just between kids!

      • Dr. Gary Namie

        Stephanie, in your own time, on your own schedule, you will recreate your identity incorporating the painful lessons learned from being politically naive and offering trust to others first before they earned it. You will rise and live again. It requires help from loved ones. Social support is the key to survival as well as re-invention. But it does happen. We humans can be incredibly resilient.

  • Jay Jacobus

    If employers want to voluntarily help victims of bullying, they might focus part of their efforts on restoring vicitms to health and prosperity.

    To advocate voluntary action and then to do nothing is simply dodging the issues.

  • Mary

    It was my boss who was bullying me and eventually she convinced the company to get rid of me after she humiliated and sabotaged me and coerced others to do the same. Ultimately, the company knew what she was doing; they just chose to look the other way and punish me for her bad behavior.

  • anthony mcmorris

    I was bullied by a supervisor! There is nothing more horrible than dreading going to work!

  • Callie

    I was the victim of a workplace bully as well. She would verbally assault me on a daily basis and complained that I wasn’t doing my job to her expections to our lead and manager. No matter how hard I tried it was never right. When I went and talked to HR about how terrible she was and what she was doing to me and the treatment I received from her nothing was ever done. Just that they were aware of it and they would talk to her.

    So after 8 months of hell I was let go one Friday due to lack of work. I know and they know why I was let go and nothing can be done to change it.

    I can only hope that one day they will be bright enough to figure out what the problem is and she will be let go.

  • Brooke

    I hear all of you and couldn’t agree more!! Nothing is worse than being bullied by a supervisor and DREADING going to work, just like Anthony says. I have supervisors that bully the majority of the people I work with, including myself. And what is so terrible is that these people have a say in my yearly raise!!!!!!!! When I have gone through the chain of command to get my evaluation redone by someone else for next year, I was told no. Maybe I need to get legal action involved. I am a nurse and my patients LOVE me, but my management team doesn’t acknowledge any of it. It’s like high school cliques and I feel so helpless.

    • anthony mcmorris

      I feel for you! Just hang in there and try and be positive. I’m sure it is a living nightmare for you. You might try meditation and reading. What ever you do, just realize that it is not you! some human beings are irrational and unreasonable! Stay strong!

  • Eileen

    For four years I have withstood an extremely hostile environment in my workplace enduring constant badgering, alienation, harassment, intimidation, stalking, criticism, constant rejection of work, disciplinary action, suspensions and finally 3 consecutive failed performance evaluations from my supervisor supported by her upper management. This occurred at a high profile, high budget division of the New Jersey Department of Agriculture, the state’s Farmland Preservation Program.

    On three occasions since 2007, I have needed to be out on extended medical leave for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, anxiety and depression as well as other psychiatric disorders, receiving intensive outpatient therapy and medication after being subjected to chronic psychological violence by my supervisor, a very sadistic workplace bully. The hostility grew worse upon my return to work in 2007, when my supervisor was able to capitalize on my exacerbated mental condition.

    I’ve been told that my executive director, only with our program for a year, had inquired of Human Resources staff back in 2006 what would the required steps be to have me removed and then over the next four years, deliberately set out to discredit me and destroy my professional career by having my supervisor create a stressful and hostile environment where she could reject all my work as “unsatisfactory” and then arbitrarily fail me on my performance evaluations.

    The Executive Director enlisted the assistance of an attorney from the Deputy Attorney General’s office to represent them against my Civil Rights and EEOC complaints. This same DAG attorney also was tasked with reviewing my subsequent “reasonable accommodation request” which I’ve felt was a conflict of interest and allowed my executive director access to my personal medical records. I was placed under the charge of a new Chief of Acquisition, a friend of the executive director, who was hired in late 2005 as a high ranking manager but whose previous experience was in the private sector of construction and demolition, a fact the woman refers to in order to “exempt her from being profane”.

    I have sought legal assistance but have been told that workplace bullying is NOT ILLEGAL in New Jersey. This kind of nonproductive activity should NOT be allowed in the workplaces of New Jersey. This type of psychological violence is especially egregious in state government where a workplace bully, especially one in a management position, will abuse extensive amounts of state time and resources paid for with tax payer’s hard earned dollars. Research places workplace bullies in the same category as pedophiles, rapists, and spousal abusers.

    This past November I was approved for disability retirement and am FREE to live a new life without the stress of that hostile environment. However, the pension is only 43% of my previous salary so a hardship has still been inflicted on me because of this situation. I am happy to report that whatever concessions are necessary to live within my means now, it is all worth it for the peace that I have finally been able to achieve. Others may not be so fortunate. So it is imperative that this type of nonproductive activity be made ILLEGAL in New Jersey workplaces.

    • Jay Jacobus

      Organizations can create financial hardship for victims of bullying, yet they rarely create financial hardships for accused bullies.

      This should change. The accused bully should be forced to suffer the same financial hardship as the vicitm.

      To punish the victim and not punish the bully shows bad intent and frightens other targets into accepting unacceptable bullying.

    • anthony mcmorris

      At times, I wish I had of stayed on my job and not be intimidated like I was. I admire you for standing up and hanging in there. You deserve all of the financial compensation you received and more!!!

  • Kachina

    While I curse myself for not being hard-hearted enough to make a difference in the crusade to defend myself and others in similar positions, I cannot bring myself to wish the distress I have suffered on another human being, no matter how immature, immoral, cruel and vindictive they have been. I have vindictive fantasies at times, but I don’t really want revenge. I want restitution and reform.

This site is best viewed with Firefox web browser. Click here to upgrade to Firefox for free. X