April 25th, 2012

Workplace Bullying is not incivility or mere disrespect


What’s in a name? Plenty of power to change.

We at WBI have long recognized that bullied targets cannot even begin to reverse their situation until they acknowledge that their work lives have been severely interrupted by the bullying. They have to name this “thing” that is happening so there is a reason to take action.

Call it workplace bullying or abusive conduct or psychological violence or workplace aggression or mobbing or personal harassment, but call it something other than acceptable behavior (e.g., just management “style” or “personality clash”). Give it a strong name to match the seriousness of the impact on your life.

Bullying triggers many stress-related health problems (cardiovascular, gastrointestinal and immunological disorders and affects the brain with changes in cortical volume that affects all behavior), emotional injuries (clinical depression, PTSD), strain on social relationships (exclusion, estrangement, abandonment), economic damages (demotions, termination), threats to one’s personal identity, as well as a sense of injustice and betrayal.

Bullying of adults in the workplace is NOT about a raised eyebrow or a person’s overreaction to small incidents. The media and anti-anti-bullying drones want to convince the public that the workplace bullying movement is over-hyped.

In reality, the opposite is true. We are outraged that this lone form of abuse is not yet taboo in our society. All forms of abuse are now deemed unacceptable — child abuse, domestic violence, bullying in schools. Bullying of adults by adults is a serious form of non-physical violence considered “normal.”

Workplace incivility and disrespect, like bullying, are negative behaviors. However, they are milder, both in how they manifest themselves and how they affect the recipient’s health. They pale in comparison to bullying, which has more in common with violence than either incivility or disrespect.

We had to laugh when we read the announcement from a training company just entering the business of bullying intervention when it told employers to “Stop Workplace Bullying with Incivility Training.” Oops. A mismatch between problem and solution. Teaching civil actions will not scrape the surface of the root problems that enable bullying to thrive.

So, beware of euphemisms substituted for workplace bullying. Defenders of the status quo hate the term “bully” and “bullying” because both conjure instantly for most people that wrongs have been committed. Conflict resolving types are uncomfortable with blaming anyone or anything for negative events.

The desire to dance around a topic without honestly naming it blocks effective action. The longer bullied targets blame themselves for the pain actually caused by their bullies, the more harm they suffer. The longer an employer toys with incivility when, in fact, bullying is operating, the more employees suffer.

Employers content with “just doing something” postpone the inevitable. Tackle workplace bullying directly or risk erosion of profits, productivity, employee health and the ability to recruit and retain the best talent. We know this sounds blunt, but euphemisms exist to soften the blow to tender sensibilities offended by truth. Don’t buy into the distortions.

How is this done at a global level? Consider the massacre of up to 1.5 million Armenians by the Turks (then called the Ottomans) begun on April 24, 1915, lasting 3 years. Armenians, including women (who were raped) and children, were marched to their deaths in the desert of Syria. Only 21 nations formally recognize the genocide as genocide. It was a holocaust second only to the Jewish Holocaust by the Nazis. The U.S., through the president, officially refers to the genocide as “atrocities,” while 43 states have separately declared it genocide.

Is there power in naming? You bet. Solutions, and in the case of the Armenian genocide, outrage commensurate with the wrongdoing depend on it. To understate denies the affected individuals a legitimate label for what is happening to them, thus delegitimizing (scoffing at) them.

Let’s honestly call things what they truthfully are and get out of the middle of the road!

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This entry was posted on Wednesday, April 25th, 2012 at 9:22 am and is filed under Related Phenomena, 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.



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