November 9th, 2012
Hampton Roads Biz Journal: Preventable violence threatens bottom line
From The Hampton Roads Business Journal, Nov. 2, 2012
The Kaufman & Canoles’ 29th annual Employment Law Update will be held on Nov. 15 at the Virginia Beach Convention Center. Call 624-3222 to register.
The Workplace Bullying Institute introduced the British term, workplace bullying, to Americans in 1997 and has since refined it to mean abusive conduct. It is now defined as repeated, health-harming mistreatment by one or more persons manifested as verbal abuse, work sabotage or behaviors perceived as threatening, intimidating or humiliating. It is a non-physical form of workplace violence.
According to one national scientific 2010 survey, 35 percent of respondents – an estimated 54 million people – reported being currently or historically bullied, 15 percent only witnessed it, while 50 percent had not ever experienced it.
Bullying is mostly top-down, with perpetrators outranking their targets in the vast majority of cases, making the stereotype of the “bullying boss” very real. However, co-workers bully, too. The majority of bullying is same-sex harassment. In only 20 percent of bullying cases, the harassment is potentially illegal – actionable under anti-discrimination laws. Thus, bullying is four times more prevalent than illegal harassment.
Bullying can be an occupational health hazard. Voluminous research links prolonged bullying and accompanying stress to cardiovascular problems – hypertension, coronary heart disease, strokes, death; gastrointestinal disease – irritable bowel; neurological changes that affect memory, concentration and decision making; and accelerated aging from telomere damage that interferes with cellular replication. Psychological and emotional problems can range from panic attacks, anxiety, clinical depression, PTSD to suicide.
It is not simple conflict, nor the routine exercise of managerial prerogative. It wreaks more havoc than rudeness, incivility or disrespect. Its costs come from turnover – flight of the most talented even in this buyers’ market, absenteeism, excessive health care utilization, workers comp and disability, and litigation expenses.
Complaints are filed, but without laws compelling employer attention, most are ignored or discounted. The shame here is that most of this mistreatment is preventable because so much of bullying is done by bosses, agents of your corporation.
As an employer, you have control over work conditions, you can reclaim control by letting managers know that satisfying their personal need to manipulate others is unacceptable.
Here’s what to do:
- Draw a “line in the sand” declaring abusive conduct unacceptable from all employees.
- Codify the new standard in a policy, voluntarily and collaboratively created.
- Ensure accountability, regardless of an individual’s rank.
- Train managers with new standards incorporated.
- Integrate standards as priority in appraisal and compensation systems.
- Hire using new standards.
- Repeat training until bullying is extinguished.
According to Burt Whitt, employment lawyer with Kaufman & Canoles, “Employers would be wise to take the steps to put policies in place to prevent bullying. Although bullying is not always actionable under applicable laws, the consequences of bullying can not only dent the bottom line but may have a substantial effect on employee morale.”
All anti-bullying initiatives undertaken today are voluntary. But to target bullying is a very manageable project as an add-on to anti-discrimination policies in place to comply with state and federal laws. With respect to bullying, employers have greater latitude for innovation.
A poll of bullied workers found that only 5 percent of U.S. employers have policies in place and effectively enforce them. Some call the policy “bullying,” some call it a “respectful workplace.” The key is to take bullying as seriously as you treat complaints of illegal workplace behavior.
Gary Namie, Ph.D., is the president of the Work Doctor Inc., which combines education, research, training, and consulting to correct workplace bullying.
He will be the featured luncheon speaker at the Kaufman & Canoles’ 29th annual Employment Law Update on Nov. 15 at the Virginia Beach Convention Center. Call 624-3222.
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