June 4th, 2013

WBI Study: Protecting workplace bullies

WBI 2013-F Instant Poll

At WBI, we have documented how bullies rarely face personal negative consequences for their misconduct. Too often, complaints about bullying are discounted, dismissed or completely ignored. This indifferent response by the organization implicitly rewards the bullying. The uncoupling of bullying from negative sanctions outrages bullied targets. It is the injustice that infuriates targets.

WBI national American studies
show that the vast majority of perpetrators (72%) are bosses. Organizational support for managers trumps support for non-supervisory workers.

In this survey, we sought to clarify the sources of support, or protection, for bullies. Protective support prevents punishment for bullies and blocks accountability. Of course over time, protecting bullies sustains a workplace culture that is bullying-prone and unsafe for prospective targets. Protection ensures that bullying continues with impunity.

WBI Instant Polls are online single-question surveys that rely upon self-selected samples of individuals bullied at work (typically 98% of any sample). No demographic data are collected. Our non-scientific Instant Polls accurately depict the perceptions of workers targeted for bullying at work as contrasted with the views of all adult Americans in our scientific national surveys.

For this survey, 593 target-respondents to answered the following question:

Did (does) the bully have someone who provides protection against punishment?

Percentages of each response were:

.346 Yes. Protection comes from a higher-ranking manager

.319 Yes. Protection comes from an executive or owner.

.153 Yes. Protection comes from HR.

.118 Yes. Protection comes from a supervisor.

.040 Not sure.

.024 No. My bully has been punished.

First, the good news from the perspective of a bullied target. In 2% of cases, the bully was not protected and was punished for her or his misdeeds. Unfortunately bad things happened to bullies about half as frequently as survey respondents said they were not sure about anything!

Individuals with a higher rank than the bully provided 66.5% of the support. We call them “executive sponsors” of the perpetrators. Without their ability to shield the bully from accountability, bullies would be stopped because of the obvious harm they bring to employers. Another role of the sponsor is to override the outcome of an honest investigation or to interfere with, and corrupt, an investigation in its early stages.

A supervisor was credited as the source of support in 12% of cases, suggesting that that was the proportion of cases involving worker-on-worker bullying. The supervisor took sides, aiding and abetting one of the two actors, and it wasn’t the target.

Gary Namie, PhD
Research Director, WBI

Do not use any of the above findings without properly citing the source as the Workplace Bullying Institute.

© 2013, WBI, All rights reserved.

Download a copy of this report.


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This entry was posted on Tuesday, June 4th, 2013 at 7:54 am and is filed under Tutorials About Bullying, WBI Education, WBI Surveys & Studies. 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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  1. NdBloom says:

    That is my experience, too. At my former workplace, two of the biggest bullies were women who had been with the company over 30 years, since the company’s early stages. The women were not in supervisory or managerial roles, but were close to the owner and his family. From stories the women told, I got the impression that the owner left the women in control of the office while he and his family gallivanted about enjoying their wealth. Even after the company was acquired by an equity firm, the bullies continued to be protected by supervisors and managers. Those who didn’t support the bullies lost their jobs or became targets themselves. The ones who humored the bullies, joined forces with them or ignored them flourished in the company. Some became even more devious than the two older women. The company executives really didn’t care what went on in the lower ranks as long as the company was making profits. Most of the executives were rarely in the office or they worked behind closed doors. I no longer work for that company, but I continue to suffer physically and emotionally because of what I endured for more than ten years.

  2. PonderingJustNow says:

    In my experience in large organizations HR managers tend to exacerbate bullying. It is much easier for them to blame someone who is already feeling isolated and vulnerable. But if the target falls within a federally-protected class, HR will act mainly to deflect the problem from the coporation. This can work in favor of the target, but as far as HR is concerned, that is incidental. HR’s main role is to protect the coporation, not the employee.

    In smaller organizations, such as small business or sole proprietor, the owner is often the bully. The only recourse is to get the bully on your side, and if you can’t do that, then make plans to move on. I’ve also learned that small business owners and sole proprietors are often very poor money managers or accountants and consider people in those positions to be indispensible. If you are responsible for accounting or payroll in a small business, you can get away with a lot because the owner cannot bear the thought of trying to handle their own finances, or finding and training a replacement.

    What I have learned after over 35 years of work experience is that one cannot “fiight” a bully, and one cannot rely on anyone else for protection. One must always have an exit plan and be looking for better opportunties. The best way to prevent a bully from targeting you is to first make sure any potential bully views you as an ally rather than a threat. And it helps if your job involves something that the owner finds difficult and mysterious. It gives you more leverage and job security.

    • gjordan741 says:

      The only point with which I differ with you is that a bully cannot be fought. It takes time to learn how, but they can be fought, and defeated, once a target fully understands workplace cultures and structure. Bullies, and their cliques, alter the published organization chart by manipulating lines of authority and communication. Once a target understands how the bully has created an off-the-books organization chart, means can be found to undermine, and likely destroy, the bully’s parasite-like secret internal structure.

      For example, a bully in a training facility contrived to capture control of a training group’s supervisor and a lot of the faculty. Instead of being treated like the rest of the class, the bully was put in a higher level that did not exist on any organizational chart or description. This was done by creation of a clique the bully used for intelligence gathering, target spotting, and the spread of pro-bully propaganda. The bully also became the supervisor’s top snitch in the training group, while sex was used to manipulate the other supervisor. The main tactic used in order to find something to report to the supervisors was a “problem-reaction-solution” dialectic. The bully would create a “problem” out of a target, present the problem to the supervisor, and finally promise to help the supervisor manage the problem the bully created out of the target. In fact, this is the primary tactic used by almost every workplace bully with very few variations. Workplace bullies have very small bags of tricks. They need cliques for the purposes stated earlier, and to provide a smokescreen of overt hostility to the target behind which the bully can hide, along with creating a false workplace consensus by their numbers, along with the silence of bystanders.

      To defeat, or severely restrict the bully’s operations, there are two tactics to employ. One is surprise confrontation of the supervisor to whom the bully reports. Just tell the supervisor you know the bully is snitching, and what the bully is reporting, which the innuendos from the clique will inform you. The element of surprise is what is important here. Most of these people use surprise to attack as they do not like to BE surprised. They use the Golden Rule to inform them how to be nasty.

      The important thing to note is, it is not impossible to defeat bullies, or to hold out against their attacks indefinitely.

  3. a brookes says:

    I have been bullied for the past 7 years by one person – a co-worker. Every year when all the employees do an battery of online classes(including bullying) some of my coworkers ask me if I am going to do anything about it.
    I have been so ‘psyched -out’ that I am too scared too leave. When he attempted to ‘run-me-off’, management did nothing because some doctors feel he is indispensable.
    This bloke ignores me, does not keep me informed of work related opportunities and consistently ‘throws-me-under-bus.’
    I do not know what to do. I have a wife and two kids to support.

  4. Former_GS says:

    I was recently fired from my GS job due to 5 bullies, two were bosses, and the other three were in the click. I cannot get a job due to the horrible evaluation I received, I refused to sign it, and included a true statement about my work ethics.

    Once you work for the federal government and you are trapped in such environment, there is nothing you can do until you are a permanent employee, I was one week shy of that.

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