April 11th, 2013
EHS Today – Beyond the Playground: When Bullying Elbows Its Way Into the Workplace
Workplace bullying is costly in terms of morale, productivity, emotional well-being and a company’s bottom line – and yet too many employers allow it to happen.
By Laura Walter
April 9 2013
A few years ago, Maria had never even heard the term “workplace bullying.” But by the time she shared with EHS Today the path her professional life has taken in recent years, she used words like “traumatized,” “powerless,” “hostility,” “retaliation,” “mafia” and “war zone.” All this from a self-described happy, optimistic person who loved her job as a nurse and who never expected to become the target of bullying at work.
“When you love what you do, it doesn’t seem like work,” says Maria, who has been employed in various nursing roles at the same organization for years. (To protect her privacy, Maria’s name and identifying details have been changed.) “I was naïve – I thought everyone in the health care field just cared about people.”
Maria’s problems began when she accepted a management position at another facility within the organization, where she says that as an outsider, she was not well received by the staff. The tension mounted after she reported a staff member for behaving inappropriately with a patient. The worker was fired, which outraged the rest of the employees.
“People just hit the roof,” Maria says. “People think once they’re [in this organization], they have a job for life. They thought, ‘Who is this young woman to get this person terminated?’”
Maria eventually transferred to another facility within the same organization, where she hoped to get a fresh start. What she found, however, was a workplace culture rife with fear and intimidation and where employees banded together in cliques, avoided work and ganged up on other workers. Maria encouraged her staff to work together and put patient care first, but they responded by bullying her, ostracizing her and doing their best to get her transferred or fired.
“Some days I actually feel like I’ve been in this war zone,” says Maria, who has since hired an attorney and filed a whistleblower complaint. “I’ve worked in this hostile environment, all while trying to advocate for those at the bedside … There are some amazing nurses who just want to come to work and provide good patient care, but they don’t have the support [to protect themselves from bullying] that they need.”
The Culture of Bullying
When Maria first typed “workplace bullying” into a search engine to better understand what was happening to her, she found the Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI). WBI defines workplace bullying as repeated, health-harming mistreatment through verbal abuse, offensive conduct or behaviors and/or work interference or sabotage. According to WBI, 35 percent of U.S. workers have experienced workplace bullying firsthand – that translates to more than 53 million people. Workplace bullying is 4 times more prevalent than illegal harassment.
Gary Namie, Ph.D., co-founder of WBI and author of The Bully-Free Workplace, says bullying victims who contact WBI for help typically feel confused, ashamed and defeated.
“They need help,” he says. “They need confidence.”
But too often, companies strive to meet to the needs or understanding of the bully, not the victim. Namie goes so far as to compare workplace bullying with domestic violence, calling the problem “abuse on the payroll.” Just as a domestic violence victim should not be encouraged to “just work it out” with the abuser, workplace bullying victims should not be expected to solve the problem themselves. They need support from the company – support many simply don’t receive.
“No matter what advice we give them, [victims] are up against a mountain of resistance,” Namie explains. “The outcomes are unlikely to be positive just for the nature of this [situation]. We tell them how to try and salvage a shred of dignity and integrity so they can leave in the healthiest way possible if they are going to be driven out.”
He adds that many employers are in denial that bullying is an issue within the work force, or at the least fail to acknowledge the role corporate culture plays in bullying.
“The big mistake we make in America is we individualize it,” he says. “We focus on the bully’s personality, the target’s personality or both. We don’t look at who is perpetuating this [bullying] over time. It’s in the culture. It’s a heavy lift that we’re doing.”
It also is costly. Namie cited turnover costs as a significant consequence of workplace bullying. The best and brightest employees, even in this unstable job market, will reach their limit when bullied. WBI research shows that 77 percent of bullied targets will leave that job – whether because they quit, were terminated or left through a constructive discharge. Workplace bullying also leads to increased workers’ compensation and disability costs.
“It’s very costly to keep the jerk because of the ripple effect of harm they cause everyone else,” Namie says. “You’d think a bottom-line, fiscal-responsibility argument would be powerful [with employers] but unfortunately, we know loyalty to the bully trumps rational fiduciary responsibility.”
This entry was posted on Thursday, April 11th, 2013 at 10:43 am and is filed under WBI in the News. 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.