April 8th, 2014

Workplace Bullying: U.S. National Prevalence


Workplace bullying is repeated mistreatment and a form of “abusive conduct.” For the first time, we used the definition of workplace bullying that matches perfectly the definition codified in the Healthy Workplace Bill.

Thus, we asked Americans to consider only the most serious forms of bullying. Eye rolling may be part of bullying, but it alone is not sufficient. Nonverbal cues coupled with verbal abuse and the tactics of exclusion are delivered by perpetrators repeatedly in order to intentionally harm targeted individuals. The closest analogy to workplace bullying is domestic violence. Bullying is a non-physical form of workplace violence.

Throughout this report, the exact wording of Survey items begin with Question:. The respondents’ answer choices are the phrases without italics in all Tables. Subtotals comprised of sets of response categories are italicized.

Question: At work, what has been your personal experience with the following types of repeated mistreatment: abusive conduct that is threatening, intimidating, humiliating, work sabotage or verbal abuse?

Over one-quarter of adult Americans (27%) said they directly experienced abusive conduct at work – currently (7%) or at sometime in their work life but not in the last year (20%).

In our 2014 Survey, we split the “witnessed” category into those who had seen the bullying of others and those who knew that others were bullied. Both groups would have experienced the bullying vicariously. Recent research of those who vicariously experienced bullying found that the severity of emotional injuries were similar in severity to injuries suffered by bullied individuals.

The most important change in response options in 2014 was to split the formerly single “I have not experienced or witnessed it” answer into three alternatives. Respondents were asked to declare if they were aware that bullying happens despite not having personal experiences with it. This subgroup (19%) we call the “Aware & Believers.” They are not in denial. The “Aware & Disbelievers” subgroup (4%) would be those in denial. The third subgroup is comprised of individuals who know nothing, see nothing and are completely unaware of misconduct occurring in their workplace, approximately 28% of all Americans.

The partitioning of the “I have not experienced or witnessed it” group also allows us to refute the axiom that one must have first-hand knowledge of bullying to recognize its existence. In fact, the 52% of the adult American population that claims to have no experience is split into those who are aware (23%) and those who profess to know nothing (28%).

The percentage of adult Americans aware that abusive conduct/workplace bullying happens at work is the sum of those with direct and vicarious experience plus those with no experience but who believe it happens and those who choose to rationalize abusive conduct as “routine.”

The sum of the “aware” groups is 72%. That means 72% of the adult American public is familiar with workplace bullying — ranging from a painfully intimate immersion to a superficial recognition of the term without knowing many details.

At the Workplace Bullying Institute, we take some credit for this new high level of public awareness. Our work began in 1997 with the steadfast commitment to raising public awareness and the myriad of activities and programs developed since has expanded to drive that awareness.

Download the National Prevalence mini-Report


Gary Namie, PhD, Research Director
Research Assistants: Daniel Christensen & David Phillips

© 2014, Workplace Bullying Institute, All Rights Reserved

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This entry was posted on Tuesday, April 8th, 2014 at 5:50 am and is filed under Bullying-Related Research, Social/Mgmt/Epid Sciences, 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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