February 21st, 2012

Fox Business — Bully Adults in the Workplace: What to Do

Barbara Mannino
Fox Business News
Feb 17, 2012

Adults who thought their days of dealing with bullies were left behind on the schoolyard better think again.

A 2011 CareerBuilder study shows that 27% of U.S. workers have felt bullied in the workplace with the majority not confronting or reporting the bully.

Workplace bullying is defined as repeated mistreatment of an individual employee by a person or group that takes the form of verbal abuse, behavior that is humiliating, threatening, intimidating or sabotages the targeted person’s work, according to the Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI).

Bullying typically involves a misuse of power, leaving the target defenseless: 11% of respondents say they felt bullied by a coworker, and 14% say they felt bullied by their immediate supervisor. Another 7% say the bully was not their boss, but someone higher up in the organization.

Bullying plays out in the workplace in many ways, according to the survey:

43% of workers say their comments were dismissed or not acknowledged
40% claim they were falsely accused of mistakes
38% say they were harshly criticized
38% report they were forced into doing work that really wasn’t their job
37% claim standards and policies applied to them were not used on others

A little more than 30% say they were given “mean looks” and 27% report colleagues gossiped about them. Still others, 24%, say their bosses yelled at them in front of coworkers.

Gary Namie, WBI co-founder, senior consultant at Work Doctor Inc. and author of The Bully-FreeWorkplace, claims that as many as 72% of bullies are bosses with a misconception about what it takes to be a good leader.

Experts say “tough” managers are not necessarily bullies if they are respectful, fair and set high, yet reasonable, work expectations. But, says Namie, tough and effective can turn into bullying if a manager exhibits a need to control; repeatedly humiliates through unwarranted criticism rather than constructively corrects; and levels a mix of verbal and strategic assaults that affect the employee’s health and prevent him or her from performing well.

Bullying bosses lack vision, says Traciana Graves, CEO of Project Bully Free Zone. They hold a “myopic we-want-to-have-the-best-quarter” mentality without any forethought of what happens to the employee—or the corporation—two-or-three years down the road.

The Bullied

For a targeted employee, bullying can cause stress and physical and mental ailments like high blood pressure, heart disease, post traumatic stress syndrome, and in its worst-case scenario, violence or suicide. The bullying also detracts from overall quality of life for the target and his or her family.

Yet, experts say, there is no easy fix. Namie says while “protected status” classes are safeguarded by Federal civil liberties and harassment laws, only 20% of workplace mistreatment incidents involve such illegal discrimination that enables victims to sue.

Namie says while 58% of targets are women compared to 42% of men, same-gender bullying is prevalent with 80% of women perpetrators bullying other women.

“Same gender, same race. There’s the rub, says Namie. “If you complain about misconduct that is “technically legal,” you are most likely to be labeled thin-skinned or a trouble maker.”

In fact, according to the CareerBuilder survey, 28% of employees took their concerns to a higher authority and reported the bully to their human resources department. While 38% of those workers say measures were taken to investigate and reach resolution, 62% say no action was taken.

Without protocols or consequential actions in place, HR becomes complicit and unaccountable for bad behavior, Graves says. This is not only harmful to employees, but also to corporations in which the diminished productivity of targeted individuals, their increased absenteeism and decreased employee retention affects the bottom line.

Still, targets often remain under a bully’s control for as long as 22 months, according to Namie in

The Bully at Work.

Expert tips to help employees cope:

Don’t be ashamed. Don’t keep your targeted status a “dirty secret,” says Graves. Derive sanity from people you can trust, and the naming stems your own self-doubt.
Keep a written record. Start a your-eyes-only journal to blow off steam, and keep a log of all incidents. The log will be a helpful tool if you should decide to fight back.
Stay centered amid repeated attacks. Adopt a mantra like “ignore the anger” and concentrate on the most humorous aspect of the bully’s physical appearance while under an attack. Or, use your own wit and sarcasm to create protective resistance in a safe and unspoken way, Namie says.
Get a second opinion. Speak to a trusted friend or work ally to evaluate a bully’s constant criticism. Identify useful points and also what’s incorrect.
Resist lowering yourself into a nasty fight. Personalized, emotional speak will be discounted and discredited, Namie says. Ask “Why are you talking to or treating me this way?”
Take time off. Sick leave or short-term disability will allow you to assess and restore your physical and mental health; you can regain well-being and develop strength to plan for your next job.

Since 2003, law professor David Yamada’s Healthy Workplace Bill has been proposed in 16 states, and 11 states have adopted variations of the bill, yet no bill has been written into law.

Namie says 64% of bullied targets lose their jobs whether they do or don’t launch a counterattack.

At some point, you may decide to fight back. “Be forewarned, says Namie. “The fight is uphill.”

Read more: http://www.foxbusiness.com/personal-finance/2012/02/21/adults-bully-adults-in-workplace-what-to-do/#ixzz1n2l47Mdy


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  1. Jay Jacobus says:

    Another option for targets is negotiating:

    Search for books about negotiating.

    Determine your walk away position(s).

    Decide who to negotiate with (someone other than the bully if possible).

    Decide on the resolution that you seek.

    List the carrots you can offer.

    Use the negotiating techniques that you learned from the negotiating book.

    Good luck.

  2. Elizabeth says:

    For everyone going through this; please seek help from your medical doctor, a professional therapist and/or psychiatrist. This will help keep your emotions in check at work and in your personal life. Taking short term disability leaves are essential if you feel that you are at your wits end. Keep tabs on your FMLA leave days, bullies will be watching too, if their goal is to boot you out.
    If you work for a large company, ask for a transfer within, or transfer of supervisory authority. If this doesn’t help, and you want to stay with your company, consult a lawyer. If you have an extensive documented medical history showing you suffer PTSD due to the hostile work environment, this may help you in negotiating a job transfer. Please know retaining a lawyer may also make it worse.
    Just know, you are not alone. Read bullying blogs and responses, it is hel

  3. Betsy says:

    Unless you fit into a protected category, the individual claiming ‘workplace bullying’ is fighting an uphill battle. For example, the ‘bullying behaviors’ of a manager are deemed acceptable ‘supervisory rights.” It is also a myth that Human Resources or even Unions are there for the employee! While OSHA and even the CDC have begun to ‘name’ it, the Targets have no real rights and their lives continue to be destroyed…. I would think that Americans who have been out of work, and are in a desperate spot for a job are even more vulnerable as Targets to a Workplace Bully….To me, this cries out for a National Anti-Bullying Legislative Campaign!! And should piggyback the politicians Americans Back to Work agenda!!!

    • We have had a national campaign for years — The Healthy Workplace Campaign. Visit the website. For technical legal reasons, we have to implement state-by-state. Sign up to help in your state, sign a state-specific petition.

    • scgloe says:

      This is discouraging.

    • Brenda Lee says:

      I was offered a great position as a well-being director at a place I used to work for 4 years and thought this was awesome for me. the 2 weeks there training I had a nurse on the floor continue to be rude and made demeaning comments to others around me about what I was doing and the last day was how I was humiliated in front of patients and coworkers that did not know me.

  4. kachina says:

    This is the real, unvarnished truth. It is not overblown, misinterpreted, or overstated. It describes my experience exactly and I cannot tell you how much it means to me to be validated this way having been through the experience of being demeaned, devalued, discarded and financially destroyed.

    • Ann_V says:

      I agree!  The bullying is always cowardly, whether you are the bully or the hangers on, who just watch… .  We all need to make sure we step forward to help show compassion and bravery, so we do not let such nonsense get out of hand.  This is not acceptable for our young, nor any other age. 

      Thanks for the validation, as well.  Because you do go over and over, what you can or could have done better to handle the situations.  And, it is compounded by the ‘shadowy’ ways to gossip and malign on the internet.  Thankfully, we have increasing awareness, heart, and faith.  God sees.   

  5. Joshua says:

    I was targeted by my immediate supervisor, a bully, for 7 years. Verbal taunts, name-calling, verbal threats, character assassination, humiliation, all of the above. I tried negotiating with him, ignoring him, joking around with him, but he continued his behavior. In 2007, I filed a complaint with our foreman, who flat-out told me that things like name-calling are to be expected in a production/manufacturing environment. Things like “character assassination” and “your supervisor telling you that you don’t know how to do your job, you have to ask yourself.. DO you know how to do your job?” The complaint that I filed never reached the plant manager or HR.

    The supervisor also had a RECORDED history of assaulting two other employees while on the job, on the clock, on company grounds, and once ON CAMERA. He was suspended for a few days both times, but continued to be employed by the company who swears by a Zero Tolerance Policy.

    The bullying got so bad that I eventually lied to my supervisor over a minor incident (so minor that I wouldn’t have been given a written warning, or maybe not even a verbal one) in order to avoid conflict. And because there was no hard copy of a filed complaint of harassment, I was the one who got fired. The union hardly had my back (the union rep basically scoffed at me for not telling him sooner, although I told another union rep in ’07).
    Luckily, my state’s Employment Security Dept. sided with me after my former employer tried cutting my Unemployment benefits (given that they fired me for “misconduct.”)

  6. Alittlesmile says:

    I worked as a contractor on a 3 month contract for a ‘best company to work for’ company in california. I got bullied the 2nd week by someone who hold higher position. He send me few nasty emails on something the previous consultant did. I defended myself, but my hiring manager told me to shut up.

    I decided to end the contract earlier since I can’t work in such hostile workplace. Now I have contractrual obligation to fulfill (that means I still have to give them 2 weeks notice to do knowledge transfer though there is really no such need in my situation). Also my agent could not promise me I will get paid. They thought I breach the contract no matter what and may sue me in the future.

    I guess it could be a discrimination case in my case if I have to defend myself. I hope tthe agent can just drop it and let it go since it is their client, the ‘best company to work for’ reputation at stake after all.

    Contractor is even an easier target group for ‘ bully’ at workplace compare to regular employees. The person who disrepcted me treated other contractor the same way. We don’t have union or HR to complaint to. The agent booked us to the work only care about their money and relationship.

    Are contractors also being protected by labor law in california? now the full time position are hard to launch, I would think the bully behaviors become more common for contractors since they typically got the worst job, have the lowest position and newest to the organization. easy target to be bullied….

    • Gary Namie says:

       Glad you made the point that bullying happens in workplaces with the “best place” designations. It happens everywhere. I am curious to see how much they treasure that label/designation vs. holding your bully accountable. They are playing hardball by threatening you with breach of contract. You should be paid for the time worked. Contact the state labor commissioner’s office. Since they have threatened you, meet (briefly to minimize costs) with an attorney to see if you have a discrimination claim. If you do, then counter their breach threat with your discrimination threat. Do not threaten if the lawyer says you have no case. As a contractor, you have more freedom. Tell your story in the local paper via an OpEd essay, specifically contrasting the firm’s lofty reputation with the reality you came to experience.

  7. Melissa says:

    I have been bullied for over the past one and one-half years,closer to two years of pure hell.  One administrator has written behind closed doors, faulty statistics, was removed from evaluating me after the union grieved on my behalf. This set my principal to retaliate and attack me in class while teaching in front of my students. I left for medical leave due to her harassing and false accusations made by her and the original administrator. I return to be evaluated and found effective yet thiss original administrator found a way of writing me partially effective by only counting part of the numbers.  The new administrator had told me to write a rebuttal stating that i went over and above to improve and should be effective.  I come back to work today to find my signature forged on a document that I have never seen threatening to remeove me if i do not improve by next year.  I have already given notice and found another job, but they have killed my self esteem and made me question my abiltily to teach when i have been told and seen the positive outcomes from students i have taught who went on to succeed in college and i was told by parents, students, guidance counselors and other and several administrators that i was such a motivating and enthusiastic teacher who could reach  students who thought theycould not suceed in math or school.  Please give me advice my lawye3r took my money and did nothing i am brokeand tired of the isolation on the job and abuse and mobbing.  I just wanted to finish my contract and leave me alone and stop abusing and lying about my abilities and let me have something left to teach and make a difference on my new job.
    Thank you,

  8. Brenda Lee says:

    I left a great position that was offered to me & close to my home and a place I had worked at for 4 years prior, but after 2 weeks of realizing I had a bully on my tail and at this point in my life, at the age of 59. I needed this job, I wanted this job and with my anxiety, I was having PTSD happening prior to leaving for my new job. I complained and felt as if they were tired of hearing my complaints each time I was in tears. I thought I was a strong person and as bad as I needed this position I had to leave because the bully was liked by with the Administrator and head of nursing so I didn’t feel supported and for my health had to leave and not come back.

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