January 26th, 2014

The problem with workplace bullying is not its definitions, let’s take it more seriously

Just recently the CDC established conditions for a universal definition of youth bullying in schools. Newcomers to the adult Workplace Bullying movement clamor for a uniform, common definition. But back in 1997, when we were beginning, there was a very active listserv among the international academic community striving to find commonalities. They finally agreed to not force a common definition.

Workplace bullying, as a documented research phenomenon, is not new. It is quite “mature,” contrary to what newbies may believe. For example, here are the properties that all operational definitions share:

• the loathsome conduct is negative or offensive to a rational person
• it is aimed at one or more individuals, personalizing the assaults
• perpetrators act either alone or in concert with others (mob)
• perpetrators attack from any and all levels in organizations — top-down, horizontal (peers), and from subordinate positions
• when perpetrators outrank their targets, it is an abuse of authority
• regardless of perpetrator rank, there exists a power differential, real (titular) or perceived (in the mind of the perpetrator)
• acts of omission (withholding) are included with acts of commission
• deliberateness and intentionality are less important than the fact the mistreatment happened
• tactics may be overt or covert, most likely subtle and behind closed doors
• though there is a singling out of certain targets, bullying transcends status-based (illegal) discrimination, ignoring gender, race, age, etc.
• repetitive, a chronic pattern, not single-shot emotional explosions
• unwanted, uninvited, unprovoked by targets
• harmful to targets — health (from distress), psychological integrity, self-esteem
• harmful, or at least disruptive, to witnesses and coworkers
• bullying toxifies a productive work environment, undermines work itself
• employers bear the responsibility to prevent and correct

Thus, there is a great deal of conformity across various definitions. There are huge public education goals facing the movement in 2014.

In 2014, our time is better spent convincing the public (the media who convey our stories) that workplace bullying is a seriously destructive phenomenon. It is NOT simply “eye rolling,” though clearly non-verbal communication is part of the act of condescension. Bullies bring to bear a host of non-verbal channels to instill fear — a low voice, slow drawl dripping with contempt, physical space invasion, threatening gestures with hands and pointing fingers — as well as the threatening words themselves about what a worthless person is the target and how she should worry about losing her job later this week. It’s always an artful combination of tactics.

In 2014, everyone needs to know that workplace bullying — a.k.a. psychological violence or abusive conduct at work — cause individuals serious stress-related health harm and put 7 out of 10 bullied targets out of work during this horrific recessionary time when good jobs with decent pay do not exist.

In 2014, employers need to know that bullies, under their corporate umbrella, are torturing the best and brightest workers and banishing them with little notice. And bullies do this under the rubric of managerial prerogative. They kill careers, demoralize families and drive good people to suicide without suffering any consequences themselves.

In 2014, we need to stop blaming victims for their fate. No person in their right mind awakes on a workday asking to be humiliated. No one. Abusive perpetrators, much like abusive spouses, pick their victim, dehumanize them, and mercilessly play the victim themselves. Perps, bullies and abusers lie. It’s to their advantage to lie. Wounded, bullied targets do not lie about their experiences, yet they are the ones not believed. This has to stop. It’s an upside down world where perps claim to be victims.

In 2014, the public needs to stop protecting, and apologizing for, these brutal career and character assassins. The only motive is cruelty and nothing to do with work itself. Decisions about who and how to torment targeted individuals are made completely capriciously by these sadistic fools. They need to be outed and stopped. Employers harboring them need to be identified and outed.

So, you see our task is much larger than quibbling over fine points of definitions. That has been resolved. We all must now work hard to educate the public to not treat Workplace Bullying lightly. It is a serious killer. And the business of combatting all these myths is the task before us.


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This entry was posted on Sunday, January 26th, 2014 at 6:00 pm and is filed under Commentary by G. Namie, Fairness & Social Justice Denied, Tutorials About Bullying, WBI Education. 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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