May 25th, 2012

Search for U.S. HR Heroes Begins at WBI

Are you out there, professionals in Human Resources, who valiantly and effectively stop workplace bullying for employees where you work? We think so. You are good people, but relatively unknown. We want to hear your stories. WBI wants to promote HR HEROES.

We are saddened by the consistency of our own research about HR’s failure to stop workplace bullying when such complaints are filed. Each complaint is a plea for help. We don’t want to believe that HR folks are unwilling to help. It’s natural to have an empathic bond with someone in pain (sometimes emotional and less apparent than physical wounds). However, the empirical findings are clear from two recent 2012 WBI studies. HR does not stop bullying when it is reported to them.

Using our Instant Poll single-question methodology here at the WBI website, we asked 372 respondents (98% of whom are self-declared targets of bullying):

How effective was HR at resolving a workplace bullying complaint in which there was NO illegal discrimination (no sexual harassment, no racial discrimination) ?

The response choices were:

HR actions were not helpful to target, retaliation followed chosen by 37.3%

HR did nothing, took no action chosen by 30.9%

HR actions were not helpful to target, job was lost chosen by 18.2%

HR was not told chosen by 11.5%

HR stopped the bullying fairly & completely for target, justice achieved chosen by 1.9%

In our book, The Bully-Free Workplace, we made it clear that bullying, i.e., psychological violence, is leadership’s problem, not just for HR. “HR Issues” are considered non-essential by corporate executives and senior managers. They think all the fuzzy psychobabble stuff should be handled by the subordinated HR department. The trouble is that executives should care deeply about the fiscal losses attributable to bullying. To act otherwise is an abdication of responsibility.

So, with an inattentive C-suite, the burden falls on HR whose staff actually interact with employees. HR’s hands are tied because executives don’t have the will to stop the bullying until a law passes in America. HR doesn’t have the authority to craft policies with the requisite power and credibility to hold everyone in the organization accountable. It is also troubling that HR staffers are victims of bullying themselves. Victims cannot help other targets.

As this survey shows, bullied targets (the real customers of bullying resolution processes) are satisfied with HR’s role in just under 2% of cases. Not nearly good enough.

In a separate online 2012 WBI survey of 1,598 respondents, the effectiveness of various strategies adopted by bullied targets was assessed. One question asked if bullied targets filed a formal complaint with HR alleging a policy violation — 42.8% of respondents said they did so. In 4.7% of cases, HR was considered effective.

The potential violation was defined as: “mistreatment as repeated incidents against an individual employee by a person or a group that take the form of verbal abuse, behaviors that are humiliating, threatening, intimidating, or sabotage of the targeted person’s work.” Note that this definition could be perceived as including illegal discrimination. By including those cases, HR was nearly 5% effective. (Still 95% ineffective.)

The Instant Poll was taken after this larger survey to remove the ambiguity surrounding this definition. Notice that it changed to: “How effective was HR at resolving a workplace bullying complaint in which there was NO illegal discrimination (no sexual harassment, no racial discrimination) ?” The effectiveness rating dropped to 1.9% (98% ineffective).

Download this Instant Poll results report.

WBI Instant Polls and larger online surveys rely on self-selected samples. Neither one is “scientific” in that results can be extrapolated only to describe the perceptions of individuals bullied at work, not the general population.

Why is HR so unhelpful?

One explanation is that the HR contact is willing to help, but feels a stronger need, in alignment with her or his actual management support role, to help the alleged bully when the bully is in management. Thus, help is given and personal guilt assuaged. They would say they are helpful. They are misunderstood.

An alternative explanation is that the HR person is unable to help. On July 30, 2010 Kevin Morrissey, managing editor of the Virginia Quarterly Review published at the University of Virginia, committed suicide. Prior to that, he had been validated by Angelee Godbold in Human Resources who had been tracking his torment at the hands of boss, who reported only to the campus president. Her support was evident in the trail of e-mail exchanges with Morrissey. However, Morrissey eventually jumped the org chart to complain to the president’s office. Morrissey wrote:
“My concern is that, as Angelee has expressed to me, that HR has no power over Ted (Morrissey’s boss).” In other words, HR cannot stop managers’ unacceptable conduct.

A third explanation is that HR is bullied themselves. Teresa Daniel, JD, PhD conducted a 2011 survey of HR professionals in Kentucky. An astonishing 33% claimed to have been bullied themselves. Whoever is bullied suffers stress-related health effects that impair, at the very least, their cognitive skills, emotional resilience and stability, and can have serious physical health consequences. Stressed professionals do not operate optimally. They are off their game. So, it’s little wonder that HR rarely resolves bullying cases if they themselves are victimized.

Finally, HR may not know what to do to stop the bullying any better than bullied individuals themselves know. If it’s a knowledge gap, training is the solution.

HR Professionals are invited to subscribe to the upcoming 3-part Workplace Bullying Webinar series for HR by the masters (Teresa Daniel, JD, PhD, author of Stop Workplace Bullying, published by SHRM & Gary Namie, PhD, co-author of The Bully-Free Workplace) and become a hero to workers who need your help.

As for now, if you have been bullied and someone in HR came to your rescue, nominate him or her for HR HERO. E-mail WBI the success story — info at workplacebullying dot org.


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This entry was posted on Friday, May 25th, 2012 at 1:30 pm and is filed under Employers Gone Wild: Doing Bad Things, Tutorials About Bullying, 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. kachina2 says:

    One day, HR departments will realize that human resources can be exhausted, and that the process can be accelerated by bullying. The result has been referred to as “social effluence”.

  2. Isa says:

    My experience of HR after my both my supervisor and manager bullied me was that HR are bullies too. They can use intimidation, threats and power to crush an employee and pat the back of those who bully in the workplace. How do they sleep at night? 

  3. Anna says:

    I was reported to my immediate supervisor for harrasment.I work for a company that i thought was fair, anyway i was speaking on my phone to a person who used to have my job was just recently fired due to criminal record they asked who all was
    Working in my crew i replied were so short on drivers they had to send the cleaning lady to drive cars for that i was written up,then someone post a comment on there worksite web page i get called in for that and again they keep bringing up the comment about the cleaning lady and said theyll continue monday i feel they are harrassing me at this point

  4. As a senior HR professional these statistics are grim and depressing and all too real. In my experience, when a courageous HR leader steps forward to honor a company’s policies re: workplace conduct and/or provide support to the target(s) – the HR leader is often not supported by top leaders. In my 28+ years of HR/OD experience I have seen SO many avoidant leaders who refuse to do the right thing. The avoidance leads to perceptions of favoritism and inconsistency when employees lower in the organization are held to a higher standard than management employees for their negative actions. When an HR leader courageously steps in to support constructive actions, the bully AND senior leaders may then target the HR professional. I believe it is my responsibility to step into difficult situations even when there is personal risk to me or my position. Doing nothing is not an option for me.

    This topic is so important to me I now do consulting and coaching around courageous leadership, crucial conversations and taming abrasiveness in the workplace.

    Thank you for your work around this critical topic. I sincerely appreciate the work and research you are doing.

    All the best,

    • Kem Kilgore says:

      I must clarify that in no way am I a HR professional, nor am I indicating that I represent myself to be a representative to an HR professional. I have worked for over 30 years at a variety of jobs, the latest being in the rehabilitation sector for the elderly. I have experienced many forms of bullying over the years and my frustrations are hitting my limits of tolerance. With my 34 year old daughter being a medical professional, who fits the target description stated in this report, now being bullied, I have decided that my calling may very well be to be a spokes person on this subject to companies and promote action within companies to prevent this injustice. I would like to know what I need to do to have this happen. What credentials, if any, (besides first hand experience) would be necessary to become a speaker, what information ( this survey is a wonderful start ) could I share with companies, what alternatives/services could be offered through me and my presentations to companies and/or employees of companies? I live in Texas, and what I have read thus far, we do not have any laws to protect targets, aside from the protected discrimination sections. What can I do to help targets and also to the companies that look the other way where bullying is prevalent because of their own fears or because there is no law against it? I am dedicated to this and would appreciate any and all information you could provide me.

      Thank you for your time

  5. Ryan Gibson says:

    In my experience, it seems as though human resources takes the side of the bully to support the company. After all, they’re paid by the organization, not the target.

    Most of the things they’ve done to “resolve” issues in my case only makes things much worse through retaliation, etc. In some cases, I also agree that human resources may not know exactly what to do.

    The retaliation is almost unstoppable because HR has no choice but to expose everything. The bullies usually speak out to several others to defend themselves once this occurs. It quickly becomes a large mess that makes the work day even more unbearable.

  6. […] institutional misconduct (managers are agents of their employing institutions), only tends to worsen the situation for victims by triggering retaliation or taking actions that lead to the target, and not the […]

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