July 2nd, 2012
Laid Off Lounge: Workplace Bullying
By John Tommasino, Laid Off Lounge, July 1, 2012
Leslie* was an experienced professional—a productive worker, 20-year veteran and a valuable asset to her company. But her job nearly destroyed her life when she became the target of an office bully, her new boss.
The bullying started when Leslie’s company changed hands and a new manager started running her department. Soon enough, a steady barrage of demeaning comments were addressed to Leslie from her new supervisor. Once a joy, work now became a daily grind of verbal abuse and performance sabotage.
The new supervisor began to concoct false details about Leslie’s work and doctoring her routine company performance evaluations so that she received unfavorable reviews. “It was really traumatic,” Leslie remembered. “I would have good days and he (the manager) would twist it all around so that I’d get a negative review.”
As the bullying escalated, the comments from her boss also began to include crude sexual references, something that made Leslie extremely uncomfortable. The daily hours of constant verbal abuse led Leslie to develop serious cardiac problems. Her physician advised quitting, but Leslie needed a job to support herself and her family. The bullied professional finally consulted an attorney, obtained a severance and left the job that she once enjoyed.
“It was so bad that my doctor told me I could quit and live or go back to work and die,” she recalled.
Now in a new position with a different company and enjoying her work again, Leslie still remembers the abuse as if it were recent. “You’ll always remember it. It can destroy your life. It’s like they put their mark on you,” she remembered.
Sadly, cases like Leslie’s are becoming routine in the current workplace, according to Gary Namie, PhD of the Workplace Bullying Institute in Bellingham, Washington. Thirty-two percent of the current workforce has been the target of bullying while on the job, institute studies have determined.
In most cases, the bully has been identified as a company manager, Namie said. Contrary to popular myths, “standing up” to the bully or other confrontational tactics will not stop the bully and often escalate the unwanted attacks.
The bullying behaviors have nothing to do with the target’s perceived strength or assertiveness and are never the fault of the target. Most workers who are the brunt of bullies are competent and conscientious employees, well-liked and respected by their co-workers and unconcerned with office politics, Namie said.
Many former targets of bullying carry a sense of shame about the incidents, a pattern that must stop, given that workers never choose abuse, and a large number of workers are bullied regularly. “You have to remember two things about bullying: 1. It’s not your fault and 2. You’re not alone”, Namie said.
“With the economy the way that it is now, the economic safety valve for employees has been cut off. You can’t just quit your job anymore and hope you’ll find another one. Now if you quit, you live in economic destitution,” Namie said. Abuse can lead to severe health problems, which end up costing workers in healthcare bills and companies in absenteeism.
Many workers fall into a trap when they bring their cases of abuse to the company’s Human Resources Department. In reality, a company’s Human Resources Department exists for the benefit of management and never helps a worker, Namie said. “If they (Human Resources) say they’re there to address workplace problems, they’re lying. Human Resources Departments are a lie. They exist for the company, never the worker,” Namie said.
Namie recommends that workers break down the abuse into a monetary figure as to what a bully is costing the company in absenteeism, healthcare and other costs so that managers higher up can actually see the price of bullying.
This tactic has worked. It has persuaded companies into actually firing bullies when they see the cost. But Namie also recommends that talented employees take their work elsewhere when management adopts bullying tactics. “It’s just not worth it,” he said.
*The first name of the bullied worker in this article was changed to protect her identity.
Gary Namie, PhD, is an author and the director of the Workplace Bullying Institute in Bellingham, Washington. The organization’s website is www.workplacebullying.org and features many resources to aid targets of abuse in the workplace.
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