August 8th, 2013

Main St: This Workplace Offense is More Common than Sexual Harassment

By Susan Kreimer, Main Street, August 7, 2013

Bullies exert control in schools, playgrounds, cyber space—and in the workplace, too. But adults typically don’t expect as much empathy as kids do. Many suffer in silence.

“Ideally, coworkers should intervene,” says Gary Namie, who co-founded the Workplace Bullying Institute with his wife, Ruth, in Bellingham, Wash. in 1997. “However, research shows that this happens in less than 1% of incidents.” Compounding a bullied worker’s misery, “employers seem reluctant to act.”

Bullying on the job occurs four times more often than sexual harassment or racial discrimination, according to the institute, which is leading a national campaign to enact the anti-bullying Healthy Workplace Bill in all 50 states.

Between one-third and 60% of U.S. workers experience bullying behaviors at some point during their careers, estimates the bill’s author, David Yamada, a professor and director of the New Workplace Institute at Suffolk University Law School in Boston. “A much smaller percentage—very likely in the single digits, but still a lot of people—will be targeted with repeated, malicious, health-impairing abuse,” Yamada says.

While there aren’t any reliable cross-occupational comparative studies, he adds that these stress-inducing and anxiety-provoking acts of intimidation appear to be particularly common in health care, education (both K-12 and post-secondary) and the legal and financial sectors.
Also, “there is some evidence that incivility and bullying behaviors increase during a bad economy, especially top-down bullying where bad bosses are cracking the whip on subordinates,” says Yamada, who co-directs the law school’s labor and employment law concentration. “In the cases of aggressors—usually bosses—who demonstrate psychopathic traits, bullying behaviors are not logical or rational.”

Because bullying situations and work environments vary, so do the strategies for self-defense. Employees who feel targeted “should read up on workplace bullying, try to understand what’s happening to them, avoid making rash decisions or engaging in reckless responses that may backfire, and instead attempt to assess their options carefully after doing their homework,” Yamada says.

Legal remedies for workplace bullying are limited. An individual would have to link the abusive behaviors to discrimination based on protected-class status—such as race, sex or age—or to retaliation for engaging in whistle blowing or similar acts. As a result, he notes that “most bullying behaviors manage to evade current employment laws.”

Usually, the best defense tactics involve recruiting allies who witnessed the bully’s aggression and collectively building a case with detailed dates and times of what transpired, says Pam Lutgen-Sandvik, author of the forthcoming book Workplace Bullying—A Nasty Piece of Work: Translating a Decade of Research on Non-Sexual Harassment, Psychological Terror, Mobbing, and Emotional Abuse on the Job.

The next step in circumventing a bully consists of taking the evidence to the alleged perpetrator’s boss and displaying published research to support your claims. After that, it’s important to request that upper-management conduct an overall survey of aggression in the workplace, encouraging employees to confidentially report bullying behaviors, says Lutgen-Sandvik, an associate professor of organizational communication at North Dakota State University in Fargo.

“There is a lot of fear over being discovered, and research suggests that bullies retaliate in a big way,” she adds. “[Employers] should measure aggression and positive actions over time, so that the organizations know where aggression is occurring and where things are going well. Then organizations need to work with someone who knows how to reduce aggression and increase pro-social communication.”

Bullied workers face a slightly higher than three-out-of-four probability of losing their jobs. To leave the workplace with dignity and control, the Workplace Bullying Institute recommends a three-step action plan. “The first step is to name the experience,” co-founder Gary Namie says. “Without calling it bullying or a form of violence, targets are likely to blame themselves and never seek a solution.”

After recognizing the abuse, a targeted worker would be wise to take a disability stress leave, he suggests. This is the time to exercise the second step: assessing physical and mental health; researching violations of laws or company policies, or both; exploring the cost of bullying to the employer, including turnover, absenteeism and litigation; and searching for the next job.
“The third step involves presenting the business case that bullying is too expensive to the highest-ranking person without a relationship to the bully,” Namie says. “The key is to make an unemotional argument to oust the bully and to make the workplace safe for you and all employees.”

He explains the potential outcomes this way: “If the argument falls on deaf ears, you were prepared to leave, and to leave accusing the perpetrators of wrongdoing. If your persuasion is successful, then you will be an inspiration to all other bullied targets in your workplace. You will have broken the silence.”


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This entry was posted on Thursday, August 8th, 2013 at 10:31 am and is filed under Tutorials About Bullying, WBI Education, WBI in the News. 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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