2014 WBI U.S. Workplace Bullying Survey
Gender of Perpetrators & Targets
Race & Ideology
Stopping the Bullying
Support for a Law
About Bullied Targets
Funding by 93 Indiegogo Contributors and major support from
Assistance from Daniel Christensen & David Phillips
© 2014, Workplace Bullying Institute, All rights reserved.
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Prevalence & Awareness
27% of Americans have suffered abusive conduct at work
another 21% have witnessed it
72% are aware that workplace bullying happens
We used the definition of workplace bullying that matches perfectly the definition codified in the Healthy Workplace Bill. Bullying is repeated mistreatment but also “abusive conduct.” For the first time, we asked Americans to consider only the most serious forms of bullying.
Question: At work, what has been your personal experience with the following types of repeated mistreatment: abusive conduct that is threatening, intimidating, humiliating, work sabotage or verbal abuse?
Over one-quarter of adult Americans (27%) said they directly experienced abusive conduct at work – currently (7%) or at sometime in their work life but not in the last year (20%).
This 2014 Survey is the third national survey conducted by WBI. In addition to the switch to “abusive conduct” in the question, two changes were made to the response categories.
The “witnessed” category was split into those who had seen the bullying of others and those who knew that others were bullied. Both groups would have experienced the bullying vicariously. Recent research of those who vicariously experienced bullying found that the severity of emotional injuries were similar in severity to injuries suffered by bullied individuals.
The most important change was to split the “I have not experienced or witnessed it” category into three separate subgroups. For the first time, respondents were asked to declare if they were aware that bullying happens despite not having personal experiences with it. This subgroup (19%) we call the “Aware & Believers.” They are not in denial. The “Aware & Disbelievers” subgroup (4%) would be those in denial. The third subgroup is comprised of individuals who know nothing, see nothing and are completely unaware of misconduct occurring in their workplace, approximately 28% of all Americans.
The partitioning of the “I have not experienced or witnessed it” group also allows us to clarify to refute the axiom that one must have first-hand knowledge of bullying to recognize its existence. In fact, the 52% of the adult American population that claims to have no experience is split into those who are aware (23%) and those who profess to know nothing (28%).
The percentage of adult Americans aware that abusive conduct/workplace bullying happens at work is the sum of those with direct and vicarious experience plus those with no experience but who believe it happens and those who choose to rationalize abusive conduct as “routine.” That estimate is 72% of adults. We at the Workplace Bullying Institute take some credit for the high level of public awareness. Our work began in 1997 with the steadfast commitment to raising public awareness and the myriad of activities and programs has expanded to drive that awareness.
Though bullies were less likely to be women than men (31% vs. 69%), women bullies were less “equitable” when choosing their targets for bullying. Women bullied women in 68% of cases. In past national Surveys, the percentages were similarly disproportionately high.
The Survey question above asked respondents to identify the gender of the bullies and targets in situations with which they were familiar. Using the reported gender combinations, women were targets in 60% of cases.
Mobbing was the term adopted by Heinz Leymann to describe health-harming abusive conduct at work. Mobbing implies multiple perpetrators. Mobbing preceded the term workplace bullying. However, WBI has consistently defined bullying as committed by one or more persons. Bullying nearly always escalates to more than one person joining the main instigator to torment the target.
Survey respondents said the following:
- 77% of cases involved single perpetrators
- 23% of cases involved multiple perpetrators
Race & Ideology
Race is an important demographic variable that pollsters use to achieve a representative national sample for our U.S. Workplace Bullying Surveys. The proportion that occurs in the general population was matched in the sample for this Survey.
The overall percentage of those affected by bullying (bullied and witnessed) was 47.7%.
All three non-White groups had much higher rates than the U.S. percentage. Hispanics were the highest (57%); African-Americans were second (54%). Non-White respondents are considered to be members of legally protected status groups. Employers have to comply with state and federal anti-discrimination laws. That is, when they endure harassment, they would be eligible to demand protection from their employers in most situations.
The respondents’ self-identification of a held political ideology provided the lens through which they viewed the prevalence of bullying. Conservatives experienced the least amount of bullying (23%) and were the least affected (43%), reflecting the combined direct and vicarious experience rates.
Encourage it: Necessary for a competitive organization
Defend it: When offenders are executives and managers
Rationalize it: It’s an innocent, routine way of doing business
Deny it: It doesn’t happen here, fail to investigate complaints
Discount it: Describe impact as not serious
Acknowledge it: Show concern for affected workers
Eliminate it: Create and enforce policies and procedures
Condemn it: Exercise zero-tolerance
Respondents were clear that employers fail to appropriately react to abusive conduct much more frequently than they take positive steps ameliorate bullying. Denial and discounting were the most common reactions by employers.
It is clear that in 2014, despite significant public awareness at 72%, employers are doing very little voluntarily to address bullying. At the time of the survey, there is no state law yet enacted to compel employers to attend to, rather than ignore, abusive conduct.
Privately aided the target/victim
Publicly helped the target/victim: corroboration, reported incidents
Attempted to intervene or resolve: talked to perpetrator and/or management
Isolated/ostracized the target/victim from the group
Sided with the perpetrator: ended relationships with the target/victim
Results from several WBI online surveys of bullied targets reliably show that coworkers rarely help their bullied colleagues. Several social psychological processes operate in the group setting to explain the failure to act prosocially.
The perspective of the general public captured in this national Survey describes circumstances somewhat more positively than surveys of bullied targets. We believe the reference to “most of the witnesses” led to these inexplicable results. The flaw is in the design of the question.
Doing nothing was the most cited tactic. Of course, doing nothing to help colleagues when they are distressed is not a neutral act. It is negative. However, it is not the same as betraying the target by siding with the perpetrator(s). Negative actions were taken in 49% of cases.
Stopped the Bullying
For cases in which the bullying stopped, respondents were asked "what stopped it?"
Target voluntarily left the job to escape more mistreatment
Target forced to quit when work conditions were deliberately made worse
Employer terminated the target
Target transferred to a different job or location with same employer
Perpetrator was punished & kept job
Perpetrator was terminated
Perpetrator voluntarily quit
The sad reality is that even the general public seems to know that it is the target, the victim of the abuse, who is asked to make additional sacrifices to stop the bullying. In 61% of cases, bullying stops only when the target loses her or his job. Remember that individuals do not invite this severe misery into their work lives. Therefore, once a person is targeted for bullying – a choice made by the perpetrator(s) – that person has a 6 out of 10 chance of losing her or his livelihood.
Furthermore, the target is driven to quit. Voluntary quitting is usually based on escalating health problems that families and physicians recognize, then encourage the target to leave the job. But 40% of quitting is based on decisions made after work conditions become untenable, so cruel as to drive a rational person to escape. Constructive discharge is the goal for many perpetrators. Terminations of the skilled and threatening-to-bullies targets are typically based on fabricated lies. Several WBI surveys of bullied targets substantiate this claim.
Accepting a transfer to retain a job, to bullied targets, is often a source of perceived injustice. Their reasoning is “I did nothing to deserve the abuse, why should I be the one to leave the job I love and am best qualified to perform.” To many, transfers are punitive. On the other hand, it prevents economic devastation and might provide a degree of psychological safety.
Though the ratio of negative consequences for targets relative to perpetrators is 4:1, we interpret the rising percentage of negative outcomes for bullies over the years to indicate progress in public (and employer) awareness of bullying.
Support for a Law
Question: Do you support or oppose enactment of a new law that would protect all workers from repeated abusive mistreatment in addition to protections against illegal discrimination and harassment?
Strongly support - 63% Somewhat support - 30% Somewhat oppose - 6% Strongly oppose - 1%
It is clear that the American public wants to see worker protections against abusive conduct extended beyond the anti-discrimination statutes – 93% support specific anti-bullying legislation.
Legislation designed to provide that protection – the Healthy Workplace Bill – has been introduced in 26 states (as of the date of this Survey) but has not yet been enacted into law.
Furthermore, 50% of Survey respondents self-defined as Conservatives strongly support the Healthy Workplace Bill. With such little opposition from those expected to oppose the bill, it is a certain conclusion that now is the time for passage of this new law.
Question: Which one factor is most responsible for abusive mistreatment at work?
Work related skill deficiencies of the target/victim
Personality flaw of the target/victim
Work related skill deficiencies of the perpetrator
Personality flaw of the perpetrator
Work conditions that encourage abusive conduct
Perpetrators are not held accountable
Society that supports aggression, abuse and humiliation
There were four factors from which respondents could choose: two items centered on the target; two items about perpetrator characteristics; two items about the organization; and one item about our pro-aggression society.
The primary causal explanation (garnering 41% of the votes) was the perpetrator, specifically, the bad personality of the bully. Respondents saw the organization with its bullying-prone work environment and failure to hold bullies accountable as the second best explanation (chosen by 28%).
One-fifth of respondents hold targets responsible for their fate, while half of that number (10%) perceive society to blame. This Survey question was the respondents’ opportunity to blame victims, but only 20% chose to do so. The vast majority believed that factors outside the targets’ control were responsible.
In terms of preventing or controlling bullying, the prospects of changing the personality of either the target or bully are dim. Change is more likely when organizational factors are redesigned.
About Bullied Targets
37% Compassionate & kind
Zogby Analytics was commissioned by Workplace Bullying Institute to conduct an online survey of 1,000 adults in the US. All interviews were completed January 27 and 28, 2014. Using trusted interactive partner resources, thousands of adults were invited to participate in this interactive survey. Each invitation is password coded and secure so that one respondent can only access the survey one time. Using information based on census data, voter registration figures, CIA fact books and exit polls, we use complex weighting techniques to best represent the demographics of the population being surveyed. Based on a confidence interval of 95%, the margin of error for 1,000 is +/- 3.2 percentage points. Zogby Analytics is composed entirely of senior level executives from Zogby International.