August 18th, 2011

Workplace bullying a growing problem

By Cindy Krischer Goodman, McClatchy Newspapers

August 18, 2011

As soon as I heard my friend’s voice, I could tell she was upset. Over the phone, she described an awful scene that had just happened at her workplace. Her new boss called a staff meeting and began to humiliate each sales person one by one, dishing out personal insults. “He’s a bully, and everyone at the office is miserable,” she said.

My friend is a single mother who can’t afford to be without a job. For now, she plans to endure the insults and humiliation. But some of her co-workers have started a desperate attempt to find another job.

In an economic environment where jobs still are scarce, standing up to a workplace bully has become difficult. Experts are calling workplace bullying an epidemic, citing several recent studies that confirm the seriousness of the problem in the United States. One government study says workers are bullied in 1 out of every 4 workplaces.

“Sometimes good people bully,” said Gary Namie, who operates the Workplace Bullying Institute in Seattle. “They become more and more aggressive at work because it gets reinforced. Employers who are indifferent are rewarding it.”

Although unprofessional, workplace bullying is not illegal in the United States. There is no law that prohibits managers from threatening, insulting or mocking employees or making their work lives miserable. Some bullies hide under the guise of being a tough boss.

Teresa Daniel, author of “Stop Bullying at Work” and professor of the human resource leadership program at Sullivan University, has studied the distinction. “A bully makes it personal and vindictive,” Daniel said. “With a tough boss, most employees said he’s not a nice person, but his motives were right — to make the organization profitable and strong.”

Employers may not realize that bullies take a terrible toll within an organization. Their behavior creates stress on employees, increases absenteeism and leads to turnover. Oddly enough, bullies can be strong performers and often do get results because they push people to the wall. But those workers usually are biding time while looking for an exit.

Brenda, an administrative employee at a Miami government agency, said her female boss torments her by questioning almost every accomplishment and rolling her eyes at anything she says in a staff meeting. “It’s wrecked my work and my home life. I dread going into the office,” she said.

Women, it turns out, are other women’s own worst enemies at work. Female bullies target women in 80 percent of the cases. Male workplace bullies, by contrast, tend to be equal-opportunity offenders, targeting both men and women.

Susan Strauss, a consultant and expert in organizational leadership, says women bully in a much more subtle way than men. They typically sabotage each other’s work, make disparaging comments, taunt, gossip, roll their eyes and give out the silent treatment.

“It has the same negative effect on the work environment as more overt forms of aggression,” said Strauss who is conducting workshops for companies on female-on-female bullying. Because female forms of bullying are generally more covert, higher-ranking male managers are less likely to catch on to the misconduct or know how to handle it, Strauss has found.

Experts say the best way to stand up to a bully is document every incident and every detail, including who else was present. Then show the documentation to an objective person of authority, maybe even including the cost of turnover or lost productivity. Namie at the Workplace Bullying Institute explains that getting a higher-up to discipline a bully can be difficult. Typically, he or she has the protection of a higher-ranking supervisor at the company who says something like this: “That’s Bob you’re talking about. I love Bob. Bob does what I want. Who are you to complain?”

For recovering bullies, Namie recommends identifying another manager who has a style totally different from yours. Engage them, ask them for feedback about your style and look to them for suggestions on how you can manage differently.

As the problem gains national attention, legislation known as the Healthy Workplace Bill has been proposed in 16 states, but none has passed it as law. The bill forbids a health-harming “abusive work environment” and requires medical documentation to prove workers claims of bullying.

Kathy Kane, senior vice president of talent management at employment agency Adecco Group North America, believes employers don’t understand the extent of the problem in their organizations. Workloads are building and bullying is more likely to be tolerated because managers don’t have time to deal with it, she says. She recommends exit interviews.

“Workplace bullying is costly to a company, but employers don’t understand those costs,” Kane said. “Good people leave and there’s a cost to losing good people.”

via Workplace bullying a growing problem –


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  1. Barbara says:

    I’ve never been the same. After 25 years in teaching, my new principal didn’t believe that a younger new teacher had belittled me, poked at my chest while speaking to me in front of my students lining up, & much more. She asked the district to offer to buy out my teaching contract mid-year. All the union did was offer to write up the release contract, without even requiring the district to give me a reason. The EEOC helped me keep my job.

    Then the bullying started from my district. I increased my teaching planning/working to 60 hrs. a wk. trying to be soon as the expert I am. But in a small district, winning a lawsuit against them, even though all I got was my job, well, it follows you. I gave up this last June. Retired with PTSD and episodic depression.

    “Workplace bullying is costly to a company, but employers don’t understand those costs,” Kane said. “Good people leave and there’s a cost to losing good people.”

    Tell me about it. All this expertise, education needs me. But the tutoring companies have me, at 1/3 the wages. No, I’ll never be the same.

    What can someone like me do to see that anti-bullying law passes in California?

    • kachina says:

      Hi Barbara,

      My suggestion would be to refuse to be silenced, continue to speak out at carefully selected venues, and look for opportunities to demand accountability from every possible quarter. Legislators, employers, unions, workers, taxpayers….fact is that when workplace bullying is addressed everybody wins.

      I believe that change is coming and have resolved to do whatever I can to hasten the process. So far non of it has benefitted me directly, but I see evidence that it DOES make a difference!

      You are not alone out there, and the more we can educate others the sooner we all realize the gains. You are an educator…just in a different realm now.

  2. Mesastopholies says:

    I’ve been subjected to workplace bullying for the past 10 years in my district. It seems rampant in the public schools as principals have wide sweeping powers with little or no checks on that power.

    Robert Fuller’s book Rankism is a good book on the topic and I heard him speak and it was excellent. He explained my situation as a case of reverse rankism where a few “politically powerful” teachers are literally running the principal and the show.

  3. Michelle says:


    I had the same experience as Barbara. The union did nothing to help me. I had been diagnosed with PTSD as well and was hospitalized after being forced under duress to resign and then being placed on administrative leave. The administration backed the principal. I contacted the attorney generals office and filed a complaint I am waiting to hear if they will proceed but am not hopeful.

    I agree with the previous post that “principals have wide sweeping powers with little or no checks on that power”

    I also think older teachers will continue to be targeted because of the economy.

    My teachers union was not interested in addressing workplace bullying, When I tried to tell my union rep about what was going on, told me to stop sending him information on bullying and not to poke the bee’s nest with a hot poker.

    I will never be the same.

  4. After dealing with bullies much of my life, I really sympathize with people in this position. I have found that the kinder I am to myself, the fewer bullies I manifest in my life. If this concept interests you, check out my blog Thank you for your wonderful attention to this subject.

  5. Meshell says:

    For the past 5 years my manager harassed me and when I complained to her boss he did not respond. Went to the HR manager to complain that my manager was harssing me and she told me that sales reps. complained to her about me and that I made mistakes. I had the information about my compliant and HR never looked at it. Yes, I human and the reason I made some mistakes is all day long the reps. would call me because the other customer service reps. and my manager would not return their calls. They always knew they could depend on me and they did not like the other CSR’s or my manager. Next thing that happend was my manager and HR wrote me up to improve on a 30 days notice and if I did not do a better job I would be let go. My manager not respond the whole month to let me know if I was improving. Then a week later they put me on another 30 day notice. I did not sign the second notice. After the second notice I made a mistake one day and she was all over me! I left my job that day crying and went straight to my doctor. My blood pressure was very high and she put me on disability for two months.The doctor said that she had never seen me this way in all the years I’ve been going to her. She said if I did not calm down I could have a stroke or heart attack. She said I should go to a Psychiatrist. I’ve been off for 4 month and my Psychiatrist said I took the harassement for too long and I was suffering from post dramatic stress. I was a good employee and only missed 3 days work in the 5 years, was never late and worked overtime with no extra pay. Monthy I would get letters from our sales reps raving about what a great job I was doing for them. My manger and her boss were cc on all the emails. Dr. Namie you are right about HR does not help employees and that is their job!

  6. William Cervelli says:

    For eight years I was verbally and sometimes physically tormented by fellow employees. I was sent magazines, calls made, mocked! I have a learning dissability and cannot tell time! I drive a semi and do my job well. I confronted the owner and he knew and covered it all up. His daughter is HR and also company attorney. In 2006 I was going to kill myself because of the stress. They act like I am crazy and my mom also as she has been there for me to listen to this all . Last week the daughter said she investigated the guys and none of this ever happened. They all lied!! She said to forget it and get on with my life!! This makes me and mom look crazy!! There is much more but that would go way over 4000 .I want all to know what was done to me. I am not crazy!!

  7. William Cervelli says:

    I want you to know I have a learning dissability and all my co-workers know. That is why they tormented me for eight years. I confronted the owner and his daughter many times and was told to forget it because that was the Christain thing to do. His daughter said they paid thousands of dollars to check this all out and it never happened! I have boxes of magazines that were sent to my home with the Baking companies name! Also an employee hacked our home computer! She said the guys who caused the trouble no longer work there and in the next breath said none of this ever happened! Eight years!!!! It all happened and I would take a lie detector to prove it!!I am sure she and her dad would not!!I also was sent to a therapyst for 3years by them and she made me sign a paper I did not understand that made me look like I was falsely accusing those guys who did this to me. Then when I said this was not legal I did not understand, she said I should have had an attorney present. I never said I was going to sue them and the owner kept saying”so your going to take my millions” I never said any such thing. This has to be stopped and I need justice for this.

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