September 30th, 2010

Workplace Bullying: Recognize and Prevent It


By Judy White, CIO Insight, Sept. 28, 2010

Cyber-bullying is just one form of workplace bullying that is becoming prevalent in the U.S. Here are the warning signs to watch for, and what you can do to prevent it.

Kevin Morrisey, the 52-year-old managing editor of the award-winning Virginia Quarterly Review, walked to a nearby area of the University of Virginia campus on July 30, 2010, and shot himself in the head. According to an ABC News report, 18 calls were made to appropriate officials to report that Morrisey was the target of workplace bullying and was seeking protection from his employer. The report alleges that the university may not have responded in a timely manner to the employee’s plea for help.

Morrisey’s suicide is only one of many workplace shootings that result from bullying. In fact, the growing epidemic of workplace bullying has been featured in a recent documentary entitled, Murder by Proxy, released in parts of the U.S. and Canada.

Workplace bullying expert Dr. Gary Namie, President of the Workplace Bullying Institute defines bullying as “repeated mistreatment: sabotage by others that prevent work from getting done, verbal abuse, threatening conduct, intimidation and humiliation.” It is any behavior by employers or co-workers that subject targets to repeated, abusive conduct resulting in health-harming physical and psychological effects. Information and communications technologies such as E-mail, Instant Messaging and social networks can be part of this toxic mix of mistreatment. Indeed, while much research has been devoted to the study of cyber-bullying in middle- and high-school, there is little credible research to date on the role of cyber-bullying in the workplace.

Workplace bullying in general looks to be fairly widespread. The Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI) commissioned Zogby International to collect data for its 2010 U.S. Workplace Bullying Survey. Two surveys were conducted for this report: one with several items that had 4,210 survey respondents (MOE +/- 1.5 percentage points); and one single-item survey that had 2,092 respondents (MOE +/- 2.2 percentage points). Each sample was representative of all American adults in August 2010. The results are alarming:

  • 35% of workers have experienced bullying firsthand
  • 62% of bullies are men; 58% of targets are women
  • Women bullies target women in 80% of cases
  • Bullying at work is four times more prevalent than illegal harassment (2007)
  • Same-gender harassment accounts for more than two thirds (68%) of bullying

In addition to the 35% of the U.S. workforce (an estimated 53.5 million Americans) who report being bullied at work, another 15% say they have witnessed it happen to someone else. Half of all workers report neither experiencing nor witnessing bullying.

The 2010 survey is a follow-up to the WBI’s first national study, conducted by Zogby in 2007. A comparison of results from the two surveys shows that little has changed. In 2007:

  • 37% of U.S. workers reported being bullied; an estimated 54 million Americans.
  • Half of all Americans said they had directly experienced workplace bullying; an additional 15% reported witnessing it.
  • 72% of bullies were bosses; with 62% male and 58% women.
  • 68% of bullying was same-gender harassment.
  • 45% of targets experienced health-related problems.

In a more productive economy, 34% of bullied targets report voluntarily quitting their jobs to avoid further mistreatment according to an on-line poll conducted by the Workplace Bullying Institute. The current economic recession lends itself to escalating harassing behavior, and workplace bullies are inflicting greater risk to both targets and their respective organizations.

Cyber-Bullying: Not Just for Schoolkids

Cyber-bullying in the workplace can range from a few incidences to a pattern of behavior over time that eventually unveils a story. Examples include:

  • Unwanted links to dating services or sexually charged material;
  • Business emails sent only targeted employees that require a reply (especially during vacations or while out on disability);
  • Threatening voice mails, E-mails or text mesages.

It is often the combination of cyber-bullying and in-person bullying that paints a complete picture of dangerous workplace behavior. Among the damaging behavior to watch out for in your bosses, co-workers and employees are:

  • Shunning
  • Verbal abuse
  • Threats or intimidation
  • Sabotage
  • Malicious rumors or gossip
  • Unreasonable work loads
  • Mobbing by other co-workers
  • Creating unsubstantiated performance deficiencies in attempt to undermine a target

Additional examples include public humiliation or embarrassment, hyper-criticism, yelling in meetings (or virtually) and degrading a co-worker or subordinate.

Workplace bullies are astute at manipulating superiors and often deliver strong business results with disregard toward organizational values.  CIO’s need to pay particular attention to these key areas to watch for any signs of workplace bullying:

  • Organizational restructuring efforts
  • Performance management and talent review calibration discussions
  • Employee stress levels.

In addition, any reports of bullying made by employees — regardless of how incidental they may appear initially – must be investigated. When IT cultures fail to encourage alternate points of view to the status-quo or open channels of communication, trouble may be waiting in the wings.

The CIO’s Role in Risk Management

Workplace bullying is a silent epidemic that creates significant risk management issues for employees, enterprises and potential shareholders. It requires decisive and committed action from CIOs and senior executives. As organizations address greater transparency in response to financial reform and governmental mandates in financial reporting, it is critical for IT executives to leverage people and technology to prevent this form of behavior from occurring and taking root within their workplaces.

Employers who fail to adopt smart people policies and practices may be facing potential litigation when behavior crosses the line and employees become targets, according to reports in The Wall Street Journal and Time. Sixteen states have introduced legislation that would allow employees who have been physically, psychologically or economically abused while on the job to file charges against their employer, direct managers, and bystanders.

Leading From the Front

CIOs are well poised to add strategic value by:

  • Conducting vulnerability assessments of IT leaders and professional staff.
  • Designing a collaborative and clear, written policy that communicates zero tolerance toward inappropriate, hostile behavior through personal and/or various technologies, including smartphones, texting, and social media.
  • Demonstrating swift action when workforce intelligence identifies risk.
  • Leveraging internal social media channels to communicate and reinforce IT’s commitment to addressing concerns.
  • Re-aligning performance measures of IT leadership team.
  • Establishing an enterprise-wide reporting system, an integrity/ethics hotline, and overall process that sends alerts to a designated officer about threatening behaviors.
  • Optimizing collaboration platforms and business intelligence tools for increased transparency, communication and accountability.
  • Managing, measuring, and monitoring workplace stress.

By addressing the issue head-on, pro-active CIO’s will reduce risk management issues and create an environment that fosters top performance and execution of strategic initiatives whereby employees are engaged, feel valued, and safe.

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  1. Seuz says:

    Bullying has damaged me! I quit to take early retirement at age 53 after 22 years at UVA! I need to go back to work, but I feel I can not for fear of being bullied again! Bullying should be against the law!!!!

    • Judy Davis says:

      I am also a bully target and stayed for over 14 years. I am looking for ways not to return to any corporation that allows bullying!
      Good Luck, I understand

      • Dr. Gary Namie says:

        Tough to find in today’s America. You’ve got to screen the companies just like they screen you. Ask why the opening exists. Ask about turnover rate. Meet with the “team” off-site and get the names of the last two to work there and leave. Contact them for the truth. Ask boss her or his attitude toward staying late until the work gets done (if it is expected, expect exploitation). Ask if there have ever been lawsuits filed for discrimination in that unit/division.

  2. Cora Liam says:

    I have been bullied since 2004. I have approached my group’s manager, our department director, HR, and finally the Executive Director. No response at all. The bullying went up to my bad yearly performance reviews. I had to go on FMLA twice, had to use our EAP for several years, lost my other excellent night time job, had almost divorced my husband for not understanding my situation whenever I tell him how I am being harassed at work, was so affected emotionally and physically that I almost quit my job. The only thing that kept my sanity is my strong faith in God, how I love my job, and what I have leard from being a legal secretary for almost 10 years so I have full documentation of all the harassment in my workplace at our HR Dept.. I had to approach our Office of Civil Rights and the EEOC. Both told me I do not have any civil rights violation case against my employer. The investigator hinted to me about a private lawsuit. I have approached more than 20 employment lawyer, even offered them a retainer of $10,000 to $20,000, and thanks God they are very honest telling me that I cannot win my case. Now I am learning a lot from your website, and it is because workplace bullying is allowed in USA and there is no law about it. Please count me in to be one of your examples or witnesses how workplace bullying keeps going on and really allowed in a workplace. And you’re right, the bullies are the ones awarded by promoting them, the people they use to deliver their bullying methods are also promoted and allowed to do anything they want to do in the workplace. I hope and pray to God that a law will soon pass to prevent workplace bullying. I have witnessed some of my co-workers left our company, some are still here but so frustrated and desperate but have no choice but to keep on working because they need the job to support their family.

    Cora Liam

  3. Annie says:

    I feel the same way, Seuz. I left another university at 57 following years of bullying. I approached it as discrimination because mostly older women were forced out. I took it to the top but the system protected the perpetrators.

    I finally quit to save my sanity. It has derailed my life. The experience caused huge psychological damage. Even after the depression and anxiety subsided, it destroyed my self-confidence.

    In addition, this has financially ruined my future. I planned to work until at least 70. Instead I’m taking early Social Security at 62 before my savings are gone.

  4. Jay Jacobus says:

    There has been limited action as a result of suicides at Rutgers and University of Virginia so action can be taken if people in authority choose to take it. In my chase no one in authority would even give me a hearing.

    An organization that favors action against bullying could bring pressure on authorities to act in any way they could. The action toward the bully could be non-judicial punitive action, education of the bullies, public exposure, censure, suspension and/or judicial action. The pro-active action to remediate the damage to the vicitms or their families could be monetary, supportive, environmental, psychological, emotional, medical, instructive and / or career assistance.

    Currently, the damage to vicitims can be horrendous and even catastrophic. Anything that could be done isn’t done. This will eventually change. In the meantime the vicitms bear the costs of bullying on a individual basis.

  5. Annie says:

    “Currently, the damage to vicitims can be horrendous and even catastrophic.

    I agree Jay. Workplace bullying amounts to financial and psychological rape.

  6. I work for a hospital ironically arrarded a “BEST COMPANY . . . .” Yet I am now into my eighth month of leave for what finally has become a claim initiated by my employer for ‘lateral violence by peers and supervisors’.

    Having long addressed with management concerns that have endured greater than 20 years just now are my ‘allegations’ accepted and this is ONLY because of the institutions unexpected backfire of attempt to identify me as unstable.

    It has been my saving grace that a mandated independent evaluation and subsequent assigned medical providers each have professional documented conviction that the maladies from which I sufferer are consequential to work place abuse.

    I have long received feedback for work excellence, humor, easy demeanor, high level work ethics and completeness. My exclusion from work would under usual circumstances be considered wholly unlikely.

    As cooperative team player who receives accolades not corrective action I have not been well able to overcome my distress or dismay of being effectively displaced.

    My work has been my passion.

    The healthcare institution for whom I work is self insured and employees generally utilize providers under their cooperate listing of providers.

    I agree this is incestuous.

    I have long discussed my perceptions of being mobbed which well parallels the literature.

    I cannot fathom return to work which would be in the came social environment. To do so would be illogical especially when professionals emphasize that ‘obvious’ talent and aptitude of work skills would not enable survival unless you were invisible and had an administrative support walking with me in tandem.

    The work of being a psychiatric nurse is certainly well known to me having served an inpatient acute care population for just shy of three decades.

    My circumstance of being bullied in what is supposed to be an almost holy place for healing is a disgrace. That there ARE providers who do not embody ethical principles of altruism, honesty, kindness, etc . . . . is sadly not a too real magnified realization of truth.

    I now have an unfortunate new awareness of dynamics which prove to be like a present, real and noxious pathogen.

    I now have administrative recognition of exposure to lateral violence which had not before been externally validated in records.

    I am now rather disengaged from all meaningful aspects of my life.

    This is an ironic out come for one who did NOT receive; even with solicitation, any verification of actually being a work place problem. “You maybe work too hard” , “Have you thought it might not have any thing to do with you”, Ignore the others, just do your work”.

    Readers no doubt needn’t hear more.

    From beginning to end (relating to the evolution of mobbing) persons are harmed. Culminating in outsourcing of ones work largely do to group think or managerial ineffectiveness will continue to cull others from the work place while crippling others from invisible injury until there are means to validate wrong doing and consequences with the ‘whistleblower’ having protection or retribution for claim.

    ANY time fold are pitted against each other there are fights and to turn the other cheek leads to victimization. Mobbing is a very real WAR that occurs on home soil. Yes there are casualties.
    No burial is civil and comes from serial REAL civil rights violations.

    I regret that I am so naive.

    • Dr. Gary Namie says:

      You are not naive. You followed the unspoken rules, the norms, followed by all decent people. You overinvested in your job and profession as personal identity. It let you down. Look at your superior analytic skills evidenced from the caliber of your writing and observations. That was not taken from you. Re-discover and re-invent the “you” that is core to your identity, separate from the source of income. It’s still there to be found. To re-engage in the world will take some trust. But make others prove their loyalty and safety to you before giving more of yourself to them. In other words, less self-disclosure. Let lapse in spoken words remain silent. Make others speak first. Offer less of yourself in new relationships. Build some boundaries, with doors to let friends in. Treat yourself as the most valuable resource imaginable. Time with you is worth a lot. Make others earn it. It’s a start to the reinvention that necessarily takes place by targets. Depending on the extent of trauma endured, recovery could be slow or quick. Call WBI for personal help.

  7. I have just stumbled onto my own words thought long lost in cyberspace.

    The saga of travesty continues from THE incident cited as ocuring June 18, 1010 but which in truth began decades earlieer.

    The favor of your commentary is appreciated as is any external validation (considered of greater fiscal worth than even the elevated worth of the yellow stuff on the gold market).

    While there are clearly too numerous world crisis that have weighted folks beyond what I fathom human resiliance can endure . . . yours would not withdraw opinion endorsing the corrosive impact persistent and undeserved taunts of any variation has upon ones sence of efficacy and value.

    Solicitation of legal advocacy lessens the worry associated with ongoing multiple injuries additional those incured by virtue of seeming managerial neglect.

    That the ‘atta-girl’ repitoire of team building efforts coupled with a marketing blitz causing impression of very real cooperate excellence would be a convincing reality to the consumers and employee if it were not for the Michael Moore ‘like’ behind the scene glimses of what serves to unveil the mirrage of said truth.

    In this town I easily claim as home there ‘was’ a clean-up of a ‘TOP TEN’ state toxic waste sites happening to rest ‘dormant’ within a shrt length away from public Lake Superior beach access. It was beautifly camaflaged with natues beauty ranging from grasss cover to torso height snowfall. With the disruption of the DOW site covering I can verify that the air around this “best ” communities to live award winning city found it’s citizens trying to minimize inhaling the acrid air.

    Not all is as it seems.

    Depite work excellence and passion I am now just newly declaired as having a full permanant disability. One day I am Employee of the Month and productive. On another I am inappropriately indirrectly referenced as an invisible liability.
    This is a perverse relief but is not a well integrated reality. I NEVER would fathom that excellence could be SOO damn unpopular and excluding.

    I see that legitimate fact finding would easily endorse a civil suit which would of course could not be pusued with a workmans compensation settlement (OH YES, the hospital wants to settle ASAP for what would be less than three years work excluding the loss of substantial bennifits such as insurance, etc. . . .

    This of course would be a further victemization. I am not too tired to pusue this but facinging an institution who will protect it’s ‘polished’ image is daunting and potentially effort for addressing the greater cause of moral right of protecting the sick and infirm could for an individual be like giving the Grim Reaper unresticted access to roam and leave personal signature.

    I am an optimist at heart. I am trust worthy and can be trusted with both responsibility of duty and confidentiality. When IS enough, enough ??? I am NOT the retaliative sort. I have already been violated without demonstation of what would be careless at risk behaviors. I am an underdog and sadly so are (among others) patients.

    I hope the angels of heaven ride upon my back in this period of devestation and (hopefully) re-birth. Is this SOOO unintellegable ??

  8. kachina says:

    Sherry,

    I don’t tihnk it’s unintelligible at all…because I am where you are. And there is probably a point that we cannot be restored to the positions we were driven from. We will never be able to deny the truth of our own experiences. Hopefully, the systems that harmed us will learn and improve. We cannot afford the risk of trusting that. Maybe the truths we know in our bones are no longer relevant to the workplaces we left behind. I hope they aren’t.

    For us, I think the only way out of the hell we are in is to go through it. And the other side is nowhere we have ever been before. It may be something we cannot even imagine. I just keep slogging through hell because I won’t stay in it. And I’ll keep slogging until I hit the other side. It helps to know I’m not alone.

  9. Mrs.DMarshall says:

    What about the U. S. Military. My husband was the target of bullying by his unit, from command to lower ranking NCOs; and the ending result was he was put out of the military after serving 12 years, reduced in rank, and coded that not only disallows him to ever returning to the military but unable to secure civilian employment. We have been fighting this issue for two years now and a blind eye is all we get from both the military higher officials as well as our U. S. government representatives in Washington, DC.

  10. Mary says:

    I was accused of being a bully when I transferred to a new job in a new town to deal with an ailing family member. It happened during my initial 3 mo probation period. I was confused re: transfer of pension and called the HR Benefits office. The first person was rude and due to the stress I became tearful on the phone. The second person I contacted repeatedly interrupted me and when I requested if she could please wait until I finished speaking she accused me of telling her to be quiet. I still did not get the answers I needed and called a third time, the person on the other end yelled at me asking why I keep calling them, then slammed the phone down on me. The last call I made a receptionist answered and repeatedly and anxiously stated “just a minute, just a minute, just a minute, I’ll get someone” Apparently she said I was out of control when I called when in fact she was out of control. I was also told a manager of the HR Benefits dept could hear me screaming which was totally untrue. I was then disciplined and told I could be fired – and when I tried to stick up for myself I was told that it was all of these people against me, and therefore the validity was with them. I was then told I had to write letters of apology to each and every one of these people – which I did. However, I felt very sad inside that my career had been endangered because of a group of bullies who clearly talked about me in their work environment without even meeting me other than via a phone – and ensured that I would be punished. I believe this organization had a recently new bullying/abuse policy instituted and they were trying it out with someone they felt would be vulnerable.
    I left the organization a month later.
    Bullying is a problem in our society; however, measures need to be looked at so that bullies can’t use it to their advantage. If such measures are not considered, they bully will just become more dangerous.

  11. Lori says:

    I am so glad to know I am not alone…I have endured 5 years of bullying in the work force to the point of such physical and mental despair. Out of a day I thought I could not imagine living through, I found this sight. I can not even tell you my thoughts on the way home….I am sorry there are others who have sufferered this abuse, but am glad I am not alone. I felt so alone up until now. What can we do to change the power of these individuals who feel they are the law of our workforce? How can we fight to create a law and change the power of these individuals who comunically mentally, verbally, and so confidently use intimedation tactics to humiliate their co-workers? We all know they do this to feel better about themselves. such a sad group of individuals. Why are others, who witness this behavior, are afraid to protect or defend someone who is in this position for fear of their own job security. I am in awe that I left an 11 year career in retail, and attend several years of college to go into what I thought would be a more mature group of individuals, only to find the exact same thing now. This has to stop! It is everywhere, and we have to stop it.

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