February 14th, 2013

WBI Survey: Workplace Bullying from the Perspective of U.S. Business Leaders, Part 1


Part 1 of 2

Most of the research conducted by the Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI) queries individuals who have declared themselves to be targets of workplace bullying. That is, we are able to see the word through the lens of targets. These surveys are based on self-selected samples, and are necessarily non-scientific.

In a WBI 2010 survey of 333 target-respondents, they stated that only 4% of employers had raised awareness of bullying, whereas 81% had done nothing to stop bullying. Of the employers who did nothing, 46% were described as “resistant” to the topic.

WBI asked 311 targets in 2012 to describe policies their employers had created to address workplace bullying. Only 5.5% of employers were given credit for having a policy and enforcement procedure that effectively covered bullying (3% of those policies were titled “Respect” Policies). (WBI-2012-IP-B)

In a separate 2012 survey, 250 targets reported that 30% of their employers said that bullying “doesn’t happen” (at their workplace). Additionally, respondents said that 88% of American employers failed to take action at all. Employers denied their responsibility to fix the problem. (WBI-2012-IP-E)

The portrait of employer activity as told by targets was unflattering. We were able, thanks to the resources of Zogby Analytics, to poll business leaders directly. The results enable a comparison of target and executive perspectives.

The Survey

Zogby Analytics was commissioned by the Workplace Bullying Institute to conduct an online survey of 315 U.S. business leaders in three market areas: San Francisco, New York City and Washington D.C. The survey was completed January 21, 2013.

Using trusted interactive partner resources, thousands of business leaders from the target regions were invited to participate in the interactive survey. Each invitation is password coded and secure so that one respondent can only access the survey one time.

Based on a confidence interval of 95%, the margin of error for 315 is +/- 5.6 percentage points. This means that all other things being equal, the identical survey repeated will have results within the margin of error 95 times out of 100.

The sample consisted of three groups of decision makers: Owner or partner (Owners); CXO/Administrator/Director (CXOs); President/VP/Manager (VPs). There were 58 owners, 95 CXOs, and 158 VPs. One hundred ten respondents led companies with more than 500 employees, 47 led companies with between 201-500 employees, and 48 led companies with between 50-200 employees, and 106 led companies with less than 50 employees.

Two WBI-relevant questions were asked as part of the larger Zogby Analytics Business Leaders Survey.

Question 1

Of the original 315 respondents to the first question, 65 chose the “Not sure” response. The results for the 250 remaining respondents who had an opinion are below.

Which of the following best describes your opinion of “workplace bullying” (repeated abusive conduct, “status-blind harassment” that is currently legal) ?

The percentages for each response option were:

.68 It is a serious problem

.17 I never heard of it

.15 It is irrelevant, a non-issue, bullying affects only children

Across the three categories of leaders, the pattern was similar. Bullying as a serious problem received the highest rank. The same was true for geographical regions and size of the company.

The Comparison

To compare target to executive opinions on Question 1, WBI conducted its own instant poll survey (WBI-2013-IP-B).

WBI Instant Polls are online single-question surveys that rely upon self-selected samples of individuals bullied at work (typically 98% of any sample). No demographic data are collected. Our non-scientific Instant Polls accurately depict the perceptions of workers targeted for bullying at work as contrasted with the views of all adult Americans in our scientific national surveys.

We asked 285 target-respondents to answer the following question.

In your organization, which of the following best describes the owner’s or senior executive’s personally held opinion of workplace bullying?

Percentages of each response were:

.09 They think it is a serious problem

.15 They never heard of it

.76 They think it is irrelevant, a non-issue

Clearly, the opinions of the two groups differ significantly. Less than 10% of bullied targets believe that executives consider workplace bullying a serious problem. The basis for doubt is that targets typically attempted (unsuccessfully, according to other WBI surveys) to have senior managers act as if it were serious. Similarly targets are dubious about executive opinions, stating that 76% of executives consider bullying irrelevant, thus not deserving attention.

Business leaders reported the obverse in the Zogby survey. They preferred to cast bullying as a serious problem and not irrelevant. From this pair of opinions, we infer that executives chose what they consider “socially desirable” opinions. To report otherwise would make them appear unsympathetic. Targets might interpret the differences as hypocritical, a mismatch of words and actions.

Or perhaps this finding is evidence of a sea change in public opinion about workplace bullying since WBI started its work in 1997 that has even captured business leaders’ attention. It might reflect the new “correct” attitude to adopt. Regardless of the underlying motive, it is reason for optimism.

Gary Namie, PhD
Research Director, WBI
with assistance from
Daniel Christensen

© 2013 Workplace Bullying Institute, Do not use without citing WBI as source.

Read Part 2 to see the results of Question 2 to Business Leaders.

Download a copy of the complete report.


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This entry was posted on Thursday, February 14th, 2013 at 2:19 pm and is filed under Tutorials About Bullying, WBI Education, WBI Surveys & Studies. 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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