Introduction & Thesis
Research on workplace bullying began in the late 1980’s. The field has since evolved, including articles, blogs, and books on the subject. According to the 2014 WBI US Workplace Bullying Survey, 27% of Americans have been targets of workplace bullying; an additional 21% have been witness to the bullying; and a total of 72% are aware that workplace bullying occurs. (WBI – the Workplace Bullying Institute, 2014) As of the writing of this paper, there is no state or federal law yet enacted to compel American employers to address abusive conduct that occurs outside the limited definitions of illegal discriminatory actions. This paper will define bullying, consider the profile and characteristics of a typical bully, consider research on the topic and attempt to understand why bullying is allowed to continue in the workplace.
1 – What is bullying
According to Susan Futterman, in her book When You Work for a Bully: Assessing Your Options and Taking Action, readers are encouraged to, “take a step back to make sure you’re distinguishing between genuine feedback, even feedback undiplomatically presented, and bullying.” (Futterman & Paroutaud, 2004) Futterman helps to differentiate between poor management skills and bullying by describing bullying as: Persistent
Provides feedback which is not useful and focuses on trivial issues Based on false or distorted allegations Relates to unrealistic or unreasonable targets that are set arbitrarily Is not accompanied by constructive efforts to resolve issues Another definition comes from Workplace Bullying Institute, describes workplace bullying as “repeated, health-harming mistreatment of one or more persons (the targets) by one or more perpetrators.” It further states that the abusive conduct is “threatening, humiliating, or intimidating”; involves work interference through sabotage which prevents work from getting done; and/or verbal abuse. (WBI – the Workplace Bullying Institute, 2014)
Figure 1.1 represents the range of negative behaviors that occur in the workplace. According to The Bully-Free Workplace: Stop Jerks, Weasels, and Snakes From Killing Your Organization, bullying, in its mildest form falls to the right of disrespect and when it is severe can lead to despair and even suicide. (Namie, The Bully-Free Workplace: Stop Jerks, Weasels, and Snakes From Killing Your Organization, 2011) Figure 1.1 – The Continuum of Negative Interpersonal Behavior
(Namie, The Bully-Free Workplace: Stop Jerks, Weasels, and Snakes From Killing Your Organization, 2011) 2 – Why people should care about the topic In his book, WORKPLACE BULLYING: ESCALATED INCIVILITY, Gary Namie, PhD notes that companies should be concerned about bullying, if for no other reason than its potential to damage the bottom line. “Employers are frustrated with turnover and disruption caused by bullies.” It often costs a company tens of thousands of dollars to recruit, hire and train a new employee to replace a bullied worker who left. (Namie, WORKPLACE BULLYING: ESCALATED INCIVILITY, 2003) This assertion is backed up by Tim Field, a noted British anti-bullying activist with his main focus relating to workplace bullying, “Most cases of workplace bullying involve a serial bully, to whom all the dysfunction can be traced. A person who is being bullied may already know, or come to realise that they have a string of predecessors who have either: left unexpectedly or in suspicious circumstances;
have gone on long term sick leave with some sort of psychological problem, and never returned; taken unexpected early or ill-health retirement, have been involved in a grievance or disciplinary or legal action; have had stress breakdowns; have been over-zealously disciplined for some trivial or non-existent reason.” (Field) 3 – Who are the bullies and who are the targets? (Profiles) Bullies According to the 2014 WBI U.S. Workplace Bullying Survey: February 2014, although bullies were less likely to be women than men (31% vs. 69%), women bullies were more likely (68% of the cases) to bully other women rather than men. In the Workplace Bullying Surveys, the percentages were similarly disproportionately high for women bullies. The Workplace Bullying Survey question asked respondents to identify the gender of the bullies and targets in situations with which they were familiar. (Namie, Christensen, & Phillips, 2014 WBI U.S. Workplace Bullying Survey, 2014)
Figure 3.1 – Bullies by Gender
(Namie, Christensen, & Phillips, 2014 WBI U.S. Workplace Bullying Survey, 2014) In his article, Introduction of the Serial Bully, Tim Field asserts that bullies share characteristics, including: “Plausible Charisma, Charm and Empathy
Most workplace harassment and mistreatment (80%) is completely legal. Remarkably, a hostile work environment is actionable (illegal) only in very few situations. Bullying is not only tolerated in business, it is often seen as necessary. Lawmakers are reluctant to pass laws that reign in unfettered workplace violence resulting in psychological injury. (WBI – the Workplace Bullying Institute, 2014) Employers react to laws with internal policies. According to the WBI Healthy Workplace Bill, the value of an anti-bullying law is to get employers to prevent bullying with policies and procedures that apply to all employees. The WBI Healthy Workplace Bill, crafted by law professor David Yamada for the Healthy Workplace Campaign, provides incentives for employers to address workplace bullying by avoiding expensive litigation. (Hyman, 2014)
Employers Don’t Know How to Stop Bullies
Respondents of the Workplace Bullying Survey were clear that employers fail to appropriately react to abusive conduct much more frequently than they take positive steps to eliminate bullying. Denial and discounting were the most common reactions by employers. (Namie, Christensen, & Phillips, 2014 WBI U.S. Workplace Bullying Survey, 2014)
Figure 6.1: Employers Reaction to Bullying
(Namie, Christensen, & Phillips, 2014 WBI U.S. Workplace Bullying Survey, 2014) Bullying Is Underreported
According to the 2014 Workplace Bullying Survey, forty percent (40%) of targets never tell their employers that they are being bullied. (Namie, Christensen, & Phillips, 2014 WBI U.S. Workplace Bullying Survey, 2014) Bullying can also be erroneously branded as “conflict” or a mere “difference in personality styles.” Although both are statements are true, bullying is also a form of violence, which puts it into a different category. Overly simplistic labels can minimize the impact of bullying on both the targets and the organization. (WBI – the Workplace Bullying Institute, 2014) 7 –
Recommended Actions – Targets and Employers
Employees who are or have been victims of workplace bullying should realize that it is not their fault that they are being bullied. If they are suffering negative effects from the bullying they should seek help from a doctor or counselor and, if the bullying is ongoing, from a career advisor who can help them plan a job or career change. (Workplace Bullying, 2014) Until there are formal policies or laws in place, as is indicated in Figure 6.1, it could be difficult to challenge the bullying, depending on the corporate culture and the position and influence of the bully.
Because workplace bullying can be devastating to employees and companies, some companies have instituted zero-tolerance policies toward workplace bullying. In these companies, if an employee is being bullied he or she needs to document the bullying and present the problem to the proper person in the company, usually someone in human resources or upper management. Companies with good anti-bullying policies usually hold meetings from time to time to remind employees what workplace bullying is, how to report it, and the consequences for bullying. (Einarsen, Hoel, Zapf, & Cary, 2011) There are some companies that encourage a company culture of workplace bullying.
Usually companies do not purposefully support bullying, but they may develop a problem with it either through not taking workplace bullying seriously or by developing the habit of placing blame and fault finding instead of solving problems. In these companies, employees who make a case against bullies may find that the bullying only gets worse. In this situation, employees often have to either make the best of the situation or find different employment. (Einarsen, Hoel, Zapf, & Cary, 2011)
8 – Summary
Although there is still no law against workplace bullying, there are ethical and bottom-line reasons to encourage employers to proactively search out and end workplace bullying including increased productivity, and morale of the targets and those effected as witnesses. With the growing number of people being targeted and the trends to address the issue, it seems to be only a matter of time until laws against workplace bullying are enacted. Once employers start to enact formal policies and procedures condemning workplace bullying, then bullies will know the consequences of their actions and some may stop; and targets should have an incentive to report instances of bullying. Human resource departments will then have formal policies and processes to deal with the reported bullying cases.
WBI – the Workplace Bullying Institute. (2014, May 15). Retrieved from Workplace Bullying Institute: http://www.workplacebullying.org/wbiresearch/ Workplace Bullying. (2014, May 19). Retrieved from Bullying Statistics: http://www.bullyingstatistics.org/content/workplace-bullying.html Einarsen, S., Hoel, H., Zapf, D., & Cary, C. (2011). Bullying and Harassment in the Workplace: Developments in Theory, Research, and Practice. Boca Raton: Taylor and Francis Group, LLC. Field, T. (n.d.). Introduction to the Serial Bully. Retrieved from Bullyonline.com: http://bullyonline.org/workbully/serial_introduction.htm Futterman, S., & Paroutaud, F. (2004). WHEN YOU WORK FOR A BULLY: Assessing Your Options and Taking Action. Montvale: Croce Publishing Group, LLC. Grasz, J. (2012, August 12). CareerBuilder Study Finds More Workers Feeling Bullied in the Workplace. Retrieved from Career Builder: http://www.careerbuilder.com/share/aboutus/pressreleasesdetail.aspx?sd=8%2F29%2F2012&id=pr713&ed=12%2F31%2F2012 Hyman, J. (2014, April 3). If You Don’t Want Anti-Bullying Legislation, Give Me a ‘Hell Yeah!’. Retrieved from Workforce: http://www.workforce.com/blogs/3-the-practical-employer/post/20377-if-you-dont-want-anti-bullying-legislation-give-me-a-hell-yeah Klein, K. E. (2008, May 7). Employers Can’t Ignore Workplace Bullies. Retrieved from Business Week: http://www.businessweek.com/smallbiz/content/may2008/sb2008057_530667.htm Namie, G. (2003, November / December). WORKPLACE BULLYING: ESCALATED INCIVILITY. Retrieved from Ivey Business Journal: http://iveybusinessjournal.com/topics/the-workplace/workplace-bullying-escalated-incivility Namie, G. (2011). The Bully-Free Workplace: Stop Jerks, Weasels, and Snakes From Killing Your Organization. Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Namie, G., Christensen, D., & Phillips, D. (2014). 2014 WBI U.S. Workplace Bullying Survey. Workplace Bullying Institute.