2014 WBI U.S. Workplace Bullying Survey
National Prevalence & Awareness
Gender of Perpetrators & Targets
Stopping the Bullying
Support for a Law
About Bullied Targets
Funding by 93 Indiegogo Contributors and major support from
Namie, PhD, Research Director
Assistance from Daniel Christensen & David Phillips
© 2014, Workplace Bullying
Institute, All rights reserved.
Prevalence & Awareness
27% of Americans have suffered abusive conduct at work
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.
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?
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.
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 is72% 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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
it: Necessary for a competitive organization
Defend it: When offenders are executives and managers
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.
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
the perpetrator: ended relationships with the target/victim
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.
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
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
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
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
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
Personality flaw of the target/victim
Work related skill deficiencies of the perpetrator
flaw of the perpetrator
Work conditions that encourage abusive conduct
Perpetrators are not held accountable
Society that supports aggression, abuse and humiliation
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
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
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
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.