October 19, 2015 by Peter Schmidt
Report Details High Cost of Bullying in an Academic
The University of Massachusetts
at Amherst has spent about $78,000 on outside advisers to deal with accusations of bullying in its chemical-engineering department,
yet some faculty members there see the conflict as far from resolved, according to The Boston Globe.
The newspaper describes the
department’s strife as having begun several years ago and as continuing despite the university’s expenditure of
a separate $98,000 last year on bullying-prevention training for all of its employees. That training was part of an exceptionally
ambitious and comprehensive anti-bullying campaign mounted by the university’s administration and employee unions.
As described in detail by The Chronicle, the campaign assumed workplace bullies could be taught not to treat others
badly — an idea debated by behavioral experts — but also provided for the disciplining of employees found to have
who have been disciplined by the Amherst administration in connection with the chemical-engineering department’s strife
are regarded by some there not as bullies but as people who sought to expose the bullying problem, according to the Globe.
Of the $78,000 the Amherst campus spent to try to resolve the department’s problems, it paid $17,000 to
an investigator whose impartiality was questioned and who ended up destroying his notes without ever issuing a report on his
findings, the newspaper says. Some $61,000, it says, went to an outside mediator who spent 32 days trying to resolve the department’s
strife, which involved accusations of “screaming at faculty meetings, a rigged department election, vindictive annual
reviews, and an attempt to block a tenure bid.
By Nick Otto October 20, 2015
Workplace bullying costly, often unnoticed
Biff, the bully
from the Back to the Future movies, is in every way an iconic symbol of the big, bad bully some teens dealt with in school.
For employers, the workplace bully can just as easily be receptionist Sally, and she may very well be costing the company
thousands of dollars.
Workplace bullying happens frequently but many HR managers may
be in the dark. About one-in-three (35%) of employees admitted they've had an office bully and more than one-quarter of HR
managers say they think workplace bullying happens at least somewhat often at their company, according to recent research
from the staffing firm OfficeTeam.
“Bullying can cost a company tens of
thousands of dollars each year due to absenteeism, presenteeism and lost productivity, stress-related issues, and more,”
says Bert Alicea, a licensed psychologist and vice president of EAP and work/life services at Health Advocate. “When
employees are distracted or upset due to bullying, they are not able to perform at their best, so bullying causes companies
to lose potential income while negatively impacting employee morale.”
addition to lost productivity, low employee morale and a toxic company culture, office bullying can lead to higher turnover
– increasing money spent on recruiting and training new talent. “And if the bully remains employed with the company
while a high-performer departs, there is a high likelihood that the cycle will continue repeating,” says Alicea.
According to similar research released earlier this year from the Workplace Bullying
Institute, 37 million U.S. workers reported being subjected to “abusive conduct.”
Some employers implement separate training for both supervisors and employees. “By making sure that managers can
quickly identify potential issues and take steps to respond and intervene early on, it’s possible to protect employees
and stop the behavior,” says Alicea.
Having a solid procedure in place, and adequate
upfront training, is imperative to make sure bullying problems are nipped in the bud.
Training for all employees is “essential,” Alicea notes. And during training, encourage employees to report
incidents as soon as possible so situations can be handled within an appropriate time frame, he adds.
A written complaint form is also essential to document the incident and protect all involved, he says, while advising
employers to have, if possible, several neutral people employees can report to. At a minimum, this form should include:
- A place to note the names of those involved.
- The place and time of the
- An explanation of what happened.
Also, he adds, be
sure to have an option for anonymous reporting. While harder to investigate and verify, bystander intervention is “critical”
he says, as 40% of victims do not report bullying.
Who is the bully?
According to the WBI study, conducted every three to four years, the vast majority
of bullies are men (69%). Male perpetrators seem to prefer targeting women (57%) more than other men (43%).
Female bullies were less “equitable” when choosing their targets for bullying, the study notes. Women bullied
other women in 68% of cases.
“For employees, bullying frequently takes place via
social media, email and other online communications,” says Alicea. “Because of this, employers are introducing
specific training to combat cyber-bullying and raise awareness of appropriate online etiquette.”
Another benefit of providing anti-bullying training is it can also offer some legal protection for organizations if an
employee files a lawsuit due bullying, he says.
“Training also ensures that all
supervisors and employees fully understand the reporting procedures involved should an incident of bullying take place,”
he adds. “This will help employers’ HR departments investigate and resolve issues more efficiently.”
Daniel Weintraub: Where you work can be bad for your healthOCTOBER 12, 2015
It has long been known that health and life expectancy are correlated with education levels.
The more education you have, the longer you are likely to live. But no one knows exactly why that relationship exists.
research points to part of the answer: People with less education are more likely to work in jobs that make them sick.
might seem obvious, but until now it was a hunch that had never been quantified. The latest findings could help employers
and policymakers shrink the health gap among people with different levels of education.
Researchers at Harvard and
Stanford universities, in a paper published in the journal Health Affairs, gathered data on education levels, workplace stresses, deaths and life expectancy. Then they looked for connections among
They concluded that, for every ethnic group and gender, the workplace contributed more to annual mortality for
people with less education than for people with more schooling.
For non-Hispanic white males, for example, the workplace contributed
to about 5 percent of annual deaths for those with a graduate school education, 9 percent for men with at least some college,
and 13 percent for males with a high school education or less.
The gap was even greater for Hispanic men. Workplace issues
accounted for 6.2 percent of the deaths of those with a graduate education compared to 19 percent for Hispanic men with a
high school education or less.
“People are being sorted into different jobs with different levels of stress based on
their education,” Joel Goh, an assistant professor at the Harvard Business School and the lead author on the paper,
said in an interview. “That stress can account for a fair amount of the disparities we see in health.”
The most influential
workplace factor, the researchers found, was a lack of health insurance. That connection makes sense, since we know that health
is often linked to access to health care.
But while health insurance is good to have, the other workplace factors the
researchers studied demonstrate that things we don’t always associate with health can also have a major impact.
with less education, for example, often work in jobs that place higher demands on them while offering low levels of social
support. They have less job security and are thus more likely to be laid off and unemployed. And the poorly educated must
deal more often with a crucial factor that can be nearly as influential as a lack of health insurance: little control over
That’s an issue health experts have pondered since the Whitehall Studies, begun in 1967, showed that the
health of employees in the British civil service declined with each rung down the organizational chart, even though all of
the workers had access to the same health care through England’s system of socialized medicine. Researchers suspected
that one reason for the disparity was that a lack of control over their jobs left lower-level workers more stressed, depressed
and discouraged – burdens that eventually showed up in their health.
Goh believes that a similar study of workers’
health over time could help tease out more data about the workplace conditions that contribute to poor health and early death.
the meantime, legislators, employers and unions would do well to examine his research for clues about workplace policies that
contribute to ill health, and those practices that might help poorly educated workers in low-paying jobs live longer and healthier
News: National Bullying Prevention Month: Workplace Bullying
Marine Corps Logistics Base Barstow
Story by Cynthia McIntyre
“Workplace violence: Any act of violent behavior, threats of physical
violence, harassment, intimidation, bullying, verbal or non-verbal threat, or other threatening, disruptive behavior that
occurs at or outside the work site.” – DoDI 1438.06, Jan. 16, 2014
BARSTOW, Calif. - Bullies
have been a fact of life for many, and it doesn’t help that many bullies are considered popular or likeable, even by
supervisors who look the other way and blame the abusive behavior on “personality differences.”
Workplace Bullying Institute (www.WorkplaceBullying.org) states that bullying “is abusive conduct that is threatening,
humiliating, or intimidating; sabotage which prevents work from getting done, or verbal abuse.”
percent of the targets of bullying lost their jobs, only 15 percent of the bullies did. A WBI survey also found that three-quarters
of employers “deny, discount, encourage, rationalize, or defend” bullying.
Characteristics of workplace
- Bullies enjoy feeling powerful, especially when the target doesn’t speak up.
-Bullies are threatened
by the potential success of others, and don’t want their target to outshine them or reveal their shortcomings. They
may downplay or deny the target’s accomplishments, take credit for the work of others, and intimidate with insults and
verbal put downs.
- They may engage in direct harmful action or covert sabotage, such as withholding resources necessary
to do one’s job. Bullying may also escalate to involve others who side with the bully, and they may be encouraged to
stop working, talking, or socializing with the target. These actions jeopardize the mission when bullies’ personal
agendas take precedence over work itself.
- Who is the target? Generally it’s someone who poses a threat to the
perpetrator, whether real or imagined. The WBI study “confirmed that targets appear to be the veteran and most skilled
person in the workgroup.”
The website continues, “Targets are independent. They refuse to be subservient.
When targets take steps to preserve their dignity, their right to be treated with respect, bullies escalate their campaigns
of hatred and intimidation to wrest control of the target’s work. Targets are often those who have ‘a desire to
help, heal, teach, develop and nurture others.”
Many targets seek counseling for the emotional damage they
suffer. “Abuse fosters anxiety, clinical depression and, often posttraumatic stress,” states the WBI. “Belief
in one’s competency has been shattered. The lies told about targets can lead to undeserved self-blame.”
Often, bullies are liked by their bosses and are rewarded for their behavior instead of being punished. “Bullies must
experience negative consequences for harming others. Punishment must replace promotions.”
is the boss who is responsible for workplace bullying. “They put people in harm’s way and they can provide safety
by undoing the culture which may have inadvertently allowed bullying to flourish,” states the WBI.
insult to injury, complaints can result in retaliation or reprisal, such as taking away rights or status.
bullying is only illegal if it can be defined as harassment.
According to the U. S. Equal Employment Opportunity
Commission, “Harassment is unwelcome conduct that is based on race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national
origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information. Harassment becomes unlawful where 1) enduring the offensive
conduct becomes a condition of continued employment, or 2) the conduct is severe or pervasive enough to create a work environment
that a reasonable person would consider intimidating, hostile, or abusive.”
Dealing with workplace bullies:
*Stay calm and rational to diffuse the situation.
*Don’t blame yourself. It’s not about you; it’s
about the bully.
*Do your best work – the bully’s behavior will seem more justified if you aren’t
doing your best work.
*Build a support network and seek help through the Department of the Navy Civilian Employee Assistance
Program. DONCEAP will pay for a private counselor who will keep your conversations confidential.
but don’t leave it in the office. Write down what happened and who witnessed it. Keep emails and notes. Educate yourself
about workplace law.
*Do your best to manage the situation. You may need to seek employment elsewhere, or be prepared
for a difficult fight with the bully and your employer.
For more information:
news of the workplace anti-bullying movement to the nation’s capital
Honored at ADA Annual Banquet yesterday:
U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown (OH), U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro (CT), and yours truly
night I received the Winn Newman Equality Award for my scholarship and advocacy on workplace bullying and workers’ rights at
the annual awards banquet of Americans for Democratic Action in Washington D.C. I was one of three featured honorees, joining U.S.
Senator Sherrod Brown (Ohio) and U.S. Representative Rosa DeLauro (Connecticut).
is a venerable political and policy advocacy organization that has long championed workers’ rights and interests.
I was on its national board for many years and served a term as its board chair.
night’s event gave me an opportunity to share with a well-networked D.C. audience the work we have been doing in
various states to make the anti-bullying Healthy Workplace Bill a reality. It appeared that my remarks were informative and
well-received. We also were treated to wonderful speeches by Senator Brown and Representative DeLauro, whose support
of working people in this country is second to none.
I was joined at my table by a
group of dear friends, many of whom have been active in workers’ rights and workplace anti-bullying efforts for years,
including Gary Namie of the Workplace Bullying Institute and Greg Sorozan of the National Association of Government Employees.
The dinner also gave me a chance to reconnect with friends from ADA. In fact, I’m pleased to report that I’ll
be rejoining the ADA board as an at-large member.
https://newworkplace.wordpress.com/2015/07/22/healthy-workplace-bill-courage-prevails-at-massachusetts-state-house-hearing/ July 22, 2015
The New Workplace Institute Blog, hosted by David Yamada
Healthy Workplace Bill: Courage prevails at
Massachusetts State House hearing
Supporters of the anti-bullying Healthy Workplace
Bill (HWB) gathered yesterday at the Massachusetts State House for a legislative hearing to voice our support for this badly
needed legislation. While the immediate fate of the HWB in Massachusetts (designated as House Bill 1771 in the current session)
remains a work in progress, those who shared their stories with legislators and who appeared at the State House to offer support
were the clear winners of the day. When this bill becomes law, their courage will be among the primary reasons for that success.
occasion for this testimony was a legislative hearing hosted by the Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development, the
committee to which the HWB has been assigned. Our goal is to persuade the Committee to give the HWB a favorable report, a
critically important step toward eventual floor votes in the House of Representatives and Senate and, then, presentation
of the bill to the Governor.
I testified on a panel with Greg Sorozan,
co-director of the Massachusetts Healthy Workplace Advocates and a local president for the National Association of Government
Employees (NAGE), and Torii Bottomley, a public school teacher who experienced horrific, ongoing retaliatory bullying and
lost her job as a final result. Torii, who has gone public with her story, shared her account of how an outstanding, dedicated educator can be targeted for extinction because she stood up for the
best interests of her students.
Many other individuals also testified, and
they shared similar stories of terrible workplace abuse that often drove them out of their workplaces and sometimes their
careers. I’ve opted not to share their names here because, unlike Torii, they have not gone as public with their stories,
but let me attest that each one of them exhibited great courage in coming forth to ask the legislators to pass this law.
In addition, others who have experienced workplace bullying joined us to provide moral support.
Their presence made a big difference.
I do not use the term courage lightly here. To
share one’s story of abusive treatment in a public setting, and then to sit and listen to similar stories over and again,
is an act of bravery. Even for those who didn’t testify, being present to lend support required a lot of fortitude.
Ready to play ball
part in this hearing was a comparatively minor one. As the author of the HWB, I reiterated to Committee members our desire
to answer questions, criticisms, and concerns about the legislation, and to work with them in any way we can.
This is the third full session in which we have filed the bill, and as long-time readers know, we have amassed growing support for it inside the State House. Legislative advocacy is a game for the restlessly patient, and for me, the restless side
is manifesting itself. Most major legislation requires several sessions before it becomes viable. We’re at the point
now, and I want to see some results.
Our wonderful, long-time lead sponsor, Rep. Ellen Story, testified on behalf of the HWB, and her
chief assistant Brad Dye spent several hours talking to and offering advice to those who were there on behalf of the
Members of the Committee who sat through a very long hearing
day that stretched into the early evening deserve our thanks. Co-Chairs Sen. Daniel Wolf and Rep. John Scibak showed great
attention, patience, and respect to those who testified on all the bills before the Committee, including ours. I also appreciated
words of support from Representative and committee member Danielle Gregoire, who several moons ago was one of my students at
Suffolk University Law School while she worked as a legislative staffer.
Massachusetts Healthy Workplace Advocates
To learn more about advocacy efforts in support of the Healthy Workplace Bill in Massachusetts, go to the campaign’s website or Facebook page.
For more about the national campaign to enact the Healthy Workplace
Bill, go here.
April 12th, 2015
Minnesota Union and State collaboratively create Workplace
Minnesota leap frogs Tennessee with respect to having a state policy to thwart workplace bullying. First a bit of background.
In 2014, Tennessee passed a law (Public Chapter 997) that assigned policy writing to a state commission (TACIR)
comprised of elected officials with technical support from WBI-affiliated professionals. The group did produce a model policy. However, several lawmakers refused to allow the policy’s implementation.
The workplace psychological safety of public employees in that right-to-work state remains unresolved, treated as a political
the first state to implement a workplace bullying policy is Minnesota. The successful story begins with the state employees
union MAPE (Minnesota Association of Professional Employees) becoming aware of bullying-related problems for members in January 2012.
Discussions of bullying surfaced in contract bargaining sessions. In February 2013, some bullying managers were removed in
partnership with the union. Education accelerated in May 2013 when MAPE held a seminar for stewards with lessons gleaned from
a public session sponsored by the Minneapolis Bar Association at which Dr. Gary Namie spoke.
By August 2013, MAPE had produced videos of their bullying experiences. In September, results of a membership survey
revealed that 1 out of 4 members were either directly bullied or they had witnessed it. State. The state Department of Human
Services Commissioner, Lucinda Jesson, signed an anti-bullying petition to ensure safe, retaliation-free reporting of bullying.
Representatives of the state department Minnesota
Management & Budget and MAPE leaders form a task force to develop the statewide workplace bullying policy. On April 10, 2015, the collaboratively created policy for state workers was released — The Respectful Workplace Policy
Features of the policy:
is defined as “Behavior or communication that demonstrates positive consideration and
treats individuals in a manner that a reasonable person would find appropriate. WBI: This
eliminates from appropriateness negative conduct.
• “This policy solely addresses communications and behavior that do not involve
protected class status.”WBI: This plugs the hole in nondiscrimination laws and policies which are typical of
bullying (same-gender, same-race incidents). It explictly differentiates itself from sexual harassment and other forms of
illegal discrimination covered by other policies.
• There are four employee responsibilities articulated. Two of the more important ones
are (1) (to) “Participate fully and in good faith in any informal resolution process or formal complaint and investigative
process for which they may have relevant information” WBI: this
is directed at silent coworkers who are historically too fearful to intervene or provide known information, and to (2) “Report
incidents that may violate this policy.”
• Managerial responsibilities include: (1) informing all employees about the policy,
(2) maintaining compliance, and (3) take timely action on reported bullying WBI: which
effectively should eliminate the supervisors’ excuse to not take action when bullying is reported to them by saying
“work it out between yourselves,”
• A unique feature of the policy is that if managers fail to comply with the policy or
fail to act appropriately, they face discipline up to and including termination.
• Retaliation is prohibited against complainants, witnesses
or anyone involved with investigations. WBI:This will be tested regularly. Fear of retaliation is
the reason that witnesses do not help with investigations. Under threat of discipline, witnesses must now participate. However,
if retaliation persists, the person retaliating should be terminated. It is the only way to reduce the threat. Once the process
is proven to be safe, the silence surrounding bullying will be shattered.
• There is a section in the policy declaring several activities that are not
violations: performance reviews, work direction, performance management, and disciplinary action provided they are conducted
in a respectful, professional manner; Disagreements, misunderstandings, miscommunication or conflict situations where the
behavior remains professional and respectful.
• “Unintentionally disrespectful and/or unprofessional behavior may still violate
this policy.” A short list of illustrative examples is given. WBI: This
is an incredibly wise statement. Intentions or motives are too hard to prove. Perpetrators are rarely aware of the underlying
reason for their destructive actions.
• One of the illustrations of policy violation is “Use of this policy and procedure to make knowingly false
complaint(s).” WBI: Again a wise inclusion. Bullies are the first to attempt to use the policy.
They want the employer to consider them victims. Then, if a target reacts, always much too late and much too ineffectively, the bully claims retaliation for filing the complaint.
• Informal resolution steps outlined include mediation, but it is not mandated
thankfully. There is some care taken to acknowledge that contacting supervisors who may be the perpetrators is not a safe
thing to do. The mere inclusion of Informal Resolution is an improvement on nearly every policy written today.
• The terms “timely, fair
and objective” precede all informal and formal complaint steps. WBI: Deadlines
define reasonable timeliness. This section of the policy is prone to misuse and distortion. It appears that complaint handling,
as now practiced, is sufficient. But we have to remember this policy and set of procedures is a negotiated product of management
From the news release about the Policy …
Kathy Fodness, a business agent for MAPE, said the policy acknowledges
that a problem exists and spells out steps that state workers can take to have any concerns addressed. “We’re
excited about this,” she said, “because we, for the first time, feel like there is a partnership between the state
of Minnesota and the public sector unions, both in recognizing this and eradicating it.”
Among those who served on MAPE’s workplace
bullying task force is psychologist Randy Wills, who says he experienced a hostile work environment at the CARE St. Peter
chemical dependency program. “It greatly affected productivity, staff morale, absenteeism – and then, you know,
ultimately that doesn’t channel into the best quality of care for the clients,” he said. “And so hopefully,
this is going to lead to a better workforce and just better employees.”
While Fodness called it a major step in the right direction, she
noted that MAPE will continue to press to ensure that Minnesota’s state workplaces are professional and respectful.
“We have uncovered some pretty egregious situations, and we need to make sure that our members are treated justly and
fairly, even under this new policy,” she said. “So, we’re going to be even more involved in making sure
that work environments do become and remain healthy.”
According to a 2014 survey from the Workplace Bullying Institute, more than one in four workers in the United States reports being bullied by a coworker or boss.
MAPE has created Regional Leads to ensure
the state managers’ compliance with the new policy. In May 2015, those Regional Leads, the union’s policy implementation
monitors receive additional training.
The MAPE-MMB collaboration is a model for other unions and state agencies to emulate. But more important is the record
of action that MAPE took when they realized the their members were being harmed simply because they worked for the state.
More unions need to experience a sense of righteous indignation and return to the model of unions as advocates for employees.
MAPE is extraordinary
and deserves much credit.______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Unemployed at midlife, “faking normal”…and sometimes bullied, too
Next Avenue.org (Photo: DY)
In a plaintive commentary posted on Next Avenue earlier this year, Lizzy White writes about professional, middle-aged women who have lost their jobs and are struggling to make ends meet as they search
You know her.
is in your friendship circle, hidden in plain sight.
55, broke and tired of trying to keep up appearances. Faking normal is wearing her out.
To look at her, you wouldn’t know that her electricity was cut off last week for non-payment or that she meets
the eligibility requirements for food stamps. Her clothes are still impeccable, bought in the good times when she was still
To be sure, the effects of the economic meltdown that began
some seven years ago continue to be felt by men and women in almost every income level and vocational category. But those
of my generation (late Boomers in their 50s), and notably unmarried women within that group, have felt its impact especially
hard, with livelihoods and careers interrupted or ended at what should be periods of peak earning potential. White continues:
She lives without cable, a gym membership and nail appointments. She’s discovered she can do her own hair.
There are no retirement savings, no nest egg; she exhausted that long ago.
There is no expensive condo from which to draw equity and no husband to back her up.
Months of slow pay and no pay have decimated her credit. Bill collectors call constantly, reading verbatim from
a script, expressing polite sympathy for her plight — before demanding payment arrangements that she can’t possibly
White provides more facts and figures to document the income disparities and
disproportionate caregiving responsibilities that often put women in a less advantaged position than their male counterparts. It’s
an important piece, and the comments posted below it are worth reading as well, including those who rightly point out that
middle-aged men who have experienced job losses are facing these circumstances, too.
This topic intersects with workplace bullying, because middle-aged
workers endure a lot of it. When work abuse culminates in their termination or departure, they often face multi-level challenges
in trying to pull themselves together and obtain new employment.
Two years ago, I summarized Workplace Bullying Institute instant poll results showing that workers in the 40s and 50s are frequent bullying targets. The
poll asked visitors to the WBI website who have experienced workplace bullying to respond to a single question, “How
old were you when the bullying at work began?” WBI collected 663 responses and reported the following:
The average age was 41.9 years. Targets in their 40’s comprised 30% of all targets; in their 50’s were
26.4%; under 30 years of age were 21.3%; those in their 30’s were 18.9%. The prime productive years are also the prime
years for being [targeted] for bullying.
Five years ago, I suggested that unmarried women may be specially vulnerable to being bullied at work, especially if they have kids:
Let’s start with the observation that truly abusive bullies
often have a knack for sniffing out vulnerable individuals. Then we look at potential targets: Demographically speaking, is
there any group more vulnerable than single women raising kids? They already are juggling work and caregiving, their schedules
seem timed down to the minute, and not infrequently they are struggling financially — especially if there is no father
in the picture.
Unmarried women without children may not be as economically
desperate to hold onto their jobs, but they can be very vulnerable as well. Women in general remain underpaid compared to
male counterparts. Those who came out of busted marriages may have re-entered the workforce later in life. In any event, they
are less likely to have someone to fall back on if bullied out of a job.
the years, I’ve encountered many women in their 50s who have been bullied out of their jobs and then face the daunting
challenges of recovering from the experience in terms of psychological well-being, employment, and personal finances.
For those individuals, “faking normal” may require wearing a mask that feels like a heavy weight, in addition
to carrying the burdens of their situations generally.
This makes for pretty unpleasant and unsettling reading, especially
if you’re on the north side of 50. These challenges are hitting my generation of late Boomers especially hard.
Decades ago, many of us entered the workforce in the heart of a severe recession. At the same time,
employers were cutting back or eliminating pensions and other benefit plans. For those going to school, loans were supplanting
need-based grants and scholarships as the primary form of financial aid.
this group has experienced an even more severe economic downturn during the heart of what should be its peak earning years.
It distresses me greatly that we have not summoned the collective will to make this a major political
and public policy issue. What will it take to make it so?
This Time, It’s Personal
Will legislation to protect employees from workplace bullying
stifle demanding managers?
Mar 31, 2015
Carrie Clark, 63, says bullies aren’t confined to playgrounds. Sometimes,
they run the whole school.
In 1995, Clark directed an English as a Second Language program in West Sacramento’s
Washington Unified School District. An influx of foreign students was forcing her staff to work ever-longer hours. She wrote
several reports to the district superintendent documenting the extra load and asking for more help. She got no response, she
says. So her teachers union representative suggested she put together a petition signed by program staff.
That got a
reaction, but not the one she wanted. The superintendent took Clark off of the school’s committee of department chairs
and canceled and consolidated classes. Clark says he called her house and left an odd, garbled message, and one day after
a meeting, he followed her into an empty hallway. Towering over her, his face a foot from hers, he screamed that he wanted
“no more petitions!”
Scared, Clark quit a few weeks later. She developed tremors in her right side, which
she still has, started having heart palpitations and couldn’t sleep. Today, when she talks about what happened, her
speech slows to a crawl and her voice quavers like a warped record. A Sacramento occupational medicine specialist diagnosed
her with a post-traumatic stress disorder related to her job. After a 20-year teaching career, she’d never set foot
in a classroom again. In 2002, she won a $150,000 workers’ compensation claim against the district.
evidence that the superintendent targeted others who crossed him. He took a job in a district near Yuba City, and in January
1999 the teachers association president there told The Valley Mirror that the superintendent verbally threatened her and that
she’d asked a court for a restraining order. She also told a reporter that she was having panic attacks for the first
time in her life. (The superintendent, now retired, keeps an unlisted phone number and didn’t respond to a certified
letter sent to his address requesting an interview.)
No state offers workers legal protections against intimidation
on the job, but advocates around the country have turned up the heat and are demanding new laws. But critics say legislation
would stifle managers and open the floodgates to lawsuits. All sides agree that if businesses ignore the issue, new legislation
could well force them to change.
The Push for a Healthy Workplace
Bullies do more than demand
that work get done. They threaten, humiliate or intimidate for reasons unrelated to job performance. The Society for Human
Resource Management, which represents human resource professionals nationally, describes workplace bullying as a pattern of
behaviors that include persistently singling out someone for criticism, shouting in private or public, slinging personal insults,
ignoring or interrupting people in meetings or assigning menial tasks that aren’t part of an employee’s normal
If recent polls are any guide, many organizations tolerate such behaviors. In a 2011 SHRM survey of
400 randomly selected human resource professionals, more than a quarter reported having been bullied themselves at work, 73
percent said they’d seen verbal abuse on the job and 5 percent said they’d seen physical assaults. In a Zogby
poll that last year asked 1,000 randomly selected people whether they’d ever experienced a pattern of “abusive
conduct” at work, more than a quarter said they had. Another Zogby poll of 315 U.S. business leaders in 2013 reported
that 170 of them identified workplace bullying as “a serious problem.” Both polls were commissioned by the nonprofit
Workplace Bullying Institute, which trains organizations and in 2011 began a campaign to promote anti-bullying laws nationwide.
Their proposed Healthy Workplace Bill was first introducted in California in 2003.
Bullying hurts businesses and workers alike. Companies with ruffians have higher absenteeism and turnover,
decreased morale, diminished trust among coworkers and lower productivity, according to a host of studies. Workers who are
targeted experience a range of negative health outcomes, including sleeping problems, emotional exhaustion, PTSD, hypertension
and autoimmune disorders. Most targets end up leaving their jobs; WBI research indicates that 80 percent end up quitting,
getting fired or being transferred.
“Other forms of mistreatment, like child abuse and domestic violence, are
societal taboos now,” says WBI founder Gary Namie, a social psychologist and author of two books on the topic. “This
is the last form of abuse that society tolerates.”
As advocates have come forward to demand protection, workplace
bullying has become the hottest area of employment law. Variations of the WBI’s Healthy Workplace Bill have been introduced
in 28 states, though no legislature has yet enacted one. Such a bill would allow targets to sue perpetrators and, in some
cases, their companies. At least 80 California cities and towns issued proclamations last October declaring a “Freedom
From Workplace Bullies Week.” Several countries, including England, Sweden, Australia, France, Canada and Germany, already
have laws banning workplace oppression.
Last September, California became the first state to require employers to train
their workers on the problem. As of January, all companies with 50 or more employees must include information on preventing
“abusive conduct” in their biannual sexual harassment trainings.
The new law, Assembly Bill 2053, offers
no remedy to targeted employees, and Namie says it’s not a substitute for the Healthy Workplace Bill. But it could be
an opening. Amelya Stevenson, president of human resource consulting firm e-VentExe in Granite Bay, is confident stronger
state legislation will pass in a year or two.
Skeptics argue that trying to outlaw
bullying won’t work. Michael Kalt, government affairs director for CalSHRM, the state SHRM chapter, doesn’t dispute
the seriousness of the problem. But too much will be in the eyes of the beholder, he claims. “What if a boss yells at
his employees when there’s a deadline? Some might consider that stern. What about micromanaging? Some would call that
just great attention to detail. Can you discipline an employee for making mistakes?” Kalt asks.
that none of those examples would be enough to subject an employer to a lawsuit under the Healthy Workplace Bill. The bill’s
language exempts any action an employer takes as a result of documented poor performance or misconduct by an employee. Still,
Kalt claims it would unleash a torrent of lawsuits.
“There are lots of wiggle words that could end up in legislation,” says Kalt. “And then
we’ll spend years litigating what those mean.” Training like that required by AB 2053 will help employers change
their work cultures, he argues.
But Stevenson says most companies aren’t paying attention to the issue. None of
her clients have asked her to help them develop an anti-bullying policy. Employers are waiting for guidance from lawmakers
on what needs to go into such a policy, she says: “When the law explains what managers can and can’t do, that
will help HR managers [craft a policy]. That’s what tends to happen,” she says.
Getting Ahead of
Kalt wants companies to go beyond AB 2053’s requirements to preempt a stronger law. At
a minimum, businesses should be updating their codes of conduct to proscribe bullying and train supervisors on the new rules,
he says. They also should create complaint procedures, ensure that employees know about them, and start disciplining offenders
based on the new policy.
One manager has made stopping bullies a top priority in her organization. Ann Wrixon saw plenty
of managers bully staff when she worked in Silicon Valley — it eventually drove her out of the tech field and into social
work. She’s now executive director of the Concord-based non profit Independent Adoption Center.
In 2011, a few
staff told her that malicious gossip was dividing her team. So she pulled together her top managers and with Namie’s
help built an antibullying infrastructure. Today, a dedicated team handles only complaints about workplace abuse. If someone
thinks they’re being targeted, they can talk in confidence to a team member who will approach the accused person to
get their side.
If no resolution results, the team member sits with both parties to discuss solutions. If either still
leaves unsatisfied, the case goes to a higher-level team member, who writes a report that goes to Wrixon for a decision about
appropriate steps. During orientation, new staff get a one-on-one meeting with their managers to discuss the policy and the
The center has had to use the new system for only one bullying case so far. The offender was reprimanded
and later resigned. Wrixon thinks just having a policy and training program prevents malicious behavior from emerging in the
first place. She also says the impacts on employee morale and the work atmosphere have been positive and dramatic —
staff report being happier and are getting more done than before, with little or no gossip.
Of the managers she worked
for in the tech field, she says, “They thought they got brilliant work out of their people, but I always thought they
got brilliant work despite their bullying, not because of it.”
My daughter's boss slapped her face, something no one in her life had done. After a session crying in the bathroom
she went to human resources to report it. The HR response was, "What do you think we can do? He is the president!"
She quit of course, but it was a well-paying job that she really needed.
I am so sorry to hear that.That is assault and should be reported to the police department.As I have read and experienced
HR works for the company not the individual.I know this all to well...
Management in my unit are all peace officers. I have never in my life have been subjected to the outrageous, double
standard, arrogant, and abusive conduct as I am right now. There is no semblance of fairness in the playing field. When it
comes to your rights this regime will do and say whatever they want ultimately denying you justice or the right To file
My bully was a very powerful former dean in the School of Public Health at UCB. She was a serial bully that targeted
individuals in the financial analyst position in her research unit. Her method was to overwork and underpay and to start
fights among the staff--all the while being charming. But she went through at least 9 people that I know of in at least 15
years. The school did nothing to help, and most middle managers at Cal look the other way and are a part of the problem.
The only reason I am being so open about this is that she has passed on (thankfully.) I was never able to get another job
after working for her because she badmouthed me for 9 years after I quit. Even though I went on to get a PhD in organizational
psychology, no one would hire me because of her. Bullies have a variety of tactics at their disposal and there is a range
of behaviors. This is what makes the problem so pervasive and hard to solve.
Utah mandates Abusive Conduct training for state workplaces!
Utah HB 216, sponsored
by Rep. Keven Stratton, sailed through the House and Senate and was signed into law by Gov. Gary Herbert. The training mandate
law drew its definition of abusive conduct from the WBI Healthy Workplace Bill:
“Abusive conduct means verbal, nonverbal, or physical conduct of an employee to another employee
that, based on its severity, nature, and frequency of occurrence, a reasonable person would determine is intended to cause
intimidation, humiliation, or unwarranted distress or results in substantial physical or psychological harm as a result of
intimidation, humiliation, or unwarranted distress; or exploits an employee’s known physical or psychological disability.”
law requires state agencies to train supervisors and employees about how to prevent abusive conduct. Biannual training must
include the definition of abusive conduct, its ramifications, resources available and the employer’s grievance process.
In addition, professional development training will also cover ethical conduct and leadership practices based on principles
of integrity. The law takes effect July 1, 2015.
Trace the bill’s route through the legislative process. WBI thanks the sponsoring Representative, Sen. Ted Weiler who ushered the bill through the Senate, the Governor, and State
Coordinator Denise Halverson and citizen lobbyists who participated in committee hearings.
Utah is the second state
to pass a training-only law to begin to address abusive conduct in the workplace. Utah’s bill is superior to Calfornia’s
training-only bill of 2014.
What To Do About Your Jerk of a Boss Before You Get PTSD
of workers are suffering from anxiety, depression and even PTSD because of bully bosses.
Photo Credit: Photographee.eu/Shutterstock.com
Editor's note: The following is
the latest in a new series of articles on AlterNet called Fear in America that launched this March. Read the introduction to the series.
There’s something dangerous happening to millions of Americans nationwide. It is happening in places
where many people spend at least 40 hours a week. It is causing severe physical and mental illness. It runs off fear and manipulation.
But its victims are not talking it about.
So what is it? Work abuse.
Look around the average American workplace and it’s not too
hard to find. Twenty-seven percent of all adult Americans report experiencing work abuse and an additional 21 percent of Americans
report witnessing it, meaning some 65 million Americans have been affected.
“Anything that affects 65 million Americans is
an epidemic,” said Gary Namie, co-founder of the Workplace Bullying Institute. “But it’s an un-discussable
epidemic because employers don’t want this discussed.”
Not talking about work abuse has, in turn, normalized the violence,
fear and power structure inherent to the phenomenon.
As Namie said, “Work abuse doesn’t shock Americans anymore.”
He continued, “We,
as a society, treat it as domestic violence—we try to rationalize both away. ‘Oh you should have just got up and
left it.’ Really? You’re just going to get up and leave your job and think you’ll find an equivalent? And
you’re a single mom and you can just do that right? Or worse, ‘there must be something about her that provoked
we try to explain away work abuse, its victims are quietly suffering anxiety, depression and even PTSD. In one extreme example,
Carrie Clark, a former teacher and school administrator, developed such severe PTSD she suffered permanent brain damage
that left her with a speech impediment.
“It’s shameful when you’re being targeted at work. It’s such an embarrassment.
That had never happened to me before. I loved working. … I had quite the career,” Clark said of the months she
was targeted by her boss.
As work abuse has become such a widespread employee health epidemic, it’s important to ask: Why is
it so rampant? How can workers survive work abuse? And perhaps most importantly, is there any way for workers to put an end
Bosses Abuse Workers One of the most important things to understand about work abuse is that it’s not
inevitable, but subsists within a culture that supports abusive interaction, says Judith Wyatt, a San Francisco therapist
who, with her husband Chauncey Hare, is the coauthor of Work Abuse: How to Recognize and Survive It.
does not exist except in the context of a work system, a work culture that supports and demands bullying, rewards bullies
and gets something out of bullying, which is an authoritarian, controlling environment,” Wyatt said.
In their book, Wyatt and Hare, who
was a work abuse victim, call the majority of workplaces (95 percent) “authoritarian work organizations.”
places that have, to some degree or another, a slave-to-slave-owner mentality operating,” Wyatt said. “In an authoritarian
work organization, the people at the top have absolute power and they can do whatever they want to the people at the bottom
regardless of the needs of the people at the bottom. We say that we live in a democracy in this country, but [we have] top-down
organizations like that that people belong to everyday.”
These organizations also benefit from an unstable job market that supports
their culture of fear.
“In a culture like the one we’re in now, the whole U.S. culture, jobs are scarce, and because it’s
becoming normative to underpay people and have a job market where there are fewer jobs, it conditions people to feel like,
‘My god, a hundred people could apply to my job tomorrow, I have to accept whatever shit is coming down to me,’”
companies have taken advantage of this fear by artificially creating instability in the workplace. Until 2013, Microsoft enforced a rank-and-yank system in which employees were ranked by performance every year, and the bottom 10 percent were fired.
Despite the fact
that research finds abusive, unstable work environments actually decrease productivity, Wyatt says cognitive dissonance comes
into play, and managers are more concerned about control than efficiency.
“There’s a culture of over-control and authoritarianism
built into managerial school in this country,” Wyatt said. “So the idea is you have to have that power.”
The Workplace Bullying
Institute’s Namie agreed that a lack of appropriate managing skills is one of the causes of work abuse. “There’s
going to be a certain proportion of managers who don’t know an alternative way to manage, and I blame the employer for
that [and] for cutting back on training because it’s very hard to know how to manage well,” Namie said. “Then
there’s another sub-group doing the bidding of someone up higher. Then there’s a portion of the managerial group
that’s just sadistic. They’re narcissistic and sadistic and quite cruel.”
The latter, according to Wyatt, is
the usual case. She said that like many people, bosses and managers have childhood traumas. But certain traumas can make for
disaster when their victims are put in positions of power.
“The usual situation is that they are narcissistically wounded, in a way
where the worker under them doesn’t understand how deep their wounding is,” Wyatt said. “And the worker
doesn’t understand that they are triggering the boss—that the boss is somehow threatened by them. And if a narcissist
is threatened by someone, they go into a rage and want to destroy them.”
Bully Bosses, Their Targets, and the Effects
of Work Abuse
There are two kinds of abuse, according to Wyatt. One is the chronic neglect, over-control and over-work that
occur in nearly every authoritarian work organization. The other is scapegoating, in which the boss has one or more targets
he or she puts in a horrible position.
Bully bosses and their targets cut across all demographics. Namie said people from all
income levels are victims of work abuse. But there are some trends, especially when it comes to gender. According to the Workplace
Bullying Institute’s 2014 national survey, a majority of abusive bosses are male (69 percent), and a majority of their targets are female (57 percent). When bully
bosses are female (31 percent of the time) the majority of their targets are also female (68 percent). When it comes to race,
Hispanics (56.9 percent) are most likely to experience and witness bullying, followed by African Americans (54.1 percent),
Asians (52.8 percent), and whites (44.3 percent).
Namie said bully bosses tend to fall into four categories: The rare, over-the-top
manager who screams at his targets in front of others; the character assassination manager who is out to destroy his targets’
reputations; the withholding manager who makes sure her targets don’t have what they need to succeed; and the constant
critic who, through a series of infractions, leads his targets to doubt their own confidence.
In terms of the latter, Namie said, “They’re
trying to convince you you’re stupid, which is a lie, but with prolonged exposure, your memory loss actually makes you
appear that way. So you will be objectively less competent over time. We can say it’s a self- fulfilling prophecy now
that we know what’s happening in brain.”
The effects of work abuse on mental health are severe. The Workplace Bullying
Institute found that 80 percent of victims had debilitating anxiety, 49 percent had clinical depression, 30 percent had PTSD, 29 percent
contemplated suicide and 16 percent had a plan to commit suicide.
Carrie Clark developed enduring disabilities as a result of severe work
abuse. After suffering through 10 months of bullying and punishment at the hands of her superintendent, Clark developed PTSD. “He
called my home drunk, stalked me on campus, waited for me outside the ladies room… invaded my personal space, and accosted
me with fists,” Clark said.
Fighting Work Abuse in Congress
After she left her job, Clark attempted to sue her school district, but
didn’t realize at the time that it’s perfectly legal to harass, break and destroy a human being in the workplace
so long as that poor target can’t prove some form of discrimination as a member of a protected class,” Clark said.
Clark joined Namie
and the Workplace Bullying Institute in fighting to enact the Healthy Workplace Bill in states nationwide.
Currently, the United States is the
only Western nation without a law forbidding bullying-like conduct in the workplace. U.S. anti-discrimination laws only protect
workers from abuse in 20 percent of cases. Victims of work abuse must be a member of a protected class to claim a hostile
work environment, sexual harassment or racial discrimination. On top of that, Clark said the Supreme Court has made it difficult
to prove discrimination, sometimes requiring that other members of the protected class come forward.
The Healthy Workplace Bill would allow
workers to sue their work abusers for harming their health. Employers would be held financially accountable for the abuse,
creating an incentive to prevent abusive behavior. The bill would also require employers to write an anti-bullying policy
and conduct trainings.
The bill has been introduced in five states this year and 28 states since 2003. It has yet to pass in any state.
part is directly getting in to talk to a legislator. We don’t have money,” Clark said, adding that the Chamber
of Commerce is a fierce opponent of the bill. “Grassroots is pitched from a lot of the legislators when they’re
running for office, but in actuality, they don’t really want grassroots people bugging them, they want people with money.”
the struggle continues for better workplace laws, workers are left to find their own ways to navigate work abuse. Namie said
that over time, there is not much employees can do to escape the harmful mental health effects of workplace bullying.
injuries have very little to do with strength,” he said. “They just have to do with the frequency and the duration
of the perpetrators and their actions. You don’t say some Marine is weak because he or she developed PTSD. It’s
a wound because someone launched an attack.”
Wyatt emphasized that because it’s nearly impossible to escape authoritarian
work organizations, where there’s always some kind of abuse, workers should learn some safeguards. The first step is
developing a deep understanding of the norms of your workplace as well as acknowledging that you ultimately adhere to these
like to think that we just walk through the world as individuals, especially in this country, but in fact, we all adapt to
the organizations that we have to belong to for our survival,” Wyatt said. “You have to adapt psychologically,
mentally, emotionally to the point of view of the organization as created through the norms. Your whole perception of reality
shifts.… It’s like a hypnosis that happens.… You have to be a member. Or else you’re going to be
at war with yourself every day, and people can’t survive like that. They have to make it through.”
Once workers understand this, Wyatt
said, they should find a way to join the self-interests of the people whose support they need. Wyatt said she tells her clients
to figure out what’s most important to those above them and what they are most afraid of. Then workers can get more
of their needs met by talking to their bosses in a way that meets the boss’ needs as well and in language that’s
going to get through to them.
“We try to teach people to be warriors because they can’t expect justice,” Wyatt said.
“The hardest thing for people to accept in breaking through their denial about the workplace is that there’s no
justice. It’s not about justice. If you want this job, if you want to stay there, you have to comply with the norms.
Period. If you want to leave, you can. But you have to know what you’re up against.”
That doesn’t mean workers should
lose their perspective. Wyatt suggests workers talk to someone inside the workplace they trust or their family and friends
outside of work. She also recommends that workers bring a token to work that reminds them of who they are.
“You have to rise to the ability
of becoming a very sophisticated warrior with an analysis of the norms and an analysis of how they are affecting you and everyone
around you,” Wyatt said. “We tell people to have personal symbols of your own strength and your own sense of self
around you at all times.”
Building a Movement
Wyatt said at the time she and Hare wrote their book in 1997, they would tell
their clients to look for work in the few workplaces they called “collaborative work organizations”—places
where everyone has input and conflicts are resolved through open dialogue.
“Anybody who has had any experience in working in a collaborative
organization—it’s like having your heart open,” Wyatt said. “It’s so inspiring. It’s what
we all long for, but we’ve had so little experience with that in our lives, most of us, that we don’t even know
what it would look like.”
Because those organizations are so few and far between, Wyatt primarily focuses on helping her clients survive
the workplace. She said that if people truly want to reverse the increasingly authoritarian trend in workplaces, much more
collective effort is needed.
“I hate to say it, but there’s less hope now than when we wrote the book,” Wyatt
said. “It’s going to boil down to moving from authoritarianism to collaboration. The people who have the power
don’t want to do that. They’re moving in the opposite direction politically in this country. … That’s
why there was Occupy Wall Street. That’s why people were taking on the whole system. If you want my honest opinion about
it, I think there would have to be a huge political movement about rights in the workplace. … I would love to see it
in my lifetime. … That would be the way to go, to talk about it and create a movement.”Alyssa Figueroa is an associate editor at AlterNet. Follow @alyssa_fig ________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Laws in California and Tennessee Could Be the Start of a New Trend
Helping workplace bullying targets get beyond rumination
consumes your thoughts controls your life”
I don’t listen to a lot of hard rock, but when I heard these lyrics from What If, a song about hatred, oppression, and vengefulness by the group Creed, I thought immediately about the experiences of
many people who are dealing with severe workplace bullying.
Bullying targets often ruminate
obsessively about their situations. In a piece for the Greater Good Science Center, therapist Linda Graham defines rumination as “thinking the same negative worrisome thoughts over and over again.”
usually doesn’t solve what we’re worried about and, in fact, leaves us more vulnerable to staying in a funk, even
becoming depressed. Rumination makes our view of events, and our feelings about ourselves, worse.
Graham encourages her clients to engage in self-compassion, which includes “evoking a sense
of kindness and care toward one’s self.” Her full article delves deeper into nurturing practices of self-compassion, and for those who want to learn more, it is well worth a
click and read.
For some targets, self-compassion practices will prove helpful and healing.
For others, however, it’s awfully hard to avoid dwelling upon the negatives. I frequently invoke the findings of a 2006
study by communications professors Sarah Tracy, Pamela Lutgen-Sandvik, and Jess Alberts, who found that bullying targets’
narratives of their experiences “were saturated with metaphors of beating, physical abuse, and death.” That’s
a pretty dark place to be, and it is not uncommon.
As I’ve written before,
we are still in the early stages of developing effective counseling, therapeutic, and coaching protocols for helping
targets of workplace bullying. Too many practitioners remain unfamiliar with workplace bullying and its effects on individuals.
Among other things, we need to enable those engaged in these helping modalities to help more people move out of that state
of obsessive rumination and toward better places in their lives.
For more about the Tracy, Lutgen-Sandvik, and Alberts study referenced above, see my 2009 post,
“Workplace bullying as psychological torture.”