STOP WORKPLACE BULLYING!

What it's like to be Bullied at Work

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Contribution from a Member of Healthy Workplace Advocates

 WHAT IT’S LIKE TO BE BULLIED AT WORK

By a Bullied Member of Healthy Workplace Advocates

(The spacing on this piece may be difficult to read but it's worth looking past the format for the content of the writing. We did our best transferring the information 4/6/15) 

 

Many people who are bullied at work do not understand what is happening to them for the first few weeks or months.  They just know that they get “had” over and over again(Mueller,2005) and go home at night “damaged” (Futterman, 2004).  Gary Namie, Ph.D. (2003), of the Workplace Bullying Institute, among other writers (see Field, 1996), list the following Top Ten Bullying Tactics: 

1)  blame for ‘errors’;  2)  unreasonable job demands;  3)  unwarranted criticism of ability;  4)  changing rules on the fly;  5)  threatening job loss; 

6)  insults and put-downs; 7)  discounting/denial of accomplishments;  8)  exclusion, “icing out”;  9)  yelling, screaming;  10)  stealing credit (and dumping blame).  

The bully is usually a boss. These tactics are often delivered with stealth or are otherwise so unbelievable, that, if the target-victim reports an incident to others, it is met with doubt.  This loss of validation creates the feeling in the target- victim of being in a prison.  In bullying, the target-victim is held in a state of bondage.   The need to pay bills, the depressed job market, and other factors, make the target reluctant to just walk away from the job. 

Besides, the target-victim is held back by the (naïve) belief that it is the bully who should leave, not the victim.  That is, until health starts to give out.  According to Namie (see the WBI website), the following are typical experiences of a target: you feel like throwing up the night before the start of your workweek; your family demands that you stop obsessing about work; you feel ashamed to tell a significant other that you feel controlled by the bully; you burn all your paid time off to recover from assaults; on your days off, you are too exhausted to do anything; you can’t enjoy life; you begin to think you caused this cruelty; you are given assignments you cannot possibly succeed at; you are jerked into impromptu meetings only to be humiliated again and again; the bully does things to you that subvert the mission of your organization, but management does not see this; co-workers stop talking to you; you feel a sense of doom; you are never left alone to just do your job; co-workers yell at you but if you yell back, you are written up; HR tells you “what your boss is doing isn’t illegal, you just have to work it out between you” as if you could negotiate a truce, but the assaults keep coming; when you finally scrape up the courage to confront the bully, the bully lodges a complaint that you are the one harassing; you are accused of incompetence, even though you have a long track record of accomplishments; although some players in the office admit that your bully is a jerk, nobody stands up for you; you try to transfer to another division in the company but it gets denied; you land in the hospital with a nervous breakdown and are diagnosed with PTSD; you take months, even years before you can even think about working again; after a few years, you finally feel you can apply for a new job, only to find that your bully has blacklisted you out of your occupation.   

            You go to your lawyer.  Your lawyer tells you that there are no laws against workplace bullying.  What you call “bullying” is not legally considered ‘harassment.’ 

‘Harassment’ has become legally taken over by acts that involve discrimination only.  Legally speaking, there is no such thing as ‘general harassment.’  There is no statute law and no case law to protect you.  A tort of ‘intentional infliction of emotional distress’ involves such a high threshold that most workplace bullying wouldn’t qualify, even if it causes you to lose your job, career, and health, so long as the acts aren’t “outrageous.” (See David Yamada’s papers on the problem of the legal threshold.) Your reputation, social relations, job, career, physical health, self-confidence, trust in your perceptions, and identity, have been severely damaged.  If you act ut and lash out, you will now be constructed as “disgruntled employee” like those before you.   You are in your bully’s pit, right where he wants you.  He has demonstrated to the world that you were never a legitimate person.  You were all along a fraud. This is what it is like to be bullied at work. 

The absence of laws prohibiting bullying (and mobbing) allow you to be psychologically “raped” (Field), have your identity “eroded” (Hirigoyen), be literally “murdered” (Leymann) without letting a drop of blood.  On the matter of workplace bullying, American society is still blind and in denial as it once was about sexual harassment, spousal abuse, child abuse, and the health risks of smoking.  Think of workplace bullying as domestic abuse but instead you are at work.  In France and Australia, it is a criminal offense to bully.  In some European countries and Canadian provinces, it is a tort to bully.  But American corporations have such a stranglehold on our society that any suggestion that we should create anti-bullying laws is met with the “business community” (read corporations’) cry that we will create frivolous lawsuits.  According to the WBI/Zogby Survey, 37% of all American workers will be bullied at some time in their career.  Another 12% will at least be bystanders.  According to researchers (see Duffy & Sperry 2012), bystanders are also traumatized by bullying; just not so severely.  In addition to the health effects, bullying results in detachment from the job, curtails innovation, curtails risk-taking, and curtails giving more than the minimum to the job.  Workplace bullying causes absenteeism, turnover, workers comp claims, litigation, and derails the mission of the organization.  It causes a “totalizing loss” (Duffy & Sperry 2012) to the victim, to the organization, and to society.

Workplace bullying is the end result of a strongly hierarchical , over-controlling, (Wyatt and Hare 1997), non-collaborative, undemocratic, fear-dominated (Deming 1986), non-unionized workplace.  Workplace bullying is not on most unions’ radar.  Nearly all HR departments will side with a bully boss (consensus view).   

            It is easy to rationalize away bullying as just a personality conflict.  That is, until you are chosen by a serial bully as his next target.  Becoming a target paints the problem in sharp relief.  With half of the American workforce at risk for workplace bullying, the need to pass an anti-bullying law should be obvious.  Marilyn Veincentotzs (2009) calls a workplace bully, a “criminal in the workplace.”  Considering the severe damage bullies do, and the severity of violation of the identity (Hirigoyen) and personality (Leymann—see www.leymann.se; Duffy & Sperry 2012) of the victim, workplace bullies belong in prison.  I have only hinted here about mobbing—the ultimate rape of a person’s identity. What Leymann calls “psychoterror.”  What Mueller (2005) calls “scientific bullying.”  If you have been injured by a workplace bully, you will understand.   Write your union and state and fed reps and demand codes against bullying. 

References:  Futterman, Susan (2004) When You Work for a Bully; Namie, Gary and Ruth Namie (2003) The Bully at Work; Mueller, Robert (2005) Bullying Bosses: A Survivor’s Guide; Field, Tim (1996) Bully in Sight; Veincentotzs, Marilyn (2009) How Organizations Empower Bully Bosses; Duffy, Maureen and Len Sperry (2009) Mobbing; Wyatt, Judith and Chauncey Hare (1997) Work Abuse. Deming, W. E. (1986) Out of the Crisis.