August 31, 2007

"Half of working Americans (49%) have suffered or witnessed workplace bullying."

According to a new Workplace Bullying Institute/Zogby Interactive survey. (There's a "Workplace Bullying Institute.") "Bullying" is defined as "including verbal abuse, job sabotage, abuse of authority or destruction of workplace relationships," experienced "now or sometime during their worklife."

I'm shocked, really shocked that half -- half! -- of America's workers lack the perceptiveness to notice any of the verbal abuse, job sabotage, abuse of authority or destruction of workplace relationships going on around them.

I'm not shocked, however, that the Director of the Workplace Bullying Institute, Dr. Gary Namie, declares "It's clearly a 'silent epidemic." Clearly!
When bullies are women, they choose other women as their prey in 71% of cases. Bullying, or status-blind harassment, is four (4) times more prevalent than illegal, civil rights, status-based harassment. Same-gender harassment defines the two most frequent categories of bullying. Gary Namie said, "It was legal when we started the movement in '98 and it still is today."
So what do you want then, Dr. Gary? A law so people can sue when they think anyone says anything mean at work or undercuts what they're trying to do around here? Would threatening to sue under that law about what that woman is trying to do to me give that woman a basis to sue me for bullying her? I'm picturing an infinite regression of counterclaims.

By the way, the Workplace Bullying Institute has an incredibly ugly, mid-90s-style website that utterly fails to express anti-bulling values. What do two waving flags -- not to mention all that clutter -- have to do with feeling comfortable in the workplace?


Teune said...

does reading your blog at work count as "suffering" workplace bullying?

EnigmatiCore said...

Only when luckyoldson is posting.

Pogo said...

At least 10% of the workplace will forever lack the perceptiveness to notice any of the abuse, because they are the bullies.

The other 41% don't see it as bullying, but instead "just the way the world really works".

The best remedies I have ever read about this issue, or how to survive this inevitable occurrence, are:
1. Corporate Confidential: 50 Secrets Your Company Doesn't Want You to Know---and What to Do About Them by Cynthia Shapiro
2. The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn't by Robert I. Sutton
3. Throwing the Elephant: Zen and the Art of Managing Up by Stanley Bing

Best advice?
Avoid self-help books on bullying.
Never, ever go to HR.
Never, ever sue ...unless you plan on leaving for good and remaining unemployed.

Jeremy said...

I've seen WAY worse than that website. I'll admit, though, I haven't seen much worse for an "institute." "Incredibly ugly" must be a relative term--I take it you haven't seen any of the uglier sites on the web.

But check this professional design company out. I also like how their FAQ has only two questions, and only one is answered (perhaps they're still trying to figure out the answer to "what are Cascading Style Sheets?").

Bruce Hayden said...

Of course, if you looked at the legal field, it really would be 90% have been bullied, and 75% have been bullies.

I can't count the number of times I have seen bullying in the work place, often aimed at me, over the last 30+ years in the work force. Far more directed at me than was ever directed at me in school.

The difference is that it really counts in the work force. Back in school, it was pretend. But I have known more than one guy keep their VP slots through hair trigger tempers, and one 6'9" consultant who retained his 6 figure consulting fees by leaning over those of us less tall.

It is a sad fact that bullies can often leverage their bullying into management positions, and then retain such through more bullying.

Maybe I am lucky that I don't see all the female on female bullying going on in the lower ranks, though I did get a sexual harassment claim filed against me when I defended my secretary against bullying by another. But luckily for me, the company was more worried about the counter claim filed by the attorney than the original claim filed by the secretary.

MadisonMan said...

I don't know if I've ever encountered bullying. Do I just not see it, or know it's coming and avoid it? I don't know. Maybe I work around pleasant people.

Roger said...

It looks the "bullying issue" has morphed from a K-12 school issue into a broader issue! IIRC the whole bullying thing moved to the fore after Columbine, when some folks felt the jocks had been bullying the goth shooters.

Zeb Quinn said...

So what do you want then, Dr. Gary? A law so people can sue when they think anyone says anything mean at work or undercuts what they're trying to do around here?

By minimizing it that way it shows that you're not getting it. If it were just that I'd agree with you, but it's much more than that. It's a phenomenon called mobbing, and it destroys people. Their lives and their careers.

An EEO-type apparatus isn't necessary. A cognizable tort will do nicely.

Richard Dolan said...

Ann says that she's "shocked, really shocked" that half of the sampled workers "lack the perceptiveness to notice any of the verbal abuse," etc. The only explanation I can think of is that half of the sample must have been self-employed.

Maxine Weiss said...

What you call sabotage, I call competition.

What you call conniving deception, I call savvy ambition.

What you call abuse and harrassment, I call shrewd gamesmanship.

What you call record-keeping, I call Hoover files.

And, that's the workplace. It's brutal. It ain't for sissies. Just play the game.

rhhardin said...

It's not bullying. It's tough love.

Pogo said...

It is the game, machiavellian bullying.

Interestingly, Pfeffer and Sutton have studied this in depth and shown that the financial costs to organizations of assholes far exceeds their benefits. Profits increase when it is rooted out, profits fall when it runs rampant. Bullying is bad for busness.

Yet it goes on and on. Pfeffer and Sutton studied that, too. Why does it continue when studies show it doesn't help but hurts the bottom line?

The same reason people eat when they are fat, or sleep around when they are married. Because people are just like that, that's all.

A savvy manager can try, though, and make money doing so. But it takes an unusual degree of self-confidence to do so.

Cedarford said...

People in my field, in management, have gotten a lot of training in recent years on workplace bullying. A significant, if not majority of workplace killings come from bullying. An even bigger concern, as you sadly would expect in "bottom line" business - is the catastrophic legal exposure of a firm allowing bullying of someone in a protected class.

And recognition that workplaces with bullying are not "well-managed" and effecient environments.

They say that the worst cases are when someone is hourly, or new to a career and is fairly "locked into" a job that they cannot transfer to another position easily, change firms, and would lose seniority or a chance at a pension if they bailed from the torment. And where the union or supervisors side with the bullies.
Why the supervisor is the 1st person shot.
The post office was infamous for it, and did significant changes to the workplace.

General Dynamics fired 6 supervisors, a department head, and Director of HR as well as 11 engineers/tradesmen and paid out 13 million after relentless bullying involving a young black engineer went on for two years. The basic defense was that they treated the black engineer no differently than half a dozen white engineers that they "tried breaking in", then decided they disliked enough to "force out".

The award and firings also rested on testimony of a few of the bullied whites who told the court how bad it would have continued to be for the engineer if he hadn't filed in Federal Court after the HR people and supervision told him to "be a man..."

The lawyer at the exec session said that the legal direction is to open the courts to more litigants for damages, and the senior VP made stamping out bullying a performance review "killer" if anyone is found to have tolerated it, even from valuable employees because "no gang or cabal is worth the workplace disruption, exposure to lawsuits or violence that dysfunctional shit can breed...."

Of course, that is just the crass, lower employee version.

Still largely unaddressed are the power games, backstabbing, humiliation-inflicting ego trips, and sabotage activities of the higher-ups. But at our level, more options exist..we are not trapped in jobs, and are freer, even expected - to seek greener pastures.

rcocean said...

The back-stabbers and behind the scene manipulators are much more dangerous than the in-your-face abusive types.

-O villain, villain, smiling damned villain!

-My tables meet it as I set it down

-That one may smile, and smile, and be a villain -

Internet Ronin said...

Workplace Bullying Institute? I thought this was a link to an Onion article. Truth: Stranger than Fiction.

vnjagvet said...

Why do they think it is called a "workplace"?

Work puts us in contact with people who are unpleasant and must be pleased.

Pesky people like picky bosses, demanding customers, whining subordinates and just plain jerks all of us come in contact day to day are part of the "workplace".

Hopefully in the "homeplace" you can avoid some of the difficulties encountered "rubbing elbows" with the hoi polloi. But you still have to deal with your children, parents, grandparents, spouse, inlaws, etc. Even here, the so-called "human elements" rear their ugly heads.

Alas, at heart, are we all beasts?

melizabeth2 said...

Repeated HEALTH HARMING treatment is the brief definition of workplace bulling. I LOVED my job. Once my blood pressure shot up (never had high blood pressure before or since leaving that employer), I took action and sought help, first through my doctor (I did not work in the medical field, but many targets work in the helping field), then I sought counseling, went out on stress leave, and began a new job search. Fortunately, I found a new employer. It was not ME, it was THEM.

AlphaLiberal said...

Sounds low to me. America's bosses are typically terrible small-minded tyrants.

Bad management must really hurt our economy in lost productivity, low morale and employee turnover.

AlphaLiberal said...

"It's brutal. It ain't for sissies. Just play the game."

Um, no. One could say the same thing about domestic abuse, workplace theft, or other ills.

Besides, we spend a big chunk of our waking hours in the workplace. Why do we have to put up with some a-hole making it miserable?

Besides, it's dumb for bosses to bully employees. Some will "get back" with sabotage, some will just get bummed and get less done.

Why some people need that explained is a mystery.

Joe said...

This is a total crock. Note that they included "verbal abuse", "abuse of authority" and "destruction of workplace relationships."

I worked at places where you could get disciplined for simply disagreeing with someone, especially a superior, in a meeting.

I've also worked with people who didn't do a damn thing unless the boss got on their case, sometimes quite forcefully.

A few years ago, a fellow employee was doing a very shitty job. I brought this up with my manager with very specific criticisms and solutions. I GOT REPRIMANDED because I was "disrupting the workplace" and making the workplace "unfriendly."

A few weeks late this same employee asked me why I'd made the choice I'd made. I explained it calmly and rationally. He whined--literally whined--to management that I had yelled at him and was unmoveable. I got laid off at the next round. I wasn't alone--our new project manager, who had brought real discipline to the process, was also laid off as was another employee who had asked too many pointed questions.

I wish my experience was unique, but it isn't. An unfortunate high percentage of employees and managers are no good lazy ass workers who will whine about everything.

The notion that the workplace should be a soothing environment is crap. This isn't to say, it should be super stressful, but a job isn't a place to be pals with everyone--it's usually a place to solve problems and make money. Sometimes that involves saying or doing things that piss people off and that's just plain tough.

Unfortunately, the infantilization of society is very much permeated the workplace.

rcocean said...

No offense Joe but you sound like a pain in the ass to be around.

-Unasked; you go your boss and bad mouth a fellow employee. Maybe your boss thought it was none of your business.

-Then the guy *you* stabbed in the back gets upset and also goes to management. Well, what a surprise! What did you expect him to do, thank you?

Of course, you lived it and I didn't - but reading what you wrote doesn't make me want to work with you.

Jo said...

What ignorance! It is not "anything mean at work". It is abuse - repeated, health-harming mistreatment documented by a health care professional. There are thousands of examples such as making up a "verbal warning" to "justify" written warnings, threat of job termination and slandering the employee as having "behavior problems" because he didn't heed the non-existent "verbal warning".

Or threatening a former employee with arrest for trespassing if she doesn't obey the former boss on whom he deems appropriate she should talk with and on what subjects at the business. Those are just 2 examples.

Quitting? Not a long-term viable solution at all because who remains? The bully - to choose another target, to continue to expose the business to lawsuits, to undermine legitimate business interests, cause low morale and reverse work sabotage, etc. Besides, why should the target be targeted again by losing their livehoods - what they use to support themselves and their families? The job they most likely went to school for, trained for?

Under the legislation, the bully can be sued personally. My former boss, at a public entity, hides behind the taxpayers who have been footing, literally, hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage. If workplace bullies were sued personally, maybe they would think twice before abusing employees.

Joe said...

-Unasked; you go your boss and bad mouth a fellow employee. Maybe your boss thought it was none of your business.

If my job directly depends on other employees doing their job--that is, their work is incorporated into my work--and they aren't doing their job, what are you supposed to do?

(Incidentally, your attitude--that shabby work is nobody else's business--is a a big problem at my former company and one reason senior people started leaving. They prized "getting along" much more than producing a quality product for customers. Since I was laid off, the company has lost over a third of their employees through additional layoffs and people simply quitting. Its revenues are down significantly.)

Then the guy *you* stabbed in the back gets upset and also goes to management. Well, what a surprise! What did you expect him to do, thank you?

I didn't stab him in the back. His failure to do his job correctly meant I could not do my job correctly. I did not do Machiavellian maneuvers against him, I wrote a precise email to my boss. (And the employee suddenly started doing his job--amazing how that works.) He suffered no pay decrease or an official letter of reprimand.

In the end, I expected him to act like a professional engineer. I gave a detailed, precise reason I made the choices I made. He disagreed. Instead of offering precise, detailed reason why my approach was inferior (which it very well may have been) he whined that I wasn't being nice.

* * *

Pulling back a little. If you are a business owner and you find out that an employee has been doing a terrible job and everyone around him knows it but never said a word, wouldn't you be a wee bit pissed off? How about if that employee is responsible for calibrating x-ray machines and people died or were injured as a result?

Revenant said...

In my experience, the majority of people who perceive themselves as being "bullied" are just lousy workers. Actual bullying of competent employees is very rare.

It would be interesting to see how the 37% of the workforce that has personally been bullied maps onto the bell curve of worker competence. My suspicion is that it would mostly map to the lower range.

Jo said...

I couldn't let this one go. . .Revenant, you are astonishingly wrong. Workplace bullying is not rare - at all! And you will certainly find that the bell curve will drop the opposite way you believe. Please get the facts or you will only continue to show your blatant ignorance.

Once again, workplace bullying is abuse. It's not for whiners or slackers. If someone is a genuinely poor employee, fire him!

The legislation address repeated, severe abuse that results in health-harm documented by a health care professional.

Get the facts!

Stop The Bullies said...

Low end of the Bell Curve? After 7 months of my bully "documenting" that I couldn't learn, I saw a Forensic Psychologist who evaluated me and my full scale IQ is 148 (Weschler). Our action group in Washington State is made up of employees with long histories of excellent evaluations. It's our experience that bullies target people they feel threatened by. They also target Whistleblowers and (at least for government employees) we really need those people. The "dumb" ones just get fired. stopthebullies (at) comcast (dot) net.

rcocean said...


Thanks for the detail. As stated, you lived it - I didn't.

I've worked in many office situations and most problems were caused not only by bullying but by an unwillingness to fire off a "warning shot" before taking drastic action. To whit:

1) Women not informing men on a real time basis that their behavior was unacceptable. Instead, they say nothing and later charge sexual harassment.

2) Bosses who never tell their employees their work performance is substandard or their behavior is unacceptable before it reaches critical mass. Instead they terminate the employee and then tell them reason.

3) Employees who find their co-workers behavior unacceptable and say nothing to the co-worker. Instead they stew, get PO'ed and complain to directly to management.

Your situation doesn't fit these descriptions, but I see them all the time, hence my original post.

Revenant said...

I couldn't let this one go. . .Revenant, you are astonishingly wrong. Workplace bullying is not rare - at all! And you will certainly find that the bell curve will drop the opposite way you believe. Please get the facts or you will only continue to show your blatant ignorance.

So you're claiming that the MORE talented workers are the ones who get bullied? What a bunch of bullshit!

Ninety percent of the "bullying" I've seen people complain about breaks down along the lines of "I came in hung over and my boss yelled at me, what an asshole". Actual abuse of competent employees is rare, simply because competent employees can easily go work someplace else!

Jo said...

That is not bullying. Going to work drunk and getting disciplined for it is NOT bullying no matter what loser claimed that. No wonder you made the comment about the bell curve if you know idiots like that. Real targets are nowhere near that. Try getting your facts straight, please.

Easily go someplace else? Just like that? On what planet do you live on? Furthermore, going someplace else is simply targeting the target AGAIN. Giving up the work you love, you trained for, you spent years at because of an abuser? Yeah, that's a great solution.

How about this? How about holding the abuser accountable. Gasp! What a concept!

rcocean said...

Joe, let me translate Revenant's comment for you:

"If there is bullying, who cares? because I'm all right Jack, Screw you."

Revenant said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Revenant said...

That is not bullying.

Those people think it is. This survey asked workers if they had been bullied. It did not establish objective criteria for bullying and then test to see who really experienced it. Any test for "bullying" that relies upon self-proclaimed "victims" to report it is obviously going to garner a lot of whiners.

Try getting your facts straight, please.

Try offering some facts. All you've offered so far is your worthless personal opinion, unsupported by any actual evidence at all.

How about this? How about holding the abuser accountable.

Businesses do hold abusive employees accountable, because those employees cost them talented hires and damage worker productivity.

Gasp! What a concept!

Here's a better concept: try acting like an adult instead of a mewling infant.

Jo said...

I mentioned facts of what happened to me and one other person. If I gave examples of others, it would be a book.

Please tell me where in the survey it asked if one came in drunk and was disciplined, if that is bullying.

You're talking about a scientific study (which has been done actually), not a survey.

It's laughable that businesses hold bullies accountable. Um, no, they don't. If they did, there wouldn't have been an explosion of targets working to get legislation and others who are speaking out about the abuse in the last 2-3 years.

I can only hope businesses/public entities hold bullies accountable. Alas, that is not reality and thus, legislation needs to happen to compel behavior as we have unfortunately seen over and over again.

martha said...

Workplace Bullying is the malicious and sustained targeting of an employee for expulsion or mistreatment. It's clear some of you folks got it wrong. It's not a boss having a bad day, it really is sustained health harming behavior.
A new resource for bullied staff is:

martha said...

Got that website wrong. It is: Good resource for everybody, Bullied, bullies, employers and all. Free too. No tracking, costs or bots - just a free resource.

martha said...

Got this website wrong, please correct. It is: