Workplace Bullying: Understanding the Why: The Consequences, and Correcting the Behavior

A general definition of workplace bullying is, “Behavior that is demeaning, ostracizing, disempowering, cruel, threatening, humiliating, untruthful, and unrelated to work itself” (Workplace Bullying Institute, 2014).

The most frequently asked question Mike and I receive is, “Why? Why do bullies bully?” While each situation of workplace bullying is different, research has attempted to answer this question.  The Workplace Bullying Institute conducted an on-line survey in 2014 and asked people who had been the target of workplace bullying, and those who had witnessed workplace bullying, what they thought was the intention of the bully. Here are the results:

Bully’s Intent Respondents’ Answer
Acted with the deliberate personal intent to harm others 82%
Harmed others but were not aware of the consequences 9%
Followed instructions of superiors in ways that hurt others 8%
Never meant to harm; were misunderstood 1%

 

The second most frequently asked question Mike and I receive is, “Why me?” Again, every Workplace Bullying situation is different. However, the Workplace Bullying Institute was determined to find the answer to this question to help those who had been or were currently being targeted. Their research found, “…superior technical skills of the target as the primary reason they were targeted. They [the target] posed a threat for the thin-skinned perpetrators who appear less capable by comparison” (WBI, 2014). This is just one quote; the full answer is too much to share here. For more detailed information on this subject, please explore this link:

Who Gets Targeted

In a separate study published in 2015, a group of researchers conducted a study titled, “The Prevalence of Co-worker Conflict and Bullying in a Unionized U.S. Public Sector Workforce.” With almost 12,000 respondents, the study found 10% of those responded reported being bullied at work within the last six months. Of that 10%, 71.9% reported the perpetrator was a supervisor and/or top management. While 10% does not seem high, one must understand that bullying not only negatively impacts the Target; it also negatively impacts the coworkers and the organization. Workplace Bullying diverts the energy and attention of employees from performing their core duties and meeting the expectations of the organization.

The study also states, “In the U.S. public sector workers (State, County, and local government workers) experience a disproportionate risk of non-fatal work-related violence with a rate of 33 per 1,000 employees compared to 9.9 and 12.1 per 1,000 employees for private and federal workers respectively” (Lipscomb, et al., 2015, Violence and Victims). The researchers provide a few suggestions for the cause of increased work-related violence: 1) the job duties expose employees to higher risk situations; 2) organizations adopt “status-based power differentials;” and leadership styles are characterized by “non-contingent punishment” both of which are often found in public sector organizations.

While this particular study did not focus on specific risks to the job, leadership styles or organizational culture, I think it is about time we, as public servants, take the time to address these issues. The risks we face just doing our normal job duties are dangerous enough. No employee should have to deal with an internal risk such as a workplace bully.

Did you know the stress related diseases and health complications from prolonged exposure to the stressors of bullying include:

  • Cardiovascular problems: Hypertension, Strokes, Heart attacks
  • Adverse Neurological changes: Neurotransmitter disruption, Hippocampus and Amygdala Atrophy
  • Gastrointestinal: IBD, colitis
  • Immunological Impairment: More frequent infections of greater severity
  • Auto-immune disorders
  • Fibromyalgia, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
  • Diabetes
  • Skin Disorders

 

Did you know the impact Workplace Bullying has on an organization includes:

  • Increased absenteeism
  • Increased presenteeism (employee is present but not engaged)
  • Increased turnover (of the wrong people)
  • Increased disability claims and Worker’s Compensation claims
  • Increased exposure to litigation
  • Lower production
  • Lower morale, employee trust and loyalty
  • Inability to recruit the best and brightest employees

 

According to the Workplace Bullying Institute, to improve the culture of an organization hampered with bullying behaviors, the organization needs to commit to:

  1. Creating an explicit Anti-Bullying policy
  2. Design credible enforcement procedures
  3. Provide restorative interventions for bullied individuals and affected work teams.
  4. Provide Education and Training for all levels of staff

 

Research shows Workplace Bullying is an epidemic in the US. While there are no laws in California making this behavior illegal, the act of and consequences to, Workplace Bullying should be criminal. The physical and psychological costs paid by the Target, the costs paid by the organization due to lack of productivity, increased absenteeism, etc., and ultimately the cost to the tax-payer who believes their tax dollars are being used wisely to administer services to those in need, are all evidence that Workplace Bullying is too costly to ignore.  Research shows the estimated annual cost of Workplace Bullying in the U.S. is in the billions of dollars. This puts an entirely new meaning to the phrase, “Fraud, waste and abuse.”

Making a commitment to address the issue of Workplace Bullying is not an easy task but the first step we need to take is admitting it does exist.

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