Psst. That advice you got to combat workplace bullying may not work

 Much of the advice given by co-workers , friends and family to targets of workplace bullying  doesn’t help or makes things worse.

This is the upshot of an article in this month’s issue of The Journal of Applied Communication Research by Stacy Tye-Williams, a communications study professor at Iowa State University, and Kathy Krone, a professor of organizational communication at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

The researchers surveyed 48 targets of workplace bullying about the effectiveness of the advice they’ were given to address the bullying.  The top suggestions include: quit the job or get out of the situation, ignore the bullying, fight or stand up to the bully, or report the bullying.

The researchers say there is a  “strong possibility” that direct confrontation of a bully will result in retaliation and the target will be labelled as a problem employee.

Many targets of workplace bullying “are treated as if they are overly emotional or behaving as if they are responsible for single-handedly stopping the bullying.” This attitude “helps sustain an orientation toward organizational life that privileges rationality over emotionality and individual expression over community.”Moreover, urging  individual targets to ‘remain calm’ and ‘stay rational’ overestimates the difference a single individual can make, downplays the significance of strong emotional responses to bullying, and constrains the ability to think and act with greater freedom.”

Another problem, according to the researchers, is that targets of past workplace bullying often tell targets who are currently experiencing the problem to use strategies that proved ineffective for the original target.

The researchers say there is a need for good strategies to successfully combat workplace bullying. “We don’t have a lot of success stories out there,” said Tye-Williams.

The study defines workplace bullying as repeated verbal and nonverbal acts over a period of time intended to inflict humiliation harm.

The United States continues to be among the only developed countries in the world that ignores the plague of workplace bullying, which is a form of workplace violence that causes potentially serious mental and physical harm to workers. An estimated one out of every three or four workers experiences workplace bullying.

This blog has noted that employers are responsible for creating a safe workplace free of harassment and violence.  The author advocates adoption of  a uniform federal workplace bullying law, such as extending the anti-harassment provision of the Title VII of the Civil Rights Act to all workers and not hose who suffer discrimination.

Wells Fargo Whistle-Blowers Wait for Justice

Among the casualties in the Wells Fargo Bank scandal are many employees who were allegedly bullied and fired for refusing to engage in unethical practices.

What has happened to them since the news faded from the headlines points up a new scandal – the lack of any real protection for workers who refuse to engage in illegal acts or who participate in whistle-blowing.

Many of the Wells Fargo ex-workers’ complaints have been pending with the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)  for years without action.

Earlier this year, Wells Fargo paid $190 million in fines to federal and state authorities after acknowledging that its employees covertly opened as many as two million checking and credit card accounts without the customers’ authorization.  The bank, which fired 5,300 employees for improper sales tactics over a five-year period, finally changed its practice of requiring workers to meet unrealistic sales goals o  Jan. 1.

Many of the fired workers claim they were terminated because they refused to engage in or complained about Wells Fargo’s unethical practices. At least a dozen current and former Wells Fargo workers filed complaints with OSHA; some date back more than a decade.

OSHA finally took some action last month when it ordered Wells Fargo to rehire one whistle-blower, a wealth manager who was not named but who was fired in 2010 after he reported suspected fraud via Wells Fargo’s ethics hotline. OSHA ordered Wells Fargo to pay the ex-manager $5.4 million in back pay, damages and attorneys’ fees.  Wells Fargo has announced it will fight the ruling. Meanwhile, the whistle-blower. who filed his OSHA complaint in 2011, said he has been unable to find a new job since he was fired.

OSHA HAS BEEN CRITICIZED FOR NOT MOVING FAST ENOUGH TO INVESTIGATE COMPLAINTS FILED BY CURRENT AND FORMER WELLS FARGO EMPLOYEES WHO SAY THEY WERE FIRED BECAUSE THEY REFUSED TO ENGAGE IN OR COMPLAINED ABOUT UNETHICAL BEHAVIORS.

A second whistle-blower, retail banker Claudia Ponce de Leon, complained  that she was fired in 2011 about three weeks after calling Wells Fargo’s ethics line to report that bankers under her supervision in Southern California were opening client accounts without permission to meet sales goals.  Her lawyer was quoted  by Reuters last year as stating that she had not yet been interviewed by OSHA.

Meanwhile, some ex-employees of Wells Fargo have turned to the courts.

Melinda Bini, a former manager of Wells Fargo’s Highland Park branch  in New Jersey,  filed a state court lawsuit last month stating she was fired for refusing to manipulate accounts and sell products that weren’t in the customers’ best interests. A former assistant vice-president, she is seeking her job back and damages.

In a sharp contrast to the plight of these whistle-blowers, all 15 members of the Wells Fargo’s board of directors who were nominated for new terms were retained in April, and a stockholder proposal calling for a new report on the root causes of the scandal  failed to receive majority support.

Reuters reported that  the Office of the Comptroller of the Currently, the lead regulator for banks, last month stripped the senior most bank examiner for Wells Fargo, Bradley Linskens, of his supervisory powers.

Murderer Cites Workplace Bullying in TV Shootings

Update: As information has developed, it is apparent that Flanagan filed an earlier lawsuit  alleging race discrimination against a Florida television station in 2000. This appears to be the lawsuit that he refers to as having been settled out of court.  The Tallahassee Democrat reports that Flanagan complained that he and another black employee were referred to as “monkeys” by a producer and that a supervisor told him he was  an exception among blacks who are “lazy and do not take advantage of free money.” Flanagan’s former boss in Tallahassee is quoted as stating that Flanagan had “threatened to punch people out and he was kind of running fairly roughshod over other people in the newsroom.” 

Legislation to stop workplace bullying came from an unusual source this week – a man who filmed his fatal shooting of a TV journalist and camera operator while they were conducting a live interview in Roanoke,Virginia.

Vester Lee Flanagan, 41, was an ex-reporter at the station, WDBJ7 TV,  which employed two of his three victims, reporter Alison Parker, 24,  and Adam Ward, 27, a camera operator. Professionally known as Bryce Williams, Flanagan was fired after about a year in 2013 and escorted out of the building by police, reportedly over angry outbursts.

In a 23-page manifesto faxed to ABC, Flanagan, who was gay and African-American, claims he was bullied  and the victim of racism and homophobia during his year at the station.  The case was dismissed by a judge in July 2014.

“I don’t need to deal with workplace bullies anymore,” wrote Flanagan, “THAT is what lawmakers need to focus on.”  

Flanagan killed himself about five hours after the murders –  which he filmed using his telephone camera and  posted on Twitter. He fatally shot himself after crashing his car while fleeing police.

Obviously a deeply disturbed man, Flanagan also states the horrific attack on Parker and Ward was intended to avenge the Charleston shootings earlier this year in which a white gunman killed nine parishioners at an African-American church.

Was He Bullied?

Whether Flanagan was bullied (or a bully) raises questions about how employers should deal with  bullying, harassment and problem employees.  Did his employers offer staff diversity training or provide Flanagan with the opportunity for coaching or psychological help? Could the tragic shootings have been averted?

The BBC quotes Jeffrey Marks, WDBJ7’s general manager, as describing  Flanagan as unhappy, difficult to work with and always “looking out for people to say things he could take offence to.”

Flanagan admits that he made mistakes while employed by WDBJ-7, adding that he “should not have been so curt” with photographers in Roanoke ” but you know why I was? The damn news director was a micromanaging tyrant!!” [Read more…]

Do ‘Nice Guys’ Finish Last?

Baseball player Leo Durocher famously said “nice guys finish last.”

Do they?

There is no conclusive answer to this question but Christine Porath, in a recent article for the New York Times, argues that politeness and regard for others in the workplace pays off.  She cited a study involving a biotechnology company that found workers who are seen as civil are twice as likely to be viewed as leaders.

Unfortunately, it’s not hard to find research that comes to the opposite conclusion. At least one study shows that agreeableness affects income – particularly for women. Nice gals and guys are thought to earn less than co-workers who are not nice.

I submit that Duroucher’s question misses the point.

A smart employer, mindful of the bottom line, would not knowingly  promote a worker who  is rude, engages in workplace bullying or fails to show respect for others.  

Employers increasingly recognize that incivility or bullying in the workplace is bad for business and the bottom line. An abusive workplace exposes a company to expensive and unnecessary turnover, low morale and productivity, higher medical costs and needless risk of litigation. Moreover, research shows that workplace bullies act for their own selfish reasons, in complete disregard for the success of the employer. The success of a  bully in a workplace is directly proportional to  the employer’s failure  to effectively manage the company’s most critical resource  – its workforce.