Silence Perpetuates Workplace Bullying

Many victims of workplace bullying experience embarrassment and shame, and endure the bullying until they can quit, transfer, are fired or find another job.

A 2011 Careerbuilder survey found that only 28 percent percent of workers who were bullied brought the situation to a higher authority by reporting the bully to their Human Resources department. (Of these, 62 percent said no action was taken.)

Of those who didn’t report the bully at all, 21 percent said it was because they feared the bullying would escalate.

When a target does report a bully to management,  the employer may respond with some kind of private internal procedure or investigation.  The bully may even face a disciplinary action or ultimate termination, but it’s all secret. So the bully leaves and is hired by another organization and repeats his/her behavior and devastates the life of another target.

There’s a huge downside to silence in the context of bullying.

For example, until the 1970s, society deemed domestic violence to be a private family matter and women were often advised by law enforcement and religious authorities  to simply become a better wife or partner to the abuser, who would then have no reason to abuse the victim. We know today that this advice ignores the power dynamics of domestic violence and resulted in deaths of many women and children.  By  one estimate, 3 million women continue to be  physically abused by their husband or boyfriend per year.

And,  society still deems it appropriate to shield rape victims, which is not surprising given our history of blaming rape victims, who traditionally were shamed and ostracized.

In a recent story in The Chronicle of Higher Education, a rape victim argues that silence works to shield universities from their responsibility to protect students, and has made students less safe from violence.  I think the same dynamic exists for workplace bullying. If we “outed” bullies, there would be fewer serial bullies and there would be more sensitivity in general to the problem.

If you are being bullied, consider reporting it. Research shows that bullying may exact a severe toll on your physical and mental health. affects your career and your financial well-being, and that it can even erode your relationship with your spouse and children. Also, chances are your bully boss or supervisor has bullied others, and he or she will bully again unless stopped.

If you are an employer, you may be inclined to shroud employee complaints of bullying from public view.  For example, like the universities mentioned in The Chronicle article, you may feel that silence protects you or your company.  However, there is overwhelming research showing that bullying costs employers billions of dollars every year in higher health care premiums, lower morale, absenteeism, work hours lost, needless turnover,  litigation costs, etc.  By providing cover to the bully, you  become an accomplice in the problem, enabling the bulling and further demoralizing victims and witnesses. You will continue the bleeding that a bully inflicts on an employer’s bottom line.

So think about it – who really wins when there is silence about the problem of bullying in the workplace.

The bully.

Comments

  1. I had a horrible experience with taking my bully boss to HR. I didn’t want to do it and held off for months, documenting multiple instances of outlandish behavior ( screaming, threatening, false accusations, work impediment, personal put downs). This woman has been reported by at least four people that I know of. She has a terrible reputation for this behavior with other managers, and she can’t keep employees. People quit as soon as they can.
    My first step was reporting her to her boss. He seemed bewildered by the accusations, stating “I know about her spiritual practices, they don’t encourage this sort of thing” – she’s a fundamentalist Christian, so is he…
    Anyway, I couldn’t fathom his bewilderment knowing that he’s heard complaints from others. The day I first reported her was the day after she screamed in my face, pointing her finger right in my face just because I asked her a work related question. He did nothing and it all went down hill from there.
    I spoke to him a second time after she barraged me with personal insults and put impediments between myself and successful task completion.

    Again, nothing.

    Finally, I asked him to set up a meeting with HR when she started threatening me with my job and giving me assignments with deadlines that ensured that I had to work 15 hour days and weekends (missing long planned vacations). He set up a meeting, but refused to meet with me first. I wasn’t allowed to meet with HR alone either. It was a meeting with all four of us. Me, my boss, her boss, and HR.

    I had twelve pages of documentation of abusive behavior, I outlined some of the worst cases in the meeting. From the get go, her boss was hostile toward me and repeatedly said, “Seems like you are difficult to work with”. She brought in everything she could possibly scrape together to defame me, it was comical (she didn’t like how I worded an email 3 months ago, she didn’t like how I responded to an IM 8 months ago, that I’m still working on a project…I finished this project last month….). Anyway, HR called it a communication issue and their resolution was to have her review my performance every two weeks.

    I asked, “Is it OK for her to yell at me and hurtle personal insults?” They said, “We don’t encourage our employees to treat each other with disrespect, but it sounds like this is a personality conflict.” They wouldn’t even take my documentation.

    I’m on FMLA now for 30 days, have lost 10 lbs due to stress, am looking for another job…but there aren’t any in my career in this down. My doctor most likely will not release me back into that work environment due to how the abuse effected my health.

    What the heck? I’ve been in this industry for 15 years and have had nothing but stellar performance reviews by all of my employers. In fact, the last performance review SHE gave me was great! But that was before my coworker quit and she needed to find someone else to bully.

    I’m crushed, no recourse, this isn’t a job, it’s a specialized career and leaving this job means leaving either my home town or my career.

    Thanks for reading. This is truly devastating. I can’t believe that there are no laws against it in the USA. Oh yeah, I work for a state agency. You’d think they’d have it together more than this. Do you think that it counts as religious discrimination if I suspect that her boss protects her based on their shared religion? Or is that grasping for straws?

  2. Egad – What a nightmare! So sorry that you’re going through this!
    Some experts recommend you complain at least two levels above your supervisor, to avoid the problem caused when your supervisor and his/her supervisor are friends. While you are at it, you might point out that a bully costs employers dearly in terms of unnecessary turnover, absenteeism, lost work time, higher medical expenses and needless litigation.
    With respect to religious discrimination, often these cases involve people who are discriminated against because they belong to a certain religion. However, it might be worth consulting an employment law attorney (who represents employees) or calling your district office of the Equal Employment:Opportunity Commission.
    FYI – Title VII of the Civil Rights Act covers state and local governments. It prohibits employers from:
    (1) treating applicants or employees differently (disparate treatment) based on their religious beliefs or practices – or lack thereof – in any aspect of employment, including recruitment, hiring, assignments, discipline, promotion, and benefits;
    (2) subjecting employees to harassment because of their religious beliefs or practices – or lack thereof – or because of the religious practices or beliefs of people with whom they associate (e.g., relatives, friends, etc.);
    (3) denying a requested reasonable accommodation of an applicant’s or employee’s sincerely held religious beliefs or practices – or lack thereof – if an accommodation will not impose an undue hardship on the conduct of the business;and,
    (4) retaliating against an applicant or employee who has engaged in protected activity, including participation (e.g., filing an EEO charge or testifying as a witness in someone else’s EEO matter), or opposition relating to alleged religious discrimination (e.g., complaining to human resources department about alleged religious discrimination).
    Good luck Mauxly!

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