Workplace Bullying Affects Family Relationships

There’s an old saying: When mom is unhappy; everyone is unhappy!  (Presumably the same goes  for Dad.)

A study by a Baylor University researcher has found that workplace incivility can be so intense that, at the end of the day, the target brings it home, where it impacts the well-being of the worker’s family and partner.

The study’s author, Merideth J. Ferguson, Ph.D., an assistant professor of management and entrepreneurship at the Baylor University Hankamer School of Business, says:   “Employees who experience such incivility at work bring home the stress, negative emotion and perceived ostracism that results from those experiences, which then affects more than their family life – it also creates problems for the partner’s life at work.”

Since the employee is stressed and distracted, the partner is likely to pick up more of the family responsibilities, and those demands may interfere with the partner’s work life. The study also found that such stress also significantly affected the worker’s and the partner’s marital satisfaction.

“This research underlines the importance of stopping incivility before it starts so that the ripple effect of incivility does not impact the employee’s family and potentially inflict further damage beyond the workplace where the incivility took place and cross over into the workplace of the partner,” said Ferguson.

The study included 190 full-time workers, who all had co-workers and had an employed partner, who agreed to complete an online survey.  After completing the survey, workers were asked to have their partners complete a separate survey.  Approximately 57 percent of the employee sample was male with an average age of 36, while 43 percent of the partner sample was male with an average age of 35. Of these couples, 75 percent had children living with them.

“Unlike the study of incivility’s effects at work, the study of its impact on the family is in its infancy. However, these findings emphasize the notion that organizations must realize the far-reaching effects of co-worker incivility and its impact on employees and their families,” Ferguson said.

“One approach to prevent this stress might be to encourage workers to seek support through their organization’s employee assistance program or other resources such as counseling or stress management so that tactics or mechanisms for buffering the effect of incivility’s stress on the family can be identified,” she said.

Ferguson advises workers who are experiencing “chronic rudeness” to get help with stress management techniques. “Rudeness and instability can result in things like anxiety and depression, so we suggest people get in touch with a counselor,” she said. “If it starts impacting their physical and mental health, they should seek a job elsewhere.”

The study results were announced in an August 16, 2011 press release by Baylor, which is based in Waco, TX.

Other Approaches to Workplace Bullying?

So far, efforts to combat bullying in the American workplace largely have centered on a campaign spurred by the Workplace Bully Institute to pass anti-bullying legislation on a state-by-state basis.  To date, the effort has yet to yield a single success (defined as a state that has adopted such legislation).

What would happen if workplace anti-bully advocates took a different approach?

One idea might be federal legislation to amend Title VII, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, to  permit any worker to sue if subjected to a hostile workplace environment.

Another idea is to approach the problem as an important public  health issue  –  which it is – and adopt health and safety regulations to protect employees on that basis. Finally, one might think local – push cities and towns to adopt legislation to protect employees from workplace abuse.

Advocates for anti-obesity measures took the local approach, with some initial success.  However, industry groups are now finding a way to halt local initiatives, using stealth tactics to erect statewide road blocks.

Public health advocates persuaded some progressive cities and counties around the nation to pass anti-obesity measures, such as requiring restaurants to list fat and calorie content on their menus or to prepare food without unhealthy trans-fats.  The New York Times reported June 30, 2011 that  industry groups are acting pro-actively to quash these anti-obesity efforts. and they are using stealth tactics.

The Times notes that Ohio’s 5,000-page state budget contained sweeping limitations on local government control over restaurants.  Florida  adopted similar limits, tucked into a bill that largely concerned amendments to state regulations on vacation rentals. Other states with limits include Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, and Utah. Earlier this year, Arizona prohibited local governments from forbidding the marketing of fast food using “consumer incentives” like toys.

Not surprisingly, state restaurant groups are leading the charge for the preemptive state legislation.   State legislators who sponsored preemptive legislation in Florida and Alabama say they were contacted by their state’s restaurant associations, which expressed concern that California’s latest food rules would be adopted by their own local governments.

The Los Angeles City Council has banned fast food restaurants in South Los Angeles, where rates of poverty and obesity are high. In April, the Santa Clara County supervisors adopted a policy that forbids fast food restaurants from selling meals with toys, like those connected with movie promotions.

The Ohio law gives the state’s director of agriculture “sole and exclusive” authority to regulate the use of consumer incentives in food marketing and prohibits localities from requiring menu labeling and using incentives and laws to address “food-based health disparities.”  The statute may nullify a law passed by the Cleveland council in April that banned restaurants and food makers from using “industrially produced” trans fats in products.

One of the fundamental concepts of the U.S. Constitution involves the importance of state’s rights – the idea  is that real change and progress comes from experimentation among the states and not through a federal bureaucracy. It doesn’t take a PhD. to see that this concept also is relevant to states, which tend to  adopt progressive statewide legislation in response to local initiatives.   I’d rather be guided by the framers of our U.S. Constitution than self-interested industry groups. Wouldn’t you?

The state-by-state campaign to adopt workplace anti-bully legislation began in 2003 in California and has encountered steady opposition from business groups, who apparently are largely ignorant about the enormous toll bullying exacts on the employer’s bottom line.   This, despite the fact that the Workplace Bullying Institute is pushing a proposed Healthy Workplace Bill that is considerably weaker than legislation adopted in other industrialized countries around the world. American workers deserve strong protection from bullying in the workplace, which causes health problems and destroys lives and families.

* The new state laws limiting public health measures will have no effect on a federal law that requires menu labeling by chains with 20 or more restaurants by 2013. But more than half of the nation’s restaurants will not be required to meet the federal rules for listing calories and fat content.

Wisconsin Supreme Court Judge Out of Order?

Places Chokehold on Fellow Justice

Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Ann Walsh Bradley has accused fellow Justice David Prosser of putting her in a chokehold during a dispute in her office on June 13, 2011,  a day before the Court’s decision upholding a bill to curtail the collective bargaining rights of public employees.

According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Bradley said:  “The facts are that I was demanding that he get out of my office and he put his hands around my neck in anger in a chokehold.”

Perhaps the most interesting thing about the story is not the alleged assault but the fact that an incident pf workplace violence was shrouded in secrecy for almost two weeks, until  Wisconsin Public Radio and the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism published a story based upon anonymous sources.  Why was it necessary for  anonymous sources to disclose that one of Wisconsin’s high court judges had allegedly assaulted a fellow justice?  Where is the transparency?

The Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism  on June 25, 2011 quoted “at least three knowledgeable sources” who declined to be named but said, “other sources have offered a conflicting account.  Justice Prosser has declared that the claims, once investigated, will be ‘proven false.’”

There are competing versions of the incident. The Journal also quoted   a source who said Prosser made incidental contact with Bradley’s neck as he put up his hands in a defensive posture as Bradley rushed toward him “with fists up.”

The Wisconsin Judicial Commission, which  is charged with investigating allegations of misconduct involving judges, was informed of the alleged assault. However, a spokesman for the Commission said he could neither confirm nor deny whether the commission, which was informed of the incident, will investigate.

Judge Prosser’s judicial temperament was called into question earlier this year:

 In March, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that, in a disagreement over a case last year, Justice Prosser, 68, had called Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson a “total bitch” and threatened to “destroy” her. Prosser, the paper reported, confirmed making the remarks, saying he “probably overreacted” while accusing Justices Abrahamson and Bradley of being “masters at deliberately goading people into perhaps incautious statements.”

OSHA Adopts Workplace Anti-Bullying Policy

 

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has adopted a safety program for its own workers that includes a workplace anti-bully policy.

The policy is contained in a 278-page document, the OSHA Field Health and Safety Manual, which was released on May 23, 2011. The manual outlines safety practices for OSHA’s field offices. It was drafted in cooperation with the National Council of Field Labor Locals, a union that represents OSHA workers.

OSHA’s workplace bullying policy is significant because the General Duty Clause of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 requires employers to “furnish to each of his employees employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees … .” However, OSHA has not enforced that provision with respect to workplace bullying, despite overwhelming research that workplace bullying may cause severe damages to a target’s mental and physical health.

The stated purpose of the workplace bullying policy, contained in the manual’s “Violence in the Workplace” chapter, is: ”To provide a workplace that is free from violence, harassment, intimidation, and other disruptive behavior.”

The manual defines “intimidating behavior” as:

“Threats or other conduct that in any way create a hostile environment, impair Agency operations, or frighten, alarm or inhibit others. Verbal intimidation may include making false statements that are malicious, disparaging, derogatory, disrespectful, abusive, or rude.”

 And, “workplace violence” is defined as:

“An action, whether verbal, written, or physical aggression, that is intended to control, cause, or is capable of causing injury to oneself or other, emotional harm, or damage to property.”.

 All OSHA employees are required to “treat all other employees, as well as customers, with dignity and respect. Management will provide a working environment as safe as possible by having preventative measures in place and by dealing immediately with threatening or potentially violent situations. No employee will engage in threats, violent outbursts, intimidations, bullying harassment, or other abusive or disruptive behaviors.”

The manual states that the Assistant Regional Administrator/Director for Administrative Programs or equivalent unit will:

1. Disseminate the workplace violence policies and procedures to all employees;

2. Provide annual training on this policy and U.S. Department of Labor workplace violence program for responsible OSHA Manager(s); and

3. Conduct an investigation and complete a Workplace Violence Incident Report for all incidents reported. The report will be submitted to the Regional Administrator within 24 hours of completion.

Congress created the OSHA  to ensure safe and healthful working conditions for working men and women by setting and enforcing standards and by providing training, outreach, education and assistance. OSHA is part of the United States Department of Labor.