Ignore bullying at your peril.
Employers simply cannot afford to ignore the corrosive influence of workplace bullying. It works its toxic tentacles into every aspect of the company, its worker’s personal lives and their families. It creates turnover, reduces productivity, raises absenteeism, and even exacerbates worker’s compensation and disability claims. Add to this the increased risks of litigation, and the costs are huge.
Pamela Lutgen-Sandvik, Associate Professor in the Department of Communication and Journalism at the University of New Mexico, finds a direct and undeniable connection between workplace bullying and violence and aggression. In a 2006 study she found that when organizations fail to address bullying, the targets of the bullying behavior often become increasingly motivated to seek retaliation through aggression or violence.1 Further, organizational behavior professors Robert Baron and Joel Neuman, have characterized overall workplace aggression (including bullying) as the “iceberg” beneath the “tip” of workplace violence.2
“Violence in the workplace begins long before fists fly or lethal weapons extinguish lives. Where resentment and aggression routinely displace cooperation and communication, violence has occurred.”
Bernice Fields, Federal Arbitrator
In 2010 Workplace Bullying Institute conducted a survey which showed that 35 percent of American workers have experienced bullying at work. This equates to many billions of dollars in losses to the American economy every year.
Defining and Identifying Bullying
Any attempt to define bullying on the basis of behaviors alone falls flat. This accounts for the fact that no two people or organizations seem to define bullying in the same way. Bullying must be understood in terms of the intent of the perpetrator and the effect it has on the target. Analysis of dozens of definitions, (many of which are actually just descriptions of behavior), yields one common thread that runs through them all.
It’s about power.
At its most fundamental level, bullying is persistent behavior designed to create a power imbalance between the bully and the target. This is the singularity from which springs every bully’s universe of tactics, behaviors and motivation.
This understanding of bullying allows us to distinguish it from other experiences that workers may find unpleasant, but which are reasonable actions taken in the context of managing people, and are not bullying behaviors. Things such as:
- Correcting misconduct
- Investigating a report of misconduct
- Performance reviews
- Re-assignment of duties or transfer to another area
- Denying a benefit when the claim is inconsistent with the published policy
- Repeated meetings to remediate underperformance
- Occasional rudeness, especially when evenly experienced by everyone
In the absence of any motivation to humiliate, undermine, threaten or otherwise personally diminish the employee, none of these things constitutes bullying.