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July 27, 2013

Workplace Bullies, Corporate Psychopaths

The Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI) defines workplace bullying as “repeated mistreatment: sabotage by others that prevents work from getting done, verbal abuse, threatening conduct, intimidation, and humiliation.”  Results from surveys conducted by the WBI and Zogby International in 2007 and 2010 demonstrate the nature and extent of the problem.

  • 35% of workers have experienced bullying firsthand
  • Most bullies are bosses (72%)
  • 62% of bullies are men; 58% of targets are women
  • Women bullies target women in 80% of cases
  • Bullying is 4 times more prevalent than illegal harassment
  • The majority (68%) of bullying is same-gender harassment
  • 62% of employers ignore the problem
  • 45% of bullying targets suffer stress-related health problems
  • 40% of bullied individuals never tell their employers
  • Only 3% of bullied people file lawsuits

In the world of bullying, there is an elephant in the room. Some bullies, successful in their younger years, have wrapped bullying into the “skill set” they bring with them into the workplace, and there is precious little anyone can do about it.   Human Resources (HR) departments are loath to use the term “bullying,” preferring instead to insist that the employee is describing “harassment.” Unfortunately for the bullied employee, the experience does not rise to the level of qualifying for action under the laws protecting us against illegal discrimination.  The reason HR managers give for failing to assist the targeted employee is most often that if the employee is being bullied by someone who is the same gender as themselves, or of the same race, the behavior cannot be called “illegal discrimination.” 

As the studies cited above show, in the workplace the act of bullying is four times more common than illegal discrimination.  There is an important clue here—if we as a society make the damaging behavior of bullying in the workplace illegal, with harsh penalties for the bully who breaks these laws, there is every reason to believe the problem could be significantly diminished.  The culpability of the employer is, of course, a necessary ingredient, just as it is in handling cases of illegal discrimination.

It is of note that at the June 2013 annual conference of the Society for Human Resource Management, there were some sessions on moving beyond this barrier and making workplace bullying illegal.  Attorneys specializing in labor law urged human resource managers to begin serious discussions within their organizations about recognizing the  crushing consequences of workplace bullying and ending the culture of denial.

Slow Progress on Legal Remedies

In February 2013, West Virginia legislators introduced House Bill 2054, The Healthy Workplace Act. With their proposed legislation, West Virginian Delegates Longstreth, Caputo, and Fleischauer offer other state legislatures a model to remedy this very costly, growing problem.  The introductory summary of the bill is directed at making workplace bullying a violation of the law for both perpetrator and employer, if the employer does not intervene:

“The bill creates The Healthy and Safe Workplace Act. The bill provides for healthy workplaces by provides remedies for hostile work environments. The bill makes legislative findings. The bill defines terms. The bill establishes unlawful employment practices. The bill provides liabilities and affirmative defenses for employers and employees. The bill bans retaliation in certain circumstances. The bill provides an employer duty to respond to third-party acts of malice. The bill restricts applicability to employment practices not covered by existing state laws on human rights or wrongful discharge. The bill provides remedies and procedure. The bill limits the amount recoverable for emotional distress. The bill and establishes time limitations for commencing actions.” 

In the body of the bill, the text describes the need for this amendment to workplace law as follows:  “(f) Legal protection from abusive work environments should not be limited to behavior grounded in protected class status as that provided for under employment discrimination statuses; …”

The process of adopting these laws has been slow.  For example, Washington State was the fourth state to address workplace bullying with the introduction of their Healthy Workplace Bill in 2005-06, but by 2008, it did not survive the legislative process and died in the Appropriations Committee.  HB 1928 and a companion bill SB 5789 were introduced in 2011, yet no further legislative action has moved them forward since April 2012–over a year ago.

The Consequences of Workplace Bullying

Workplace bullying is an issue that needs urgent attention.  It is an international issue, and it is at the heart of creating environments where people can flourish as individuals.  Everyone benefits from that.  Workplace bullying is not violence in the workplace that you see on the evening news.  Those tragedies do happen, but from the studies done so far, the damage a workplace bully does goes far deeper and extends more widely.  It is a systematic, tortuous dismantling of the targeted employee’s mind, body, and spirit.

The physical and mental consequences are dramatic.  The intense stress resulting from deliberate and constant abuse can lead to hypertension, strokes, heart attacks, neurological disorders, immunological impairment, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, and diabetes.  The psychological consequences are equally debilitating, including anxiety, panic attacks, clinical depression, and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Relationships with family, friends, and workplace colleagues often suffer as well, creating a greater sense of alienation and hopelessness in bullying victims.

Organizations are damaged as well by employee turnover, missed time at work, and impaired productivity of affected employees. When the overall extent of workplace bullying is considered (as many as 1 in 3 employees), the toll on the global economy is staggering, and unnecessary.

Making Our Workplaces Safer

There are some actions employees who are victims of bullying can pursue.  Depending on the situation and the extent of the bullying, these include coaching, working with a therapist, and seeking legal counsel.  Ultimately, though, workplace bullying needs to be addressed in the same manner that racial and other forms of workplace discrimination were tackled, resulting in legal protections.   The problem of workplace bullying has many causes and won’t be easily solved.  A good starting place, however, is greater awareness of the problem and making sure that its victims are heard.

July 7, 2013

Taking Down Digital Bullies

Social media technology has made it easier than ever for teens to stay connected with each other.  It has also made bullying easier.  Consider the story of Brandon Turley, as recently report by CNN.  In sixth grade, he didn’t have friends. He would often eat alone at lunch, having recently switched to his school without knowing anyone.  One day, while browsing MySpace, he saw that someone from his school had posted a message visible to multiple people stating that Turley was a “fag.” Students he had never even spoken with had commented on the post, saying they agreed.

brandon-turleyUnsure of what to do and upset, Turley wrote in the comments, asking why his classmates would say that. The response was even worse.  He was told on MySpace that a group of 12 kids wanted to beat him up, that he should stop going to school and die. On his walk from his locker to the school office to report what was happening, students yelled things like “fag” and “fatty.”

“It was just crazy, and such a shock to my self-esteem that people didn’t like me without even knowing me,” said Turley, now 18 and a senior in high school in Oregon. “I didn’t understand how that could be.”

“Cyber bullying” is defined as a young person tormenting, threatening, harassing, or embarrassing another young person using the Internet or other technologies, like cell phones.

Studies done on cyber bullying underscore the fact that it is widespread.  In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics calls cyber bullying the “most common online risk for all teens.”  Statistics compiled by DoSeomething.org show that:

  1. Nearly 43% of kids have been bullied online. 1 in 4 has had it happen more than once.
  2. 70% of students report seeing frequent bullying online.
  3. Over 80% of teens use a cell phone regularly, making it the most common medium for cyber bullying.
  4. 68% of teens agree that cyber bullying is a serious problem.
  5. 81% of young people think bullying online is easier to get away with than bullying in person.
  6. 90% of teens who have seen social-media bullying say they have ignored it. 84% have seen others tell cyber bullies to stop.
  7. Only 1 in 10 victims will inform a parent or trusted adult of their abuse.
  8. Girls are about twice as likely as boys to be victims and perpetrators of cyber bullying.
  9. About 58% of kids admit someone has said mean or hurtful things to them online. More than 4 out 10 say it has happened more than once.
  10. About 75% have visited a website bashing another student.
  11. Bullying victims are 2 to 9 times more likely to consider committing suicide.

Cyber bullying can be very damaging to adolescents and teens. It can lead to anxiety, depression, and even suicide. Also, once things are circulated on the Internet, they may never disappear, resurfacing at later times to renew the pain of cyber bullying.

cyber-bullyingMany cyber bullies think that bullying others online is funny. However, cyber bullies may not realize the consequences of these activities for themselves and their families. The things teens post online now may reflect badly on them later when they apply for college or a job. Cyber bullies can lose their cell phone or online accounts for cyber bullying. Also, cyber bullies and their parents may face legal charges for cyber bullying, and if the cyber bullying was sexual in nature, the results can include being registered as a sex offender. Teens may believe that if they use a fake name they won’t get caught.  But there are many ways to trace the true identity of someone who is bullying over the Internet.

Below are some steps that parents and teens can take to help stop cyber bullying.

  • Talks to teens about cyber bullying, explaining that it is wrong and can have serious consequences. Make a rule that teens may not send mean or damaging messages, even if someone else started it, or suggestive pictures or messages or they will lose their cell phone and computer privileges for a time.
  • Encourage teens to tell an adult if cyber bullying is occurring. Tell them if they are the victims they will not be punished, and reassure them that being bullied is not their fault.
  • Teens should keep cyber bullying messages as proof that the cyber bullying is occurring. The teens’ parents may want to talk to the parents of the cyber bully, to the bully’s Internet or cell phone provider, and/or to the police about the messages, especially if they are threatening or sexual in nature.
  • Try blocking the person sending the messages. It may be necessary to get a new phone number or email address and to be more cautious about giving out the new number or address.
  • Teens should never tell their password to anyone except a parent, and should not write it down in a place where it could be found by others.
  • Teens should not share anything through text or instant messaging on their cell phone or the Internet that they would not want to be made public – remind teens that the person they are talking to in messages or online may not be who they think they are, and that things posted electronically may not be secure.
  • Encourage teens never to share personal information online or to meet someone they only know online.
  • Keep the computer in a shared space like the family room, and do not allow teens to have Internet access in their own rooms.
  • Encourage teens to have times when they turn off the technology, such as at family meals or after a certain time at night.
  • Parents may want to wait until high school to allow their teens to have their own email and cell phone accounts, and even then parents should still have access to the accounts.

 Cyber bullying can have long lasting consequences.  A recent study in the journal JAMA Psychiatry suggests that bullying victims showed greater likelihood of agoraphobia, where people don’t feel safe in public places, along with generalized anxiety and panic disorder. People who were both victims and bullies were at higher risk for young adult depression, panic disorder, agoraphobia among females, and the likelihood of suicide among males. Those who were only bullies showed a risk of antisocial personality disorder.

Technology has made bullying easier and more pervasive.  Putting a stop to bullying – whatever its form – requires a community effort from parents, teachers and especially kids themselves.  Not doing so imperils the health of our children and our society.

March 21, 2012

Bully Documentary – Rated Important

Bullying is a big problem.  Over 13 million children in the U.S. are bullied each year.  The bullying can take the form of verbal, physical or cyber abuse.  In some cases, it can lead kids who have been the victims of constant bullying to take their own lives.

bullyingBully is a new movie about bullying and will soon be hitting theaters around the country.  However, the film has been given an R rating by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA).  This means that kids will have to see the movie with their parents, and also it cannot be shown in schools, where it is most needed.  For example, the Cincinnati School District signed on to bus 40,000 of their students to the movie – but because the Appeals Board retained the R rating, the School District will have to cancel those plans.  There have been protests about the R rating from many groups and also celebrities, including Ellen DeGeneres, Meryl Streep, and Johnny Depp.  Twenty members of Congress have also requested a change in the rating.  The appeal to have the MPAA change the rating to PG-13, filed by Harvey Weinstein, co-chairman of the company which distributes the film, was denied.  The MPAA has defended its rating, pointing to the violence and raw language used in the film.

Former senator Chris Dodd, now chairman of the MPAA, extended a lifeline to the film’s distributor saying the film could launch unrated.  He was responding to criticism that much more graphic films, with a much less important message, have been assigned the PG-13 rating.

Bully – Trailer #1

Perhaps this is time when the MPAA leadership should think beyond the narrow confines of its charter.  By weighing the benefits of a PG-13 rating to expand the audience for this important documentary, the MPAA would make an immense contribution to the efforts of teachers, parents and kids to end bullying.  In this case, the visceral experience of bullying could motivate us as a nation to put an end to the violence that so many children have to deal with each day.


October 6, 2011

An Epidemic of Bullying


Ryan Halligan

One of the first places a child may encounter conflict is being the victim of bullying by his or her peers in school. Bullying Statistics, an organization which tracks data on bullying, reports some sobering facts in its 2010 survey:

  • Over half, about 56 percent, of all students have witnessed a bullying crime while at school.
  • 15 percent of all students who don’t show up for school report it as being out of fear of being bullied while at school.
  • 71 percent of students report bullying as an on-going problem.
  • One out of every 10 students drops out or changes schools because of repeated bullying.
  • One out of every 20 students has seen a student with a gun at school.
  • Some of the top years for bullying include 4th through 8th graders in which 90 percent were reported as victims of some kind of bullying.
  • Other recent bullying statistics reveal that 54 percent of students reported that witnessing physical abuse at home can lead to violence in school.
  • Among students of all ages, homicide perpetrators were found to be twice as likely as homicide victims to have been bullied previously by their peers.
  • Each year, 282,000 students are reportedly attacked in high schools throughout the nation.

The Internet has fostered a new and sometimes deadly form of bullying – cyber bullying. Cyber bullying can occur when a child is the victim of harmful or embarrassing messages posted online or sent via text.   Consider the story of Ryan Halligan as told by his father in the video below.

Teen Bullying Prevention – A Cyber Bullying Suicide Story

Many  efforts, both official and grassroots, are underway to help prevent bullying through educating teachers, school administrators, parents and especially kids themselves.  Some examples include:

  • The Bully Project, a documentary recently featured at the Tribeca Film Festival
  • It Gets Better, a comprehensive project featuring a series of YouTube videos and other information to help LGBT kids combat bullying
  • Webisodes created by StopBullying.gov to help younger children understand bullying

There are many actions we can take to stop bullying.  But, as Ryan Halligan’s father observed, the first thing we can all do is stop being bystanders in this epidemic.

Join our family of donors.  Help the Desmond Tutu Peace Foundation create educational programs that a new generation of young people can use to end bullying and make their world a better place.[paypal-donation]