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Survey results show people favor a law to address workplace bullying

Richie Incognito in action for the Miami Dolphins
Wikimedia Commons User Moe Epsilon

With the controversy surrounding the Jonathan Martin/Richie Incognito scandal in the NFL, people are giving more attention to the workplace bullying issue. People have become more aware and are focusing more attention on the negative behaviors seen in workplaces outside of professional sports. People are also realizing that current laws do little or nothing to protect many people from workplace abuse.

This growing concern is evident after the recently released survey results by the Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI), working with Zogby Analytics, were released. The survey showed that:

  • 27% of those surveyed have been bullied in the workplace;
  • 23% are aware of bullying in the workplace;
  • 21% have witnessed a coworker being bullied;
  • 93% of those surveyed at least somewhat believe that laws should be enacted to prevent and/or stop workplace bullying.

Workplace bullying is more than just incivility at work. It is not just an isolated occurrence between coworkers. It is ongoing, malicious mistreatment of one worker by another, with the bully typically being someone of higher rank than the target. Bullying behaviors can be anything from (but not limited to) socially isolating the target to using repeated gossip and innuendos, assassinating the character of a coworker, or public, demeaning and unwarranted criticism. In the past, people would say that the target needs to develop a thicker skin or they should fight fire with fire. Neither of those strategies works. In fact, doing nothing or fighting back usually causes the problem to escalate.

The point made in the survey that a law is needed to combat workplace bullying is worthy of note. Currently, bullies operate with impunity. Unless the targeted person is a member of a protected class identified in discrimination laws, the abuse of one coworker on another is not illegal. A bill called the Healthy Workplace Bill would address workplace mistreatment affecting workers regardless of protected classes.

Another reason to take the need for an anti-bullying law seriously is because bullying is harmful to both the target and the bystanders who witness it. It leads to any number of stress-related illnesses such as heart disease, gastrointestinal disorders, and mental health issues such as post traumatic stress disorder and depression. The worst part of all of this: it is avoidable.

Bullying is bad for business. Billions of dollars per year are lost due to workplace bullying because of absences due to stress-related illnesses to loss of productivity to the high cost of replacing workers who leave to escape the bullying. Once CEOs are made aware of the negative impact workplace bullying has in terms of money lost, they are more likely to wake up. Otherwise, without solid numbers to show how bullying harms business, CEOs view bullying as a personality conflict that two parties should resolve amongst themselves. The Healthy Workplace Bill would include incentives for companies that are proactive against workplace bullying.

For more information about the Martin/Incognito case, the WBI has been following the case since it came to light and the WBI blog had updates as they occur.

The complete report of the WBI 2014 survey can be downloaded here.

Information on how people can help with the Healthy Workplace Bill can be found here.