Workplace Bullying: Recognize and Prevent It

Kevin Morrisey, the 52-year-old managing editor of the award-winning Virginia Quarterly Review, walked to a nearby area of the University of Virginia campus on July 30, 2010, and shot himself in the head. According to an ABC News report, 18 calls were made to appropriate officials to report that Morrisey was the target of workplace bullying and was seeking protection from his employer. The report alleges that the university may not have responded in a timely manner to the employee’s plea for help.

Morrisey’s suicide is only one of many workplace shootings that result from bullying. In fact, the growing epidemic of workplace bullying has been featured in a recent documentary entitled, Murder by Proxy, released in parts of the U.S. and Canada.

Workplace bullying expert Dr. Gary Namie, President of the Workplace Bullying Institute defines bullying as “repeated mistreatment: sabotage by others that prevent work from getting done, verbal abuse, threatening conduct, intimidation and humiliation.” It is any behavior by employers or co-workers that subject targets to repeated, abusive conduct resulting in health-harming physical and psychological effects. Information and communications technologies such as E-mail, Instant Messaging and social networks can be part of this toxic mix of mistreatment. Indeed, while much research has been devoted to the study of cyber-bullying in middle- and high-school, there is little credible research to date on the role of cyber-bullying in the workplace.

Workplace bullying in general looks to be fairly widespread. The Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI) commissioned Zogby International to collect data for its 2010 U.S. Workplace Bullying Survey. Two surveys were conducted for this report: one with several items that had 4,210 survey respondents (MOE +/- 1.5 percentage points); and one single-item survey that had 2,092 respondents (MOE +/- 2.2 percentage points). Each sample was representative of all American adults in August 2010. The results are alarming:

  • 35% of workers have experienced bullying firsthand
  • 62% of bullies are men; 58% of targets are women
  • Women bullies target women in 80% of cases
  • Bullying at work is four times more prevalent than illegal harassment (2007)
  • Same-gender harassment accounts for more than two thirds (68%) of bullying

In addition to the 35% of the U.S. workforce (an estimated 53.5 million Americans) who report being bullied at work, another 15% say they have witnessed it happen to someone else. Half of all workers report neither experiencing nor witnessing bullying.

The 2010 survey is a follow-up to the WBI’s first national study, conducted by Zogby in 2007. A comparison of results from the two surveys shows that little has changed. In 2007:

  • 37% of U.S. workers reported being bullied; an estimated 54 million Americans.
  • Half of all Americans said they had directly experienced workplace bullying; an additional 15% reported witnessing it.
  • 72% of bullies were bosses; with 62% male and 58% women.
  • 68% of bullying was same-gender harassment.
  • 45% of targets experienced health-related problems.

In a more productive economy, 34% of bullied targets report voluntarily quitting their jobs to avoid further mistreatment according to an on-line poll conducted by the Workplace Bullying Institute. The current economic recession lends itself to escalating harassing behavior, and workplace bullies are inflicting greater risk to both targets and their respective organizations.

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