Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Equal Opportunity Harassment: The Workplace Bully

Bullying, as opposed to illegal workplace harassment, is a form of "equal opportunity harassment". Bullies pick on people without regard to sex, age, race, ethnicity, national origin, or disability. A recent reliable study estimates that approximately 1 in 6 U.S. workers has directly experienced destructive bullying in the past year. (according to a year 2000 scientific sample of State of Michigan residents)

Bullying transcends gender. Half of all bullies (58%) are women. Half of all bullying is woman-on-woman. Women comprise 80% of targets. The vast majority of bullies (71%) are bosses. [Research taken from the Workplace Bullying and Trauma Institute (WBTI)].

Bullies bully because they can; they do so with impunity. The complex answer to why bullies bully can be reduced to 3 factors: (a) some workplaces pit worker against worker in zero-sum (cutthroat) competitive schemes, (b) Machiavellian types (who live to manipulate others to accomplish their own goals) see the opportunities presented, and (c) in bullying-prone workplaces, employers reward the aggression with promotions and rewards. Bullies are rarely psychopathic, but are always narcissistic and Machiavellian. (Again, based on research by the WBTI.)

According to the WBTI research, bullies pick "Targets" who have two characteristics: a desire to cooperate and a non-confronting interpersonal style. Bullying poses a serious health hazard to Targets by compromising their psychological and physical health, disassembling their social network and risking economic devastation through the loss of their jobs because "employment at will" encourages the bully's whimsical misuse of power. Targets who are most surprised by the baseless cruelty inflicted on them suffer the most severe effects and take the longest time to heal afterward. Silent, frozen co-workers worsen the problem often by choosing to cut off support, to tacitly or directly join the bully's personal vendetta against the Target. Eventually, the workplace is paralyzed by fear, incapable of productive work, and susceptible to costly downtime with an unhealthy workforce and an increased liability for destructive employment practices.

Between 2003 and 2005, anti-bullying bills have been introduced in five states -- California, Oklahoma, Hawaii, Washington and Oregon. It has not yet become a law. The 'Healthy Workplace' Bill (sponsored by the WBTI) is advocated by its sponsors as a needed protection against the devastating emotional (and sometimes physical) workplace injuries caused by bullies. Opponents state that the proposed laws, while well intentioned, can't be adequately policed and enforced by a limited court system.

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get redressed!"
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