1 in 3 adults admit to have been bullied by a boss. According to USA Today:
One in three adults has experienced workplace bullying, according to surveys conducted earlier this year by research firm Zogby International for the Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI). Nearly three-fourths of bullying is from the top down, according to a 2007 study.
Some tyrannical managers scream and send out scathing e-mails. But often, an oppressor uses a more subtle — and easily covered — collection of behaviors. These actions could include purposely leaving a worker out of communications so they can’t do their job well, mocking someone during meetings and spreading malicious gossip about their target, says Catherine Mattice, a workplace consultant who specializes in this issue.
The acts may seem trivial, but as they build up over time, the ramifications can be monumental.
Bullied workers often feel anxious and depressed, can’t sleep and are at increased risk for ailments such as hypertension. Some employees feel so overwhelmed, they just can’t see a way out. “Sometimes, unfortunately, suicide is the result,” Mattice says.
Do people just accept bullying more from a boss? Do they fear retaliation to the point of being fired? Why are people more willing to put up with it?
Apparently there is little that can be done about bullying on the job. The concept of bullying on the job lies is fairly uncharted waters:
On an academic level, workplace bullying has become a popular research topic, says Stanford Engineering School management professor and Good Boss, Bad Boss author Robert Sutton. But on a broader scale, there is still much to be learned about this topic.
“Workplace bullying is kind of this new concept; it’s like sexual harassment before Anita Hill,” Mattice says. “One of the biggest problems is that it is under the radar.”
A big issue is that bullying is difficult to define. Is a demanding boss a bully or a perfectionist? Is a manager who says inappropriate things malicious or just tactless? “That’s one of the difficult things to grapple with,” says Joseph O’Keefe, a senior counsel at law firm Proskauer. “When does it rise above just being a mean boss and reach the level of bullying?”
As a general guideline, bullying occurs when a manager has an ongoing pattern of intimidating or demeaning behavior that can affect an employee’s health.
“We’ve all had bosses who are rough around the edges, and sometimes you just have to deal with it,” says Tom Davenport, a senior consultant at human resources consultancy Towers Watson. “But it’s one thing to have an assertive boss, and it’s another to have one that makes you feel sick — psychologically, physically and emotionally sick.”
Virginia will be a testing ground for bullying on the job. Can on the job bullying be linked to suicide and will companies and institutions be held responsible for deaths? Perhaps this is an area for Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli:
Since bullying is such an amorphous act, department managers and human resource executives often have to examine claims of it on an individual basis. Officials at the University of Virginia had to undertake this task earlier this year.
On July 30, Kevin Morrissey, managing editor at the University of Virginia literary magazine Virginia Quarterly Review, shot himself. Morrissey’s sister, Maria Morrissey, says that after his death, she learned that her brother was treated harshly by VQR editor Ted Genoways.
Genoways’ attorney, Lloyd Snook, says the editor was not a bully to Morrissey or anyone else in the office.
Following Morrissey’s death, the university commissioned an audit of the magazine’s finances and management practices. The Oct. 20 report says that while Genoways’ ability to supervise his staff in accordance with university policies “is questionable,” complaints against him didn’t raise any red flags.
“There were reports through the years of the editor not being courteous or respectful with some contributors and colleagues, as well as problems with certain employees, but none ever seemed to rise to the level of a serious, ongoing concern,” the report said.
In a formal response to the audit, Snook said that Genoways “has never been told of any specific complaint that any of his staff has had. There was never any personnel action taken against Ted.”
Even with the release of the internal report, there are still many questions swirling — and not many publically known answers — about the situation at VQR.
When would the State of Virginia become responsible for the death of someone who was bullied by one of its supervisors? When would any company be held responsible? When we think about how much of a person’s self esteem can be affected by a bully boss, it seems obvious that a company has a responsiblity to weed out bad bosses. How is this any different than being beaten up on the playground? Adults generally spend one third of their day at work.
How many people can think of situations where they were bullied on the job or know of someone who was bullied on the job? Do certain bosses stand out more than others? My favorite recollection of a bully boss used the method of ‘divide and conquor’ to rule. He sucked up to one person while denigrating another employee to that person. He then went to the other person and did the same thing. It was bullying. You did what he wanted so you weren’t his next victim, even though you were anyway. How many other people have been victimized by yelling, screaming, temper tantrums, name calling and being interrupted and talked over? Are these examples of on the job bullying?
On the job bullying might just be the next of focus. On the other hand, it might also be put on the back burner. Too many people fear losing a job to complain. A crappy boss might be better than having no boss at all. Perhaps once the economy improves, bosses will be held more accountable. Meanwhile, who has a bad bully boss story for us?