It’s no surprise that bosses are more likely to bully at work than coworkers or subordinates. But what may be surprising is that bosses alone aren’t most likely to bully. About 47 percent of respondents to a 2012 Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI) poll said a mix of people were responsible for their bullying (mobbing), while only 34 percent of respondents said they only had one bully with a higher ranking than theirs.
“Bullying always begins with a single instigator who nearly immediately recruits the assistance of others,” says WBI. “Those who aid and abet the bully do so either through a direct and explicit appeal or through implied coercion. Thus bullying becomes mobbing [involving multiple perpetrators who gang up on a single target].”
In other words, it’s an abuse of power that leads targets to isolation. Fear prevents the reverse from happening. Subordinates rarely join together to go against a boss out of fear of...
“Targets with prior brushes with abuse in their lives do not necessarily risk being targets of workplace bullying. However, when targeted, emotional memories are quickly triggered, and those targets are subject to re-traumatization. The levels of emotional pain, shame, and distress are much more severe than for individuals experiencing abuse for the first time as an adult in the workplace,” says the Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI). WBI adds that perhaps those who experience abuse for the first time at work take longer to recognize the behavior as bullying because the abuse doesn’t trigger any memories of prior abuse.
In a 2013 poll, WBI found that these options as the most frequent sources of initial abuse, in order of popularity:
“Within the family-of-origin (FOO), parents were the abusers for 69 percent of targets who claimed...
Researcher Loraleigh Keashly coined the term “emotional abuse at work” as a synonym for workplace bullying, says the Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI). “All of one’s cognitive resources are deployed to cope with the psychological assault. In worst cases, there is trauma that must be dealt with. In all cases, the target is stigmatized, and social relations with coworkers strained…. Bullying triggers distress, the human stress response in reaction to the bully’s tactics, the stressors. If left unabated, prolonged distress leads to stress-related diseases, all sorts of health complications.”
“The most effective stress mitigation factor is social support. Validating human support can reverse the deleterious effects of emotional abuse,” says WBI. “Isolation exacerbates the distress. Sometimes learning about the first-time experience can alleviate distress. After all,...
Harmful health effects from workplace bullying aren’t just self-reported. They’re proven.
In a 2003 study, Researchers Wager, Fieldman, and Hussey looked at the effects of workplace bullying on female healthcare workers’ blood pressure. Researchers separated the workers into an experimental group, who dealt with supervisors of two different interpersonal styles, and a control group, who worked under favorably perceived bosses only.
“Data revealed that working under a less favorably perceived boss resulted in significantly higher levels of systolic blood pressure and diastolic blood pressure than for those subjects working under more favorably perceived bosses,” say Loraleigh Keashly and Joel H. Neuman in their Employee Rights and Employee Policy Journal article.”The results are intriguing and consistent with data from correlational, self-report studies.”
Take Your Dignity Back
If you feel like you’re...
We talk about consequences for workplace bullying targets and their organizations. But what happens in an organization when a bully provokes so much anxiety in targets that targets have crippling fear of approaching the bully?
In their Employee Rights and Employee Policy Journal article, Loraleigh Keashly and Joel H. Neuman point to the airline and health care industries to show how fear-based cultures created by toxic bosses can promote not just the deaths of efficiency, effective decision-making, communication, risk-taking, creativity, and innovation, but also people:
Airline industry. “In two separate incidents, in which aircraft personnel felt intimidated by their pilots and fearful of questioning his decisions, aircraft crewmembers failed to correct pilot errors that resulted in two separate air crashes, killing all on board,” they explained.
Health care industry. Nurses are often also reluctant to challenge poor decisions made by...
Bullying leads to stress, and stress leads to health problems. Health problems can then eventually lead to poor work performance. At that point, workplace bullying targets can either:
As of last year, Massachusetts employers are required to provide their employees with 10 sick days, still worse than Norway, Germany, the UK, and Japan (all offering up to 26 weeks) but better than the rest of the U.S., where there is no federal paid sick leave law or provision for replacing lost wages.
In a 2013 poll, the Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI) found that slightly more than half of respondents took no sick leave, leaving them vulnerable to health problems, poor work performance, and worsened personal relationships.
That means that nearly half of respondents took some form of sick leave.
Types of sick leave targets...
If you think workplace bullying is a bigger issue than managers often suspect, you’re right. Research supports that workplace bullying simply often goes unreported but it’s still happening. In their Employee Rights and Employee Policy Journal article, Researchers Loraleigh Keashly and Joel H. Neuman said a study of the VA healthcare system, the VA Project, showed a gap between those who experienced workplace bullying and those who reported it their experience to a supervisor. “Of the people identified as being exposed to bullying behavior (36 percent of the total sample), 53 reported their experience to a supervisor. An even smaller proportion (15 percent) filed a formal grievance.”
Possible reasons for not reporting bulling behavior at work:
A great leader creates a positive work culture with empathy, humility, teamwork, and the idea that empowering employees not only shows them respect but also encourages productivity. It’s building people versus power-tripping people, looking out for the organization and the team versus one’s ego.
When a manager isn’t a leader, the entitled power-tripping can play out in such ways as:
When the boss isn’t the power-tripper
When the power-tripper is a co-worker, often he or she will just take the power. I call this move the “power grab,” and I’ve witnessed it so many times both on the job and in my volunteer work. Someone on your level (or in the case of volunteer work, any level) simply starts acting like he or she can boss you around. It’s a gross move that sets up a hierarchy...
We may know how to recognize bullying at work. But to create a more compassionate culture, it’s not enough to identify what’s wrong. If you were thrust into a leadership position yourself, would you know how to create a positive culture for your employees?
If we look at management effectiveness on a continuum, we put effective management (using empathy, humility, teamwork, respect, and empowerment) on one end and ineffective management (abuse) on the other. At various points along the continuum, we’d have some positive tactics (consistent communication, celebrating wins, honoring employees’ expertise) and some negative tactics (micromanagement, pulling rank, ignoring issues, positioning above grunt work, denying employees opportunities without explanation).
The bottom line
Regardless of whether or not bosses lead well 100 percent of the time, we can watch their actions to understand their underlying management philosophies. The bottom line is...
Workplace bullying is painful no matter how to slice it. But for those with narcissistic mothers, workplace bullying can both trigger open childhood wounds and affirm feelings of unworthiness.
In her book Will I Ever Be Good Enough?: Healing the Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers, author Karyl McBride, Ph.D., says that some high-achieving daughters aka “Mary Marvels” focus on achievement as a way to prove to the world (and to their mothers) that they’re worthy. Struggling with feelings of inadequacy and growing up having to be doers to feel accepted and approved by their mothers, these daughters often didn’t receive validation in early years and don’t learn to validate themselves. “She [a high-achieving daughter] often succumbs to the lure of doing more and trying harder in ways that bring validation from others. This is an unconscious seduction because Mary Marvels are almost highly skilled and competent…. The praise appears to fill...
Subscribe to our blog to learn more about
how workplace bullying works and how to deal with it.