Workplace Bullying Activists
Gary Namie, PhD, Ruth Namie, PhD & Pamela Lutgen-Sandvik, PhD In S.Einarsen, H.Hoel, D.
Zapf, & C. Cooper (Eds. ) Workplace Bullying: Development in Theory, Research and Practice (2nd edition). London: Taylor & Francis 2009, in press Challenging Workplace Bullying in the USA: A Communication and Activist Perspective Introduction The goals of the multi-faceted 12-yearold campaign have been to raise awareness, and to reverse acceptance, of workplace bullying in the United States. In this chapter, we discuss the Workplace Bullying Institute’s (WBI, workplacebullying. rg) efforts with three principal constituent groups and report the current state of progress as well as the barriers we continue to face in meeting those goals. The organization has a long history of assistance for bullied workers, legislative advocacy and collaboration with academics (e. g. , Lutgen-Sandvik, Namie & Namie, 2009; Neuman, 2000; Yamada, 2008; Yamada, 2002). Prior to detailing the state of U. S. awareness regarding the bullying phenomenon, we outline the central ideas behind communication campaigns that focus on public health issues, such as workplace bullying, and persuasion theories relevant to the work.
We then review the current state of this campaign in the United States focusing on efforts directed at three groups: the public [e. g. , bullied workers (targets), witnesses, nonbelievers], lawmakers, and employers. We close with work yet to be done and future directions to continue these U. S. endeavors. Public Health Campaigns Communication campaigns focused on reducing threats to public health have four essential elements (Salmon & Atkin, 2003). First, they are intended to generate specific outcomes. In the anti-bullying campaign, these goals are to raise awareness and reverse acceptance of workplace bullying in the United States.
Second, campaigns seek to meet their goals with a variety of constitu- ent groups or stakeholders. The key stakeholders in the anti-bullying campaign are persons suffering because of bullying, organizational decision makers responsible for work environments, and lawmakers who have the power to mandate worker protections against psychological violence at work. Third, public health campaigns meet these goals with stakeholder groups through “an organized set of communication activities” (Salmon & Atkin, p. 450). How can the families of the veteran better understand what to expect and how to deal with their loved ones suffering from PTSD?
An important aspect of public health campaigns is segmentation of stakeholder audiences and crafting messages specifically targeting particular audiences. Message efficiency is maximized when the intended audiences are ordered according to importance and effectiveness is maximized when messages are tailored for specific audiences. There are three constituent groups addressed by the U. S. anti-bullying campaign. First, we strive to mentor targeted workers directly through coaching and indirectly through websites, speeches, and the self-help book for bullied workers and their families, The Bully at Work (Namie & Namie, 2009a).
Another campaign focus is the national, grassroots-lobbying project to enact anti-bullying legislation (authored by law professor David Yamada, see his chapter in this volume) in the states. The third focus is devising interventions for employers who voluntarily adopt bullying prevention policies and procedures. Applicable Persuasion Theories Two theoretical models of persuasion derived from social psychology are also applicable to the goals of convincing Americans that workplace bullying is a negative societal phenomenon deserving mitigation and eventual eradication.
The first is social judgment theory (SJT) (Sherif & Sherif, 1968). SJT posits cognitive processes that explain attitude change. Opinions tied to one’s self-identity are said to be anchored and resistant to change. So when a message is formulated to change one’s opinion toward bullying, the degree of personal (or ego) involvement initially determines how the person will evaluate the persuasion attempt. In practice, personal or vicarious involvement with bullying incidents is a good predictor of a lawmaker’s willingness to sponsor legislation.
Pre-existing categories by which new information is judged are (1) the latitude of acceptance for acceptable positions (with an egoassociated anchor opinion setting the size of the latitude, i. e. , tolerance); (2) the latitude of noncommitment are those positions which are neither accepted nor rejected; and (3) the latitude of rejection for positions actively opposed. Incoming information is distorted to fit those categories. According to SJT, people are most persuaded when not predisposed to favor the communicated position if they are initially on-committal or indifferent about the issue. In order to for a person to understand and concur with the anti-bullying activists’ positions, the message recipient, regardless of constituent group, must be able to assimilate the position because the difference between the person’s anchor (starting) opinion and the activists’ argument is small to moderate. People indifferent about bullying can also be convinced to adopt the activist’s position if the individual’s anchor position is close to her or his acceptance zone. Large discrepancies do not lead to change.
Rather than assimilation of disconfirming messages, they are rejected out of hand. SJT does partially explain the inflexibility of both the targeted worker and employer representative who often find themselves entrenched in adversarial roles, each unwilling or unable to understand the other’s attitudes toward bullying. A more nuanced theory of persuasion that can apply to anti-bullying activism is the elaboration likelihood model (ELM) (Petty & Cacioppo, 1986). This cognitive process model derives its name from the likelihood that a person thinks deeply (elaborates) about a message when exposed to it.
The basic premise of this model is that the route by which a message persuades its recipients depends on their involvement with the message – an aspect shared with the SJT. Two routes exist: the central route and the peripheral route. In the former, people have both the motivation (strength of desire to process the message, love of cognitive engagement) and the ability to critically evaluate the message. According to ELM, people with both motivation and ability will diligently process information via central route processing.
They will look for and respond to strong arguments in favor of the message and counter what they perceive as weak arguments. When people lack the motivation or ability to evaluate the message, they are more likely to respond to cues associated with the message (peripheral route processing), such as entertainment value or association with a celebrity spokesperson, rather than the content of the arguments. In short, high involvement leads to central processing resembling traditional hierarchy models; low involvement leads to peripheral processing.
Petty and Cacioppo (1986) considered attitudes which are the product of central route processing to be more accessible, persistent, resistant to change, and a better predictor of behavior than when the peripheral route is taken. Conditions that promote high elaboration can also affect the extent to which a person has confidence in, and thus trusts, her or his own thoughts in response to a message (Petty, Brinol, & Tormala, 2002). After one invests time and cognitive effort to weigh the merits of persuasive arguments, adoption of those positions serves a self-validating role.
However, high elaboration is difficult to achieve for different reasons for the three constituent groups in the campaign against workplace bullying. First, targeted workers in an emotional, aroused and negative state often lack the ability to take the central, more mentally demanding route to learn about the bullying phenomenon. Most targets learn initially about bullying on the internet, on television or from a newspaper article. Contemporary website design incorporates peripheral cue complexity (moving images, multiple columns, colors, embedded videos, lots of graphics) to pique the attention of minimally involved web browsers.
Targets strained by the stresses of bullying are capable of little more than minimal involvement. The WBI web designer changed the site from its original voluminous, content-rich, but barely navigable, version to a newer one with augmented attention to peripheral details so as to not burden targets searching for answers to fundamental questions. The ELM offers sophisticated explanations for Google’s efficient, text-based, targeted advertisements resulting in clickthrough rates 10 times more effective than banner advertising (McHugh, 2004).
The low peripheral cue complexity of text-only ads is precisely what the central route processor is seeking — concise information directly related to the economic or social outcome sought, allowing them to process significant amounts of information efficiently and thoroughly. On the other hand, the high degree of peripheral cue complexity designed into banner ads with splashy colors and motion graphics entices the casual, low involvement web surfer. This information complexity variable is important to anti-bullying activists because initial interactions with bullied individuals are primarily through website contacts.
There is one other variable that interacts with effectiveness of web content for bullied individuals – the phase of the bullying episode when the visitor discovers the website. In the beginning of bullying episodes, targeted workers are consumed with stabilizing and sensemaking tasks to cope with the uninvited assault that disrupted their psychological comfort (Lutgen-Sandvik, 2008). Bombardment with information (central route processing in the ELM model) during acute phases is ineffective. Next, targets begin to respond to the trauma and stigma ttached to bullying by neutralizing and countering accusations purported by the bully. Repairing one’s reputation comes next as shame is gradually reversed. In the post-bullying phase, when targets are no longer vulnerable to bullying, grieving over the losses (e. g. , belief in justice) and major life and career restructuring take precedence. At this point, targets may be able to incorporate information necessary for recovery. The lesson for communicating effectively to bullied targets is that when they are able to be involved, e. g. calm enough to digest more than a couple of paragraphs, and sufficiently motivated, e. g. , to want to understand the complexity of their bullying problem, comprehensive, substantive resources should be available for them. Bullying website designers have to consider the different phases through which bullied targets pass in order to optimize the utility of the site for emotional visitors who demand immediacy as well as visitors capable of contemplative, in-depth information processing. A majority of U. S. lawmakers have difficulty incorporating the message that a law should be enacted.
Applying ELM theory to their receptivity, we conclude that few are sufficiently motivated. A lawmaker’s likely motivation to advance workers’ rights is blocked by a counter-campaign to protect and enlarge employers’ rights by business lobbyists who outspend labor activists by a 40:1 ratio in election campaign contributions. Further, the ability of lawmakers to attend to the details of the persuasive arguments in favor of anti-bullying legislation is undermined by their hectic schedules during short legislative seasons in most states (varying from 60-180 days per year). Few have time to study any issue in depth.
Lawmakers are swayed more by vivid, televised tales of egregious crimes for which laws are hastily crafted. Prevalent phenomena like bullying are considered routine, thus, relatively benign and not covered daily in the media. Therefore, when lobbying for legislation, we are careful to devote most face-to-face meeting time to descriptions of horrific experiences (emotionally-charged tales enhance attention through pe- ripheral cue complexity) told by individuals. The less compelling prevalence statistics and reports are left behind with lawmakers for subsequent perusal (and hopefully for elaboration and incorporation).
Employer motivation and ability to address workplace bullying in America are both lacking. There is no inherent executive curiosity about the phenomenon that is learned through internal complaint channels. When bullying is reported, 44% do nothing and 18% worsen the situation for the targeted worker (Namie, 2007). The employer record of inaction is revisited in the Employer section of this chapter. A Bullying-Tolerant Society A societal explanation for American employer indifference is the preference for individualistic, aggressive, and abusive responses to interpersonal problems is commonly accepted.
It is normative when all types of interpersonal mistreatment are rationalized as necessary because “it’s just business” as if there were no personal consequences for the actions taken. For instance, Levitt (2009) wrote for a financial sector publication “In a competitive environment, an assertive and ‘take charge’ style is usually rewarded. If a manager exhorts and pushes subordinates to perform … while those people who are laconic by nature, may view the exhortations as bullying. ” From this perspective, bullied workers are evidently the rude, discourteous and unsuccessful ones.
A Tennessee appellate court decision stated in a 2007 case that without proof of discrimination, “the fact that a supervisor is mean, hard to get along with, overbearing, bellig¬erent or otherwise hostile and abusive does not violate civil rights statutes. ” (Frye v. St. Thomas Health Services, 227 S. W. 3d 595. as cited in Davis, 2008). The decision implies that anything goes if the conduct is not explicitly illegal. Corporate employment law attorneys frequently defend bullying perpetrators in cases and are their best apologists.
Mathiason and Savage (2008) told a revealing story about a bully in their own law office. “Clearly there is a type of abusive treatment that exceeds the standards of our firm. Yelling at staff for no reason, blaming associates for perceived errors in such a demeaning manner that their self-confidence is lost and turnover is out of control, are examples of conduct that destroys teamwork and office morale … we do accept and value an individual teaching style that is very demanding of new associates. ” In other words, abuse is an allowable difference in “style” that trumps “out of control” turnover.
Another legal writer discounted the bullying experience by blaming targeted individuals as “employees who can’t handle valid criticism from supervisors [and who then] interpret it as harassment or bullying” (Baldas, 2007). Jeff Tannenbaum, a lawyer formerly at the San Francisco Littler Mendelson office, agreed with the courts’ general rejection of the argument that U. S. workers should be free from abusive treatment at the hands of bosses or coworkers (Bess, 1999). Tannenbaum asserted that America not only has more laws than it can handle, but that bullying has its benefits. This country was built by mean, aggressive, sons of bitches,” said Tannenbaum. “Would Microsoft have made so many millionaires if Bill Gates hadn’t been so aggressive? ” Tannenbaum said that inappropriate bullying was in the eye of the beholder. “Some people may need a little appropriate bullying in order to do a good job. ” He asserts that those who claim to be bullied are really “just wimps who can’t handle a little constructive criticism” (Bess, 1999). In short, American employers exert unilateral control over most work conditions with only 7. 5% of the non-governmental workforce represented by a union.
Unlike other countries where workers enjoy constitutional protections of personal rights, American workers are “at will” employees facing immediate termination without a just-cause requirement. The confidence that business dominates society and the political world was illustrated by a boast from Tom Donahue, president of the U. S. Chamber of Commerce, arguably the most powerful and best funded of all the business lobbying groups. He said, “I’m con- cerned about anti-corporate and populist rhetoric from candidates for the presidency, members of Congress and the media.
It suggests to us that we have to demonstrate who it is in this society that creates jobs, wealth and benefits – and who it is that eats them” (Hamburger, 2008). To challenge bullying is to defy societal norms. Bullying is not the exception. Bullying is not yet taboo here. It is an acceptable operational tactic in the under-regulated corporate world, which takes pride in its ability to dominate labor. Workers dare not complain. This is the context of unbalanced employer-employee power facing the U. S. campaign against workplace bullying. Despite the hurdles, we have enjoyed modest success with goal attainment.
We next report progress in the U. S. campaign with respect to each of the three involved constituent groups – the general public, lawmakers, and employers. Group 1: The General Public The benefits of an informed public are twofold. First, familiarity with the topic helps remove its stigma. Second, people will feel empowered to challenge bullying’s current acceptance. Starting the Movement We began with a traumatic bullying experience that affected our family. Dr. Ruth Namie’s tale was the inaugural story for the movement. Her mistreatment came at the hands of a fellow woman professional in a psychiatry clinic.
Approximately one year after resolution of the case, we discovered the British term “workplace bullying. ” In 1997, we started the Workplace Bullying Institute (originally the Campaign Against Workplace Bullying) to help individuals. WBI originally provided three paths for bullied individuals to find support: (1) a toll-free telephone crisis line, (2) a dedicated website with a growing collection of articles about the phenomenon and the posting of online surveys to complete and dissemination of research findings, and (3) a self-help book published one year after our start. In January 2000, we staged the first U. S. orkplace bullying conference in Oakland, California. It was an unfunded two-day event. Many of the international speakers and presenters who graciously attended at their own expense are authors of several chapters in this book – Michael Sheehan, Charlotte Rayner, Ken Westhues, David Yamada, and Loraleigh Keashly. In September 2000, Suffolk University Law School hosted a second conference in Boston that focused on the legal challenges facing the workplace bullying movement. The crisis line was publicized first in two national newspapers. We coached over 5,000 emotionally wounded people 1 hour at a time in three years.
We learned that it is important to establish limits for telephone counselors because the risk of vicarious trauma is high. We had to stop the inordinately expensive service. Charging a fee for coaching reduced significantly the number of callers. WBI founders brought to the movement prior academic preparation in social and clinical psychology; experience in treatment for family systems therapy, chemical dependency and domestic violence; years of university teaching management and psychology; business consulting; corporate management; combined with experience in behavioral research methodology, survey design and statistical analyses.
Legal expertise was provided by colleague, David Yamada, soon after the organization began. Future advocacy groups should not rely solely on veterans of the bullying wars. Expertise is needed from individuals who did not personally experience bullying. These experts can learn about all aspects of bullying. They are less likely than bullying victims to be adversely affected from working with, and on behalf of, traumatized individuals. Website visitors expect information to be free. Bullied workers often lose their jobs (Namie, 2007) and cannot afford to pay for necessary legal or mental health services.
Groups desiring to emulate our nonprofit organization’s commitment to helping bullied workers are advised to secure funding to sustain the effort. Consulting and training services for employers and fees for professional speeches support WBI’s work. In 2009, Britain’s pioneering organization, the Andrea Adams Trust, closed its charitable operation after 15 years due to lack of funding. The Media as Communication Partners Thanks to 800+ media interviews and appearances, workplace bullying in the U. S. is now publicly recognized. Our relationship with media is mutually beneficial.
Media get a popular story; WBI is able to reach Americans at no cost via television, radio, newspapers and magazines sometimes with a national broadcaster or publisher, at other times local. The burgeoning blogosphere on the internet also helps carry the message that workplace bullying is a common, unconscionable, but legal, form of mistreatment. film The Devil Wears Prada, in which a powerful woman magazine publisher repeatedly berates and humiliates her female assistant, is the prototypical opening for the segment which follows with a real-life tale told by a woman who worked for, and suffered under, a woman boss.
The Bully Boss The American public, if not the business media, seems ready for candor about destructive people who make work life a living hell for others. An example was the best seller, The No Asshole Rule, a book related to bullying written by Stanford Business School professor Robert Sutton (2007). The public embraced its frankness and simplicity. It was a cathartic venting of pentup frustrations with bullies. Business media like the statistic that 72% of bullies outrank their targets (Namie, 2007). Thus, the alliterative stereotype of “bully boss” is an accurate headline.
Of course, bullying originates at, and affects, individuals at most organizational levels. Executives experience the least amount of bullying (5%). The portrayal of exploitation by bullying is more vivid when it is managerial rather than internecine to the work team. The media spotlight is on the quirky or aberrant boss as an individual (without interviewing actual perpetrators) absent reportage on the work environment that sustains him or her. Questions to WBI about what individuals can do when faced with a bully boss outnumber questions about why and how employers should deal with systemic bullying.
The burden for finding a solution tends to fall on the victimized target. When media experts are management consultants or executive coaches, they give poor advice to workers to subordinate themselves, to not attempt to change the toxic work environment that fosters bullying. Some business reporters doubt the targeted workers’ accounts of their bullying. A few television interviews of bullied individuals did not air because producers were reluctant to believe the target’s account or a lawsuit was threat-
Workplace bullying has begun to take its rightful place among better-known topics like domestic violence, PTSD and other forms of abuse in the U. S. A typical media story begins with the “human interest” angle. A targeted worker (prescreened by us to ensure psychological stability and referred to the reporter) describes her or his bullying experience. It is then edited to 1 to 2 onair minutes or short paragraphs in print. In the early years, stories focused almost exclusively on anecdotal stories. In recent years, the media love a womanon-woman bullying story (Meece, 2009) to the exclusion of covering other forms of bullying.
However, in the U. S. , only 29% of all bullying is between a woman perpetrator and woman target; men represent 60% of the bullies (Namie, 2007). The coverage enrages advocates for women’s rights. Despite the narrow focus, newspaper articles prompt 300-500 reader comments per article and televised segments on woman-on-woman bullying garner high ratings. The 2006 theatrical ened. It was “only one side” of the story. Bullying stories feature workers fighting uphill battles. Media most frequently side with Goliath, the employers.
Research Bolsters the Message Since 2000, we were able to supplement anecdotal tales with empirical study data. WBI conducted descriptive large-sample surveys of website visitors (n=1,335; Namie, 2000, & n=1,000; Namie, 2003). The self-selected sample studies were not extrapolated to describe national trends or national prevalence. However, several metrics did approximate estimates from the large representative study WBI conducted later (Namie, 2007). The first credible estimate for U. S. bullying prevalence was 1 in 6 Michigan workers (Keashly, 2001).
The study’s sampling techniques afforded external validity. But there were only approximately 100 individuals who reported “very bothersome” mistreatment. This estimate was the best one available until 2007. In 2007, WBI, with support from the Waitt Institute for Violence Prevention, commissioned polling firm Zogby International to conduct the first U. S. survey of workplace bullying. The stratified sample was large enough (n=7,740) to represent the experiences of all adult Americans. The 20-item survey (Namie, 2007) used the WBI definition of bullying without explicit inclusion of the term “bullying. Instead, it was defined as “repeated mistreatment: sabotage by others that prevented work from getting done, verbal abuse, threatening conduct, intimidation, or humiliation. ” The WBI-Zogby survey found 12. 6% of U. S. workers were either being bullied currently or had been within the year, 24. 2% were previously but not currently bullied, 12. 3% witnessed it but never experienced it, and 44. 9% of respondents reported never witnessing and never experiencing it. Of 7,740 survey respondents, only 22 people admitted being a perpetrator despite the anonymity granted by the survey (Namie, 2007).
Thereafter, media quoted the finding that 37% of the population has been bullied representing 54 million Americans. The media took a keen interest in the finding that women bullies choose women as targets in 71% of cases. Men bullies choose women targets (46%) less frequently than they target men. Women are the slight majority of targeted individuals (57%). It is common in the U. S. to blame victims for their fate. This denigration is an example of the fundamental attribution error committed by observers (Ross, 1977). However, targets themselves underestimate the negativity of their situation.
The mischaracterization of targets as whiners or complainers is not warranted. We know this anecdotally; one study provides empirical support. Lutgen-Sandvik, Tracy & Alberts (2007) discovered a disparity between the researcherdefined prevalence of bullying based on an operational definition (28%) and the survey respondents’ self-identification as a bullied person (9. 4%). This was true for a group of Americans as well for a Danish sample group in the same study. Framing the Message Commercial media reflect the values of American business culture as seen from the top rather than as lived by subordinate workers.
It will be interesting to see if CEO credibility diminishes in light of the global economic crisis that is partly blamed on CEO failures. Any anti-CEO sentiment during tough times presents the opening for populist stories about the plight of trapped workers who face a nearly certain escalation of cruelty because few employment alternatives exist. Bullying cannot exist without tacit approval from executives and owners. WBI surveyed 400 respondents in 2009 asking whether bullying escalated after the recognized start date of the worldwide economic recession in September 2008. For 27. % of the respondents the bullying became “more abusive/ severe/frequent”, 67% reported no change, and 3. 4% reported a decrease in bullying since the onset of recessionary times (Namie, 2009). Workplace bullying activists often char- acterize the movement as “anti-abuse. ” Whereas, defenders of individual bullies and the practice of systemic bullying describe the movement as “anti-corporate. ” The pejorative mischaracterization makes the activists’ public education goals harder to accomplish. Activists need to emphasize that bullying hurts business in addition to hurting people. Bullying presents a tautological predicament for the media.
If media fill airtime and print space with hard-luck, but always popular, bullying stories, they can validate targeted workers’ experiences, letting people know they have experiences in common with others. On the other hand, negative stories such as bullying are not happy stories that please advertisers. In most cases, advertisers rarely tolerate social criticism. That explains the paucity of criticism of capitalism in mainstream U. S. media. Nevertheless, anti-bullying activists should be prepared to help media illustrate how abstract economic crises concretely affect the lives of real working people, if asked.
Persuasion Theory Applied to Media Commercial television is the ultimate forum for persuasive appeals employing peripheral cues, according to ELM (Petty & Cacioppo, 1986). Soap is not sold by listing ingredients, which would require central route processing by viewers. Instead it is sold as an indispensable route to a desirable lifestyle with distracting emotionally evocative images. News stories are also created to be visually stimulating. News has evolved (descended) into “infotainment. ” Producers demand pictures, “B roll,” and moving on-screen graphics.
Production of the 3-minute segment that focuses solely on content or “talking heads” is unacceptable, reserved for documentaries and non-commercial television. There is pressure to make bullying stories entertaining. TV screens now literally force the depiction of the principal story being broadcast into a frame within a frame. Surrounding it are station and network logos, wide top and bottom borders with colorful changing backgrounds, and text crawls along the bottom competing for attention with cryptic headlines, and if on a business channel, a crawl showing contemporaneous stock market activity.
The actual story is only one of three or four fields competing for the viewer’s attention. A low involvement viewer can hardly be expected to remember anything about stories and their associated content being reported in the middle frame. Print media have limited space as page design has evolved into crowded, colorful spaces that emulate a TV screen or newspaper’s website. Limited space translates to short 500-700 word accounts rather than a lengthy (for newspaper) 2,000 word in-depth story. Bullying is a complex phenomenon with multiple aspects.
The compromise we made is to reduce our advice to targets to an admittedly over-simplistic three steps. Similarly, we answer the “why do bullies bully? ” question with a threefactor model. To optimize the likelihood that a reader or viewer will remember something about bullying from an interview, activists should adopt slogans. We use Bullies Are Too Expensive to Keep; Work Shouldn’t Hurt; and Good Employers Purge Bullies, Bad Ones Promote ‘Em. Dealing with media is not an academic exercise. The academic activist, in particular, can benefit from media training. It is through the media you can reach the public who need to know about bullying.
Group 2: Educating Lawmakers Rationale For A Law All social movements that sought to stop psychological violence – child abuse, domestic violence, discriminatory harassment (gender, race, etc. ), schoolyard bullying – were able to eventually pass state or federal legislation to negatively sanction misconduct. These types of mistreatment continue, but laws compel negative consequences for offenders. The workplace bullying phenomenon most closely resembles domestic violence (Janoff-Bulman, 2002) with respect to the interaction between abuser and the abused, witnesses’ non-intervention, and societal-institutional denial nd rationalizations to excuse it. For legal purposes, however, bullying falls under the rubric of employment law, akin to anti-discrimination laws for the workplace. Regarding employment law, existing civil rights laws compel employers to create policies to prevent future occurrences. In addition, they must have procedures in place to correct discrimination once reported, investigated and confirmed. If there were no laws in effect, would employers voluntarily stop the mistreatment of women workers with internal procedures? Evidence suggests that they did not do so before the Civil Rights Act of the 1960’s.
After enactment of laws, employers took steps to comply. The sequence is clear. Laws drive internal policies. Enforcement of those policies is most likely when there exists a threat of punishment for negligent employers. Credible policy enforcement results in prevention and correction. The power of a law derives from employers’ internal preventive actions that protect workers. Perusal of Suffolk University Law Professor David Yamada’s chapter in this book reveals that, in 2009, there are no state or federal laws in the U. S. to satisfactorily address workplace bullying.
Therefore, bullying is nearly always legal. The Anti-Bullying Healthy Workplace Bill In 2000, David Yamada wrote the text for the original Healthy Workplace Bill (HWB). It addresses workplace bullying by prohibiting an “abusive work environment. ” The proposed legislation does not mandate employer actions. It gives employers multiple opportunities to escape liability for a bully’s abusive conduct. The requirements to file a lawsuit using this bill are strict. Malice is required in addition to documented physical or psychological health harm. There is no government intervention or enforcement.
Individual plaintiffs must find and pay for private legal counsel. Though the HWB provides redress for people where current laws do not, its ultimate purpose is to convince employers to stop bullying proactively. The Legislative Campaign WBI expanded its efforts by adding a separate division in 2001. The Workplace Bullying Institute-Legislative Campaign (WBI-LC) goal is to enact state laws. It was decided from the outset to focus on the 50 states rather than to seek a federal law with significantly different features. Congress and recent presidential administration in the last 30 years have not expanded labor rights.
So, the WBI-LC mobilizes citizen lobbyists in the states with the help of a network of volunteer State Coordinators. To date, 28 of the 50 states are represented by at least one Coordinator. In 2003, after two years of lobbying by amateurs, California was the first state to introduce the HWB. To date, 16 states through 183 state legislators have introduced 55 bills representing some variation of the HWB. No state has yet passed any bill into law. The HWB website (healthyworkplacebill. org) is the repository of the bill’s history and current activity. Unpaid Coordinators compete with professional advocates for employers.
Coordinators include attorneys, a physician, mental health professionals, professors, nurses, teachers, social workers, community organizers, and advocates who worked for other social causes. The WBILC provides Coordinators with all necessary materials to customize a lobbying campaign, an information kit for their state legislators, a private listserv, a private website, copies of the HWB, training tapes, and periodic teleconferences for the group to stay current. Whenever possible WBI leaders give expert testimony at public hearings for HWB. It is a collaborative creative group that grows in size and effectiveness every year.
At the public website, citizen lobbyists from all states willing to support the bill can volunteer. Coordinators then work with those volunteers to mount writing, telephoning, and e-mailing lobbying campaigns. Coordinators orchestrate one or two in-person lobbying days at their respective state capitals. Some Coordinators have formed in-person groups and maintain websites in addition to ongoing virtual communica- tion with volunteers in their state. When organizing a group of activists such as the WBI-LC Coordinators, it is important to screen members for personality disturbances attributable or not to their bullying experience.
Experience is valuable, but lobbyists must represent the thousands or millions of bullied workers in their state or province. They cannot use the lobbying platform to tell their personal story or to vent to a lawmaker. We incorporate a rule that Coordinators must be at least two years postbullying to participate. Also, with a group of veterans of bullying, some of whom suffer periodic re-traumatization, there is a risk of group dysfunction from emotional flare-ups. It is helpful to establish an intra-group code of conduct to prevent bullying from within.
HWB Supporters Bullying at work ignores political party affiliation. Targeted workers have not reported personal politics as a reason for being targeted. The HWB is non-partisan. Sponsors of the HWB include members of both major political parties – Democrats and Republicans. However, Democrats were more likely than Republicans to report direct and witnessed bullying in the U. S. survey (Namie, 2007). Coordinators solicit support and endorsements for the HWB from local and state groups. Unions for state government workers, teachers, and nurses have backed the bill. Endorsements have come also from women’s groups.
The Illinois Association of Minorities in Government identified the sponsor for the first Illinois bill. The HWB enjoys the support of one national group – the NAACP, the largest U. S. advocacy organization for the rights of African-Americans. According to the WBI-Zogby survey, 91% of African-Americans want additional workplace protections to supplement existing anti-discrimination laws. Data show that the group suffers a higher rate of ever being bullied than the combined groups, second only to Hispanics (Namie, 2007). HWB Opponents Membership in industry trade associations gives employers access to professional lobbyists who oppose the HWB.
Opposition is based on one or more of these grounds: (1) in times of economic crises, businesses should not be regulated, government’s only role is to help business operate freely and profitably, (2) employers can control bullying voluntarily, let them alone and they will do what is best for their business, (3) whining employees will file frivolous, baseless, expensive-to-defend lawsuits that will only clog the courts, (4) current laws provide sufficient protections, and (5) bullying or abusive conduct cannot be precisely defined, it is too subjective.
The WBI-LC counters with the following reasonable propositions. (1) Business leaders’ decisions led to the financial calamity. The global crisis is arguably due in part to rampant speculation and paucity of governmental controls. (2) Employers have the chance to voluntarily stop bullying whenever they become aware of it. They historically respond inappropriately. (3) Financial and emotional hurdles to file private lawsuits overwhelm aggrieved workers. The reality is that only 3% of mistreated employees file a lawsuit in the U.
S. (Namie, 2007). On the other hand, employers routinely carry employment practices liability insurance to provide legal defense in the event of a harassment or misconduct lawsuit. HWB provides sufficient affirmative defenses for good employers who take steps to prevent bullying. (4) Law professor David Yamada concludes that current U. S. laws are inadequate. We trust his legal expertise. (5) Prior to the 2007 WBI-Zogby survey, lobbyists for employers argued that bullying did not exist in the workplace.
Since the survey is indisputable, they now complain that bullying cannot be precisely defined. HWB requires that the plaintiff’s health harm from malicious conduct be proven. The high standard rebuts the subjectivity objection. The fundamental question about legal reform for bullying is whether or not it will take a law to compel compliance or employers will voluntarily choose to abandon abuse as routine prac- tice. The nascent intolerance of the assault on an employee’s dignity at work in the U. S. may force an answer.
Persuasion Theories Applied to Lawmakers The criticality of personal involvement in social judgment theory (Sherif & Sherif, 1968) as predictor of a positive attitude toward the antibullying activists; position is borne out by our legislative campaign experience. For HWB bill sponsors, bullying is not an abstraction. They agree to champion the bill because family members, legislative aides, or they themselves have been bullied. For the sake of others they want it to stop. For early adopting lawmakers, the introduction of their bill is personal.
Facilitating the personal connection to bullying spells the difference between successful and failed lobbying efforts. The elaboration likelihood model, ELM, (Petty & Cacioppo, 1986) applies well. One would expect that the lawmaking process is deliberate, based on facts and reasoning, and message content-dependent. That is, lawmaking should tap central route processing with reduced susceptibility to peripheral cues. Marshalling facts to support your position is the underpinning of amateur citizen lobbying.
WBI-LC Coordinators refer constantly to the scientific U. S. survey showing that 13% of workers are currently bullied with an additional 24% having been bullied at some time in their careers (Namie, 2007). Its use marked a sea change in lawmakers’ reactions to workplace bullying. They stopped denying that bullying happens. Credible surveys are an essential tool for communicating with public policy makers. So, we have facts on our side and also use the power of compelling anecdotal tales told by bullied individuals (peripheral cues).
Unfortunately, HWB opponents also bring forward facts. With multiple lobbyists, lawmakers hear the rationale for employer opposition to our bill repeatedly from different sources. Because of their ongoing presence of full-time paid lobbyists throughout the year in a lawmaker’s life, not just when the legislature is in session (varying from 60-180 days per year), opposing arguments are likely better remembered. WBI-LC Coordinators act primarily during the legislative season and work their regular jobs the remainder of the year. In the U. S. the tradition of giving money to politicians (the courts have defined it as the expression of a corporation’s free speech right, treating corporations as persons) leads to access and influence. WBI-LC Coordinators do not give money to elected officials. It comes as no surprise that no state has yet passed our bill into law. To augment Coordinators’ efforts, the WBI-LC has begun to form coalitions of supporting and endorsing group that do have full-time lobbyists advocating for labor and human rights. Perhaps those groups will lend their lobbyists to the campaign against workplace bullying.
Group 3: Convincing Employers Employers determine the size and composition of the workforce, the workplace culture and every aspect of the work environment. The responsibility for the correction and prevention of bullying lies with the top management because they shape the culture of the organization through decisions made (Liefooghe & Davey, 2001). Empirical studies established an association between leadership, or its absence, and workplace bullying. For example, Leymann (1996) and Einarsen, Raknes and Matthiesen (1994) found that bullying among colleagues was often associated with ‘weak’ or ‘inadequate’ leadership by the most enior managers. Similarly, Hoel and Cooper (2000) showed that bullying was associated with high scores on a laissez faire style of leadership. A lack of organizational coherence (integrated, functioning production procedures), only token accountability (few consequences for wrongdoing), low security (apprehension about layoffs) all combine to foster a chaotic workplace climate that gives opportunistic abusers of authority the chance to harm others (Hodson, Roscigno, & Lopez, 2006). Conversely, Cortina, Magley, Williams and Langhout (2001) found that in a workplace climate in which fair, respectful treatment prevailed, bullying was rare.
Employers’ Reactions to Bullying When bullying incidents are reported to employers, the most frequent response is to do nothing in 43. 7% of cases (Namie, 2007). Doing nothing is not a neutral response when an individual asks for relief. Matters were made worse for targeted workers in 18. 4% of cases. Thus in 62% of cases the response inadequate from perspective of witnesses and targeted workers. A more complete description of employer responses comes from another WBI online survey (n=400 respondents) (Namie, 2008).
Employers predominantly did nothing to stop the reported mistreatment (53%) and actually retaliated against the person who dared to report it (71%). In 40% of cases, targets considered the employer’s investigation to be inadequate or unfair with less than 2% of investigations described as fair and safe for the bullied person. Filing complaints led to retaliation resulting in lost jobs (24%). Alleged offenders were punished in only 6. 2% of cases. A NIOSH research team (Grubb, Roberts, Grosch, & Brightwell, 2004) assessed employers’ perceptions about the prevalence of bullying within their own organizations.
Researchers used a pair of nationally representative federal government surveys of non-institutionalized U. S. residents age 18 and older and a second representative sample of U. S. organizations in which the unit of analysis is the workplace. Some residents were asked to name their employers. Then, a single contact person was identified as the representative for each of 516 organizations, typically human resources professionals or company owners. The employer representatives were asked about a variety of organizational factors.
Most relevant was their response to the question: “How often in the past year has bullying occurred at your establishment, including repeated intimidation, slandering, social isolation, or humiliation by one or more persons against another? ” The majority of employer representatives (75. 5%) said bullying never happened at their site. Only 1. 6% said it happened frequently. The second most frequent response was that it was rare (17. 4%) with 5. 5% acknowledging that bullying happened sometimes. Employees were seen as the most frequent aggressor (in 39. 2% of cases) as well as being the most frequent victim (55. %). Two assessed measures of workplace climate were associated with increased levels of bullying – lack of job security and lack of trust in management (Grubb et al. 2004). Remarkably, in Sweden where the regulatory ordinance has been in effect 15 years, only one of out of nine businesses had voluntarily implemented policies and procedures against bullying (Hoel & Einarsen, 2009). The lack of employer initiative in the Scandinavian anti-bullying pioneering nations suggests modest expectations about American employers’ attitudes toward bullying, even if laws are passed.
Not only do employers do very little to stop bullying, co-workers who witness bullying are similarly ineffective. From an online study (Namie, 2008) we know that self-identified bullied individuals reported that in 46% of bullying cases, co-workers abandoned them, to the extent that 15% aggressed against the target along with the bully. Co-workers did nothing in 16% of cases. In less than 1% of cases, co-workers rallied to the defense of an attacked target and confronted the bully as a group. There are several potential explanations that are explored elsewhere in detail (Namie & Namie, 2009a).
Suffice it to say that fear, real or imagined, prevents co-workers from getting involved most of the time. The ‘Business Case’ For Bullying Because of employers’ costs associated with bullying — productivity loss, costs regarding interventions by third parties, turnover, increased sick-leave, workers compensation and disability insurance claims and legal liability – employers should logically be motivated to stop bullying (Hoel & Einarsen, 2009). One healthcare industry intervention that improved employee perceptions of trust and fair treatment was estimated to potentially save $1. million annually for a single organization (Keashly & Neuman, 2004). WBI partnered with a Canadian disability management firm that determined 18% of the short-term disability claims were based on bullying. Those workers missed an average of 159 days of work per claim. The “business case” approach emphasizes the financial impact of bullying and assumes that employers are rational actors and will pursue their own best financial self-interest when made aware of bullying’s cost. Logic recommends termination of costly offenders. But bullying is often an irrational and illogical set of circumstances.
In spite of ascertainable loss patterns, offenders are retained while targeted workers who reported mistreatment to the organization often lose their jobs. Alleged offenders were punished in only 6% of cases (Namie, 2008). But because of bullying, 40% of targets quit, 24% are terminated and 13% transfer to safer positions with the same employer (Namie, 2007). Finally, to whom should the business case be made? Bullying is typically perceived as a human resources (HR) department problem because anti-discrimination compliance officers in HR receive the majority of bullying complaints.
Eighty-percent of those complaints do not require employers to respond; they are legal actions (Namie, 2007). One WBI study found that HR either did nothing in 51% of cases when approached for relief or made the situation more negative for the target in 32% of cases (Namie, 2000). In HR’s defense, without laws to compel employers to adopt internal policies, HR lacks the tools to reverse bullying even if it wanted to. HR also lacks the credibility with executives who otherwise might grant HR the autonomy to effect organizational changes. Bullying is the responsibility of executive leadership (Einarsen, Raknes, & Matthiesen, 1994).
Executives feel responsible to support bullies within their organizations. According to Namie (2007), sources of a bully’s support are: executive sponsors (43%), management peers (33%), and HR (14%). How can this be? Why prop up the cause of significant financial losses? No anti-bullying intervention can be suc- cessful without executive endorsement and participation. Workers in one division of a government client organization suffered heart attacks, stroke, panic attacks, and nearly every one of the 24 were prescribed anti-depressant medication.
Seventeen workers filed workplace discrimination complaints. Our recommendation, with which the bully himself agreed, was to prohibit his future contact with employees. The director thought otherwise and rejected the recommendation. He called staff “feckless ingrates” and refused to allow the perpetrator to step down because the bully was “a great conversationalist and lunch buddy. ” Many employers would rather absorb known financial losses than confront a hyper-aggressive bully or sever a prized personal friendship.
The “business case” pales in comparison to ingratiation, aggression and pride in winning at all costs. Employers’ Motivation to Act Because there is no law to compel U. S. employers to act, when an American employer requests help with bullying, it is a rare event. WBI principals were consultants to employers 12 years prior to the starting the nonprofit organization. Since 1997, the consulting focus is exclusively the refinement of a comprehensive, proprietary approach to preventing and correcting workplace bullying (Namie & Namie, 2009b) (workdoctor. com).
Based on our American and Canadian clients, here is a sampling of positive, proactive reasons employers voluntarily address bullying. Some are early adopters wanting to be first, cutting-edge, industry leaders. They are pioneers and proud of their risk-taking tendencies. Some clients seek congruence with espoused organization values of respect and dignity for all, to “do the right thing. ” Though every corporate mission statement includes “Respect for all individuals,” few firms actually adhere to the lofty pronouncement. Mission statements do not hold organizations accountable; policies can.
Some clients seek media coverage and notoriety for their willingness to address bullying. Some CEOs want to leave a positive legacy at the end of their careers. One executive wanted to rectify his prior mismanagement of a senior manager bullying case. It was personal guilt mitigation. In 2009, the Sioux City, Iowa public school district implemented our comprehensive anti-bullying system for teachers and staff in the schools – becoming the first in the nation to do so. Schools are the single class of employer with experience, however limited, with bullying.
In 38 states, there are laws mandating that schools address bullying among students. Most laws specify that a policy be written for children. Therefore, many schools and their staffs are familiar with bullying and its harmful effect on children. It is a logical step to see that the quality of interpersonal relationships among the adults is the context for student behavior or misconduct. This National Demonstration Project includes a policy, procedures, impact assessment, education, peer support, peer fact finders, and community education.
The project was made possible by the rare co-occurrence of a new superintendent, a compassionate human resources director, union presidents concerned with employee health, and funding from a local foundation. We hope that schools become the first American industry to seriously address workplace bullying. The majority of anti-bullying interventions are prompted by risk aversion or loss prevention. A high profile, revenue-generating “rainmaker” commits illegal or unethical acts. A repeat offender’s legal costs finally exceed the CEO’s tolerance.
Turnover of highly skilled workers undercuts productivity. Healthcare institutions must comply with an extra-legal industry requirement to craft a policy to address intimidating and disruptive physicians and staff. (JCAHO, 2008). Dispositional vs. Systemic Solutions After the decision is made to start an intervention, a second important question presents itself. Is the problem the fault of a few “bad seeds,” a dispositional issue? Or is the problem entrenched in the work environment (that includes leadership who fostered past and current bullies and will sustain new ones when personnel change)?
When the preferred explanation is the offender’s personality, solutions may include skillsbased training — anger management or constructive criticism — mental health counseling, or executive coaching. Regardless of the selected solution, and even if the person gains insight, bullying will resume if the workplace to which she or he returns remains unchanged. Recidivism is predictable when bullying-prone work conditions are not addressed. For long-term success, the organization needs a new behavioral standard (policy, code of conduct) to which alleged misconduct can be compared to determine whether or not a violation occurred.
Procedures to enforce the standard must be created. Weak procedures predict failed anti-bullying initiatives. The rules must apply to everyone at all levels to be fair and credible. Executives must defer to the process to justify purging a friend for the good of the organization. Medium and large organizations often establish one or more peer groups to serve various functions – as internal resource experts, as peer fact finders for investigations, as trainers within the organization. Education throughout the organization publicly launches the commitment to a new way of doing usiness. The best interventions include healing activities for targeted workers and witnesses who have been vicariously traumatized. A hybrid approach is to first create the policy and procedures. Then, when a high-profile person’s offense is confirmed as a violation, devise a personalized change program for her or him. Upon return to work, behavioral monitoring starts. Interviews of German consultants who specialize in workplace bullying (Saam, 2009) yielded three approaches were moderation/mediation, coaching, and organization development (OD).
Moderation is a clarification process to allow the parties to move beyond misunder- standings or misperceptions. Mediation refers to the traditional conflict resolution process. Moderation/mediation works only when conflict does not escalate to a level for which only a power intervention is appropriate. Coaching necessarily develops solutions on a case-by-case basis. Coaching is support – tactical, emotional, career development, personalized skills education and rehearsal. The organization development (OD) approach is the third intervention strategy.
Culture change is its primary goal (Saam, 2009). From an OD perspective, the source of the bullying problems can be found in attributes of the organization – the reporting relationships, layers in the hierarchy, transparency of decisionmaking processes, timeliness in responding to employee concerns, personal accountability for destructive interpersonal conduct, equitable processes that match rewards to performance, trust, reciprocated loyalty, clarity of roles, incorporation of collaborative processes, and performance expectations.
An OD strategy sets new standards for doing things differently and altering performance-consequence contingencies. The OD consultant defines problems as systemic. Solutions must necessarily affect all people at all levels of the organization (Saam, 2009). The preferred tool of the OD bullying consultant is the proscription of bullying behavior via a new policy and accompanying set of enforcement procedures (Namie & Namie, 2009b).
Based on her clinical practice with severe cases of bullying, Ferris (2004) contends similarly that helpful, responsive organizations do not see bullying as a merely personality issue to be solved by the parties through mediation. Instead, bullying is seen as an organizational problem that needs to be addressed through coaching for the bully, counseling, performance management, and policies that clearly define unacceptable conduct. Predicting Success We identify several factors to avoid failure, while increasing the likelihood of successful interventions: if HR initiates contact with the consultant, insist on executive team approval to move forward • do not incorporate traditional conflict resolution strategies (mediation, arbitration) into the systemic program to address bullying (though informal, pre-complaint resolution processes can and should be crated) • at the start, articulate how the prohibition of bullying will positively impact the delivery of services, quality of production – i. e. will benefit the end user • describe the engagement as proactive and preventive, resolve extant crises before launching the project • clarify executive team roles: awareness and acceptance, pledge of non-interference, authorization for policy writing group, commitment to participate in launch • emphasize the seminal importance of implementation procedures over the policy alone • policy and procedures are to apply to every employee at all levels, no exceptions • Governing Board receives advance notice of project to schedule policy approval • the internal champion/future policy director must have budget control • inclusion of unions, where present, is mandatory • select a pool of employee-volunteers screened for compatibility to serve in one or more functions • policy writing, internal resource experts, fact finding, training • build-in continuity and succession of participants in the various groups responsible for sustaining the organization’s commitment to the anti-bullying initiatives showcase success stories in the media Persuasion Theory Applied to Employers Social judgment theory (Sherif & Sherif, 1968) is the theory most compatible with understanding the challenges posed by employers for activist-consultants.
An ingratiating bully who spends years successfully cultivating a fawning relationship with an executive does so for the sake of self-protection. If the executive eventually learns that his friend’s tactics are undermining legitimate business interests, the executive’s dissonance will probably drive him to discount the complaint, accuse the complainant of “troublemaking,” and reinforce the bond with the bully. Recall that according to SJT, anchored opinions linked to a person’s self-identity are the least likely to change. The executive’s allegiance to the bully feels spontaneous to him. There is a high degree of ego involvement because it was the executive’s ego that the bully was stroking in Machiavellian fashion (Paulhus & Williams, 2002).
The bully carefully cemented the bond over time. So, all evaluative opinions held by the executive about the bully fall well within the executive sponsor’s latitude of acceptance. Any disconfirming evidence presented – that the bully terrorizes peers and subordinates – is rejected reflexively. The target reporting the mistreatment cannot believe the denial of facts. The executive cannot believe his beloved friend could be accused of heinous actions. Executive denial that bullying operates in the organization at all is rooted in the same process. Consider the executive’s ego involvement in beliefs about the characteristics of the organization for which he wishes to take credit.
From analysts, shareholders and a sycophantic inner circle of advisers, the executive only hears positive reports about operations.