Workplace Bullying: Battling it out in higher education….

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Workplace Bullying: Battling it out in higher education….

Workplace Bullying: Battling it out in higher education….

Workplace Bullying: Battling it out in higher education….


Workplace bullying is a documented phenomenon in corporate sectors and in Europe.  Workplace bullying is actually an extension of the school yard bullying.  Workplace bullying targets the people who are viewed as reasonable, empathetic or in the lower power position.  It is interesting then, that of late, several people have approached Patricia Berkly about their careers in higher education.  Workplace bullying is a critical issue that destroys the careers of many.  And as studies show, workplace bullying disproportionately affects women, people of color, the LBGT community and those over 40 in greater numbers.


Bullying means harassing, offending, socially excluding someone or negatively affecting someone’s work tasks.. it has to occur repeatedly and regularly over a period of time (about six months)… it is an escalating process, the person confronted end up in an inferior position and becomes the target of systematic negative social acts. (Einarsen, Hoek, Zapf, and Cooper, 2003, p 22).


Therefore, when a seasoned colleague feels he or she is hanging on until retirement, enduring put downs and unreasonable criticisms from a newly appointed leaders, workplace bullying can be the reason.  When the department or division cowers in its tracks just to make it another semester because their ideas are not valued, workplace bullying may be at the root.


Patricia Berkly LLC is focusing on an original study on workplace bullying in higher education administration.  The goal will be to identify the cause of workplace bullying, the targets of workplace bullying and offer solutions to workplace bullying.

Workplace bullying… beyond child’splay

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Workplace Bullying… beyond child’s play

By Dr. Leah Hollis, author of Unequal Opportunity: Fired without cause? Filing with the EEOC…

Our news is chocked full of stories retelling instances of bullying that leads to teen suicide.  A bully perceives the targets as smaller, weaker or different from the dominant group who welds its power at the expense of others. Once being facing a bully was almost a rite of passage.  A target of a bully was expected to stand up and fight back.  Fabled stories like the Karate Kid or Cinderella show how many of us like the underdog and cheer for him or her to prevail against  the bully.

However, when the fairy tale is over, the effects of a bully have far reaching implications.  The things we learn in grade school carry through to college and the workplace.  Therefore, workplace bullying is a rising trend feeding the all-time record high EEOC complaints for 2011.   Bullying as a form of harassment is a power play over subordinates and is a growing threat to American corporations.  Toxic work environments create turnover, reduced productivity and costly legal defense if the target pursues a claim.

We have all worked with that obnoxious personality who tells off color jokes has emotional fits, or simply pushes his or her way through meetings and procedures with little care for the staff.  These behaviors, once considered what we endure as a day in the life of work, can now lead a bully and his organization straight to court.  Unless the person being bullied is outside one of the Title VII protected classes, the person on the receiving end of bullying may have a claim of harassment and discrimination on the basis of gender, race, ethnicity pregnancy or religion. In addition, there are millions of people are bullied within class, woman bullying woman, or bullying within the same race.  Regardless of race, creed or color, harassment harms employee morale and engagement.  Bullying, regardless of who is the target, hurts the bottom line.


In any case, workplace bullying is particularly destructive to individuals and organizations.  Namie and Naime (2009) estimate that workplace bullying costs organizations over 64 billion dollars (yes with a B) a year. When one tabulates the cost of turnover, the cost of disengaged employees and even the cost of health care related to a toxic workplace, leaders and managers can ill afford to ignore this bullish trend in the workplace.

The problem is so severe that over 21 states have introduced Healthy Workplace Legislation to attempt to stem the problem of runaway bullying behavior. On April 30, several workers and advocacy groups urged the New York legislature to pass a Healthy Workplace Bill. Many victims of workplace bullying testified that they feared for their jobs if they did not succumb to the harassment of a boss. Others cried as they retold stories of debilitating health conditions and even suicide that was precipitated by a bullying boss.  The bill could potentially be presented for a vote in June, 2012.


In the meantime, organizations and mangers can implement basic safeguards to protect for a healthy workplace.

  1. Augment current anti-harassment and anti-retaliation policies to include anti bullying polices for the workplace
  2. Include a civility statement at the point of hire to inform all staff of the importance of civility in the workplace
  3. Incorporate civility statements and expectations to performance evaluations
  4. Model civility as a leader or department head; typically it is the boss who is the bully
  5. Take any and all complaints seriously; investigate claims quickly


These cursory changes can help shift an organization to a more relaxed placed to work. The benefits yield lower turnover, and higher productivity.

Dr. Leah Hollis, President of Patricia Berkly LLC is a diversity and healthy workplace trainer based in greater Philadelphia.  Her book Fired without Cause, Filing with the EEOC is available on  Her second study on workplace bullying in higher education is in progress for summer 2012.  She has been a contributor to, Payscale, and AOLJobs/Huffington Post.

Definition of Bullying

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Definition of Bullying

Definition of bullying

Definition of bullying


Definition of Bullying in the workplace includes: harassing, belittling, insulting behavior, especially if enduring such becomes a condition of maintaining a job.

What is the definition of bullying as it applies to the workplace?  The definition of bullying includes harassment, discrimination, belittling and insulting comments… constantly. The definition of bullying is similar to the definition of harassment.  However, the definition of bullying includes ALL people, regardless of race, class or gender.  The definition of bullying also relates to a pervasive behavior, often at the hands of the boss or supervisor.  The definition of bullying should be considered by leadership.  Once the definition of bullying is taken serious, then quarterly training and support for supervisors can eradicate behavior under the definition of bullying.

The definition of bullying should also include the cost of bullying. The definition of bullying should be something that human resources managers along with supervisors.  The definition of bullying should be something the executives consider.  Once the definition of bullying is understood, and the effects of bullying are understood, those who understand the definition of bullying understand that it costs organizations millions of dollars to harbor a bully.  The definition of bullying can lead to health problems; the definition of bullying can create a toxic work environment.  The definition of bullying and those behaviors that comprise the definition of bullying erode an organization and undermine productivity. Those who understand the definition of bullying also understand that the effects of bullying of similar to the stress of those who are subject to sexual harassment.

STOP Workplace Bullying

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STOP!  workplace bullying

STOP!  workplace bullying

STOP!  workplace bullying

We might have thought bullying was one of those things we endure  as kids, but it is no coincidence that during a recession and season of budgets cuts, bullying has taken a serious foothold in schools and in the workplace.  Stressful situations breed workplace bullying as it triggers insecurity and the need to have absolute control in these stressful environments.  Ironically, the last thing a stressful situation needs is a bully who brings more stress to the environment.

Workplace bullying brings emotional and psychological attacks to staff who then spend time fending off the threat, instead of time focusing on being productive.  Why then don’t organizations crack down on workplace bullying if it is so destructive? 1. Workplace bullies are often the boss, welding control, even threatening targets with demotion or job loss if they don’t comply with unreasonable demands.

2. Organizations often protect their management- the workplace bully-, even when management is wrong, therefore targets subordinates quietly suffer and plan an escape instead of addressing the problem.

3. Staff often makes excuses and won’t address the workplace bully: there is not enough time, or not enough energy to address the toxic personality.

Patricia Berkly LLC offers some organizational solutions to help everyone maintain a healthy work environment and stop workplace bullying.  The time spent to put protective measures in place will help to maintain quality and productive employees.

1.   Establish a culture of zero tolerance with strong anti- workplace bullying policies.  Be clear about what behavior is acceptable and the steps the organization will take to protect itself from a workplace bully.

2.   Follow that policy.  Too often organizations craft wonderful policies, yet fail to follow them, or apply them inconsistently.  This allows workplace bullying to flourish.

3.   Offer regular and consistent training to address workplace bullying.  With natural attrition, any staff needs training.  Such training will also empower staff as a whole to address workplace bullying as the grassroots level.

4.   Establish information interviews with staff as a standard operating procedure to stamp out workplace bullying.  In addition to other aspects of the operation which need attention, this standard procedure could also uncover incivility in your workplace.

Protecting your organization from workplace bullying is everyone’s responsibility.

Transparent Penn State

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Transparent Penn State

Transparent Penn State

Transparent Penn State

On a new Web site, the university gives a detailed breakdown of costs stemming from the Sandusky scandal. The site also includes PDF versions of the signed contracts of new football coach Bill O’Brien and key school administrators.


Written by Mark Brennan

Penn State has launched a new Web site offering unprecedented access to key university records and documents.

Included on the site is a detailed breakdown of legal and public relations fees incurred in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky child abuse scandal that broke in early November, a figure that has already reached $3.2 million.

“This is a reminder of the commitment to open communication to the fullest extent possible,” said Penn State president Rod Erickson, who took over when former president Graham Spanier resigned after the Sandusky scandal erupted.

At the time, the university drew heavy criticism for operating in a secretive manner. According to a grand jury report, certain university officials had known about allegations against Sandusky for more than a decade. But no serious action was taken against the former football assistant coach until the grand jury filed child sex abuse charges in early November.

Sandusky maintains his innocence and is under house arrest awaiting trial.

Penn State, meanwhile, has spent millions on legal fees and public relations firms. And now — thanks to Erickson’s vow for the university to be more open to the media and public — we know how much and where it is going.

A total of $2,468,137 has been spent on an internal investigation and crisis communications. The internal investigation is being led by former FBI director Louis Freeh’s firm, the Freeh Group. Public relations are being handled by the law firm Reed Smith and the PR firm Ketchum.

Another $467,940 has been spent on legal services and defense fees. Two civil suits have already been filed against Penn State in connection with the Sandusky scandal. Another $50,131 has been spent on what PSU is calling “externally initiated investigations.”

Penn State is also picking up legal fees for Spanier (who has not been charged with any crime), as well as former athletic director Tim Curley and vice president Gary Shultz, who are both awaiting trial for allegedly lying to the grand jury investigating Sandusky. Those fees total $210,309 to date.

According to the site, all legal fees and public relations costs associated with what it calls the “Sandusky controversy” will be covered by insurance policies and from interest revenues from investments. The school insists tuition fees, alumni donations and/or tax revenues will not be used to pay for any of the expenses.

The site includes a wealth of other information not previously available at Penn State.

Included is a downloadable PDF version of the school’s employment contract with new head football coach Bill O’Brien (he is making $2.3 million per year). It even shows the signatures of O’Brien and acting athletic director Dave Joyner, as well as that of university attorney Cynthia Baldwin.

That is a far cry from the way things used to be handled at Penn State. For decades, the university refused to even release former coach Joe Paterno’s salary. It only came to light in 2007, after years of legal wrangling between media outlets and the state.

The university has also uploaded its annual financial report to the NCAA, revealing the athletic department generated $116,118,025 and had total expenses of $101,336,483 in the last year.

Copies of Erickson’s contract with the university (he is making $515,000 per year) and Joyner’s deal (he is taking in $33,000 per month and has the use of a car) are available on the site, too.

The site can be seen at:

What is Diversity?

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What is Diversity?


What is Diversity?


What is Diversity?

Many ask what is diversity is while our organizations are ever changing and facing shifting demands in clientele and resources.  The answer to what is diversity can be found in the very people we hire and serve.  Diversity is a mixture of people, and all of these people are needed to foster an inclusive environment for both internal and external client.  What is diversity?  Consider the changing demographics as over 15 states have a “minority majority” demonstrating that diversity is here to stay. In answering the question what is diversity, organizations should also guard against the type of tension by not honoring the different people on staff. In answering the question what is diversity, organizations should have policies which address religious, racial and gender differences.  In addition, when answering the question, what is diversity, consider the backgrounds within status.  People can generate incivility within class; women harassing women, racial minorities harassing other racial minorities.  By addressing the question what is diversity, leadership styles can address these differences to avoid bullying and create a healthy workplace.


What is diversity?

As the community is shifting to being minority /majority by 2040 or sooner, what is diversity is answered by, a good business strategy.  As evident by the commercials featuring more women and racial minorities, our society and resources controlled by these populations show that answering the question, what is diversity, is key to constant evolution.  One way to address the question, what is diversity, is to have proper training, workshops, and assessments of the organizational culture. In addressing the question, what is diversity, organizations can conduct exit interviews, devise safe zones for complaints, and continuously train managers in the best strategies to engage employees. What is diversity is a question that is continuously asked; yet an organization that can answer the question, what is diversity, for its own establishment, is creating a healthy workplace. Reflect on your own organization; what is diversity.  And in answering the question, what is diversity, what is the organization doing to maintain that diversity?

Tribute to a Civil Rights Leader, Kaaba Brunson

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Tribute to a Civil Rights Leader, Kaaba Brunson

Tribute to a Civil Rights Leader, Kaaba Brunson

Tribute to a Civil Rights Leader, Kaaba Brunson

I had the pleasure of attending Kaaba Brunson’s retirement dinner as he ended his 39 year career with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission (PHRC). The standard fare was available in music, hors’ devours and fellowship. As the program got underway, we all began to truly experience the depth of conscientious leadership that Mr. Brunson embodied. People of all ages, races, and both genders stood in testimony of his inspiring commitment to equity and access.

Mr. Brunson has and remains a pillar in the community and a model for those around him. What I found most remarkable is his leadership style. Over and again, people remarked “I love you…” “you are truly a mentor..” and “You only expect the best…” By the accounts of many, Mr. Brunson was bold, brash, meticulous and humble all at the same time. He was, and still is, a tireless champion for human rights, while inspiring his staff around him to reach for new heights, continuously exceeding expectations. By his own remarks he continues to espouse, “Greatness comes from within… and you will have a hard time convincing me otherwise…” As the waves of people testified to how their lives were irrevocably touched by Mr. Brunson, he listened humbly, thanking everyone, and graciously accepting the showers of well-deserved praise and admiration. Even more remarkable, as this evening was about celebrating his career, Mr. Brunson’s remarks always included a thank you to his former boss, former executive director of the PHRC, Homer C. Floyd, the man who had recruited him to the PHRC over 40 years previous. And in the light of such praise, Mr. Brunson still remarks “Mr. Floyd I hope I did not let you down…”

In these tumultuous times, I had to take this opportunity and remark on this leadership for civil rights and human rights. With the EEOC reporting record complaints two years in a row, bullying occurring on several levels of many organizations, transformational leadership styles are certainly needed, and practically required to motivate and engage staff in the face of shrinking resources. Mr. Brunson’s leadership style of respectful great expectations has resulted in great results from his staff. His guidance provides a model for any leader, in any sector, seeking to meet objectives and exceed expectations. As Mr. Brunson remarked that all new hires received the canned speech on engagement and expectations at the PHRC, he quoted, “respect doesn’t come from the title or place; it comes from self, and I expect that we respect each other as colleagues.”

I write this as a tribute to not only a great civil rights activist, but as a consummate leader who has undoubtedly inspired 1000s of people, friends, family, staff, and employees. I am honored that he took the time to review my last book and offer insight. And I remain honored to have had the privilege to see a snap shot of a great life in leadership. Congratulations Kaaba Brunson… Peace…

Diversity management at McDonalds?

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Diversity management at McDonalds?

Diversity management at McDonalds?

Diversity management at McDonalds?


Some were saddened to read that diversity management might have been lacking at McDonalds here in greater Philadelphia.  Diversity management could have helped McDonalds avoid a very costly workplace bullying case. Lacking diversity management led to a $90,000 settlement for a young man who was bullied at work. Diversity management would have trained the supervisor and staff not to harass this young man with cognitive challenges. Diversity management is not just about developing cultural sensitivity; diversity management would continuously train staff.  An organization like McDonalds is particularly vulnerable when a diversity management plan is not in place.  Staff attrition is high at such jobs, but a diversity management plan can help keep that staff compliant.

Often organizations believe they don’t have time for diversity management. However, consider what happens in the absence of diversity management.  Diversity management could have helped the organization avoid costly legal fees.  Diversity management would have helped this McDonalds avoid a time consuming discovery process.  Diversity management is priceless; diversity management keeps organization compliant with changing trends in hiring, recruitment and retraining.  Diversity management can keep manager educated to avoid Title VII complaints.  Without proper diversity management, organizations expose themselves to staff problems. Diversity management is a necessary cost of doing business… just like any other training.

Emotional Stress and Bullying

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Emotional stress and bullying

Emotional stress and bullying

Emotional stress and bullying


Several people have experienced firsthand the emotional stress of being bullied.  As Namie and Namie report (2009) bullying happens to about 37% of the workforce.  Yelling, insults and a constant barrage of disrespect can make any one feel overwhelmed with stress.    Medical studies show that constant emotional stress can clinically be bad for your health. Dr. Ilan Wittstein of Johns Hopkins  University confirms that emotional stress can indeed release stress hormones to the heart and lead to symptoms that mimic a heart attack. The condition is called ‘broken heart’ syndrome.  The body is designed to have a fight or flight response under stress.  However at work, fighting is not the appropriate option, neither is flight (or walking off the job).  Therefore, the target of bullying is trapped, with stress hormones potentially pouring into his or her system, literally causes heart problems.  Other systems of stress include weight swings, moods swings, hair loss and restless sleep.


What can someone do?

1. First and foremost, strive to protect your health.  If you are feeling stress symptoms, seek medical help and have the doctor clearly document what is causing the stress.

2. Read the HR manual.  Many organizations have anti bullying policies along with the anti-harassment and anti-retaliation polices.

3. Seek support from friends and family.  Often targets become overwhelmed with the stress and isolate themselves.  Support from friends and family can help the target think clearly about healthy next steps.

4. Keep a journal.  Documenting the times and places of the bullying can create a record your performance slips under the stress of a bully.

The Bully in the Ivory Tower

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The Bully  in the Ivory Tower

The Bully  in the Ivory Tower

The Bully  in the Ivory Tower


Bullying was once labeled as the childhood rite of passage; something we endure on the playground. However, it has transcended from the playground to the work ground. Bullying on the work ground is pervasive, escalating hostility and berating behavior that is exhibited in mistreatment on the job. The bully on the work grounds can make any organization a toxic workplace environment.  Bullying is similar to harassment, making the subject the target of escalating, demeaning and damaging behavior.  However, harassment is when the target is from a protected class (facing discrimination because of gender, race, religious, national origin or disability); bullying, on the other hand is a class free assault on the target.  The former is illegal under the Title VII Civil Rights laws; the latter, bullying, is still legal in the United States.

In the last five years, studies have been conducted which reflect on workplace bullying.  Namie & Namie of the Workplace Bullying Institute studied 7,740 adults nationally in 2007 and reported that 37% of American workers have faced bullying on the job.  Women are more likely to be the target of bullying and female targets tend to quit the job 45% of the time.  Further, when employers are made aware of the bullying, 62% of the time, the situation escalates for the target or nothing happens (Namie & Namie 2009).  Disengagement and turnover caused by bullying costs American corporations over $64 billion (yes with a B) a year.

Further, there are several studies which reveal bullying characteristics in our secondary schools.  Of late, tragic stories have come forward of students who have reached out for help to stem bullying at school.  Students who emerge from an alternative life style, are overweight, or from different religions tend to be the targets of school yard bullying. Some children have lost hope and tragically taken their own lives for relief.  The response has been to pass particularly stringent anti- bullying laws in education, with New Jersey having the toughest anti- bullying laws in the country.

This discussion, however, whether workplace bullying, or school yard bullying, misses the application to higher education.  The Ivory Tower is supposed to emerge from intellect and enlightenment, showing the way to the American dream through education.  However, if the higher education sector is a subset of American culture, it would seem the shadows of bullying would fall even here.  Consequently, the structure of higher education is dissimilar from corporate structures given the tenure track system, the reliance of scholarship, and reason which philosophically might not be tied to quarterly balance sheets. Subsequently, bullying would manifest in ways yet examined by previous studies.  The result of a disengaged higher education staff, or faculty could have a direct impact on the academy’s function of enrollment, scholarship, advancement and student matriculation.

I would also argue that the casualties of bullying in higher education are not just the immediate target, but the students we strive to serve. Imagine teaching a class after being bullied.  The emotional capital required to connect with students has been spent on defending against the bully. Student service administrators need to focus to advise students, guide students, and serve students, as many students come to our campus with previously identified chronic issues themselves.  The bullied student service administrator has also spent his or her emotional capital surviving a toxic work environment, and potentially has precious little energy to invest in students.  Invariably, when I speak with my colleagues in higher education, most have commented on the disappointment they endure when realizing that bullying has invaded their departments.  Some of these colleagues admit that they just don’t have the energy for a new project, refreshing ideas and student engagement.  They are emotionally exhausted while trying to make it through another disrespectful day in the academy.

While bullying is still legal, it is clearly destructive.  Higher education, like many other sectors, suffer from bullying advances and will continue to endure such without proper policies and professional development to prevent bullying and hostility for all faculty and staff members.  Incivility in the academy doesn’t just affect university employees; it has a direct effect on the next generation of students that we influence through education.


Dr. Leah Hollis, a Martin Luther King Fellow, SED ’98, and 20 year veteran of higher education administration, is currently the president of Patricia Berkly LLC, a diversity training group in greater Philadelphia.  Her recent work includes trainings and webinars on discrimination and workplace hostility.

Constani and Gibbs (2004) Higher Education teacher and emotional labour. International Journal of Educational Management. 18. 4/5


Namie, G and Namie, R. (2009) The Bully at Work. What you can do to stop the hurt and reclaim your dignity at work. Sourcebooks. Napersville, IL.