Category Archives: cyberbullying

Workplace bullying… beyond child’splay


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

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

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.

Emotional Stress and Bullying

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

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.