Workplace bullying… beyond child’splay

Posted by on Aug 23, 2012 in bullying, cyberbullying


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.

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