Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Workplace Bullying: The Silent Epidemic

Workplace bullying refers to persistent aggressive or unreasonable actions of a person (or group of people) towards an employee (or group of employees). Bullying behavior is that which intimidates, degrades, offends, or humiliates a worker. The behavior may be inflicted verbally, nonverbally, psychologically, or physically.

The Workplace Bullying Institute* just released its Labor Day 2008 Survey “How Employers & Co-Workers Respond to Workplace Bullying.”

The WBI study surveyed two separate 400-person respondent groups. The participants visited the WBI web site and completed one or both of the surveys, asking about either their employers’ responses to bullying, or asking what co-workers did.

The question posed: At work, have you experienced any or all of the following types of repeated mistreatment: sabotage by others that prevented work from getting done, verbal abuse, threatening conduct, intimidation or humiliation?

I found the results to be astounding.

Question: When the employer was told about the bullying, what did the employer do?

* 1.7% - conducted fair investigation and protected target from further bullying with negative consequences for the bully
* 6.2% - conducted fair investigation with negative consequences for the bully but no safety for the target
* 8.7% - inadequate/unfair investigation; no consequences for bully or target
* 31% - inadequate/unfair investigation; no consequences for bully but target was retaliated against
* 12.8% - employer did nothing, ignored the complaint; no consequences for bully or target
* 15.7%- employer did nothing; target was retaliated against for reporting the bullying but kept job
* 24% - employer did nothing; target was retaliated against and eventually lost job

Bullied workers reported that a majority of employers (53%) did nothing to stop the mistreatment when reported and many (in 71% of cases) retaliated against the person who dared to report it.

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 by employers of bullied targets leading to lost jobs (24%). Alleged bullies were punished in only 6.2% of cases; bullying is done with impunity.

When asked: Bully’s rank relative to the targeted person:
7.6% Bully ranked lower than the targeted individual
18.7% Bully was a co-worker, colleague, a peer of the targeted individual
73.6% Bully ranked above the target by one or more levels in the organization

Additional facts from the Employers’ Response study:

* 95% of respondents were self-described targets of bullying (past or current)
* 59% of the bullies were women; 80% of targets were women
* 74% Bully enlisted others sometimes or always; 26% Bully worked alone

For more information on workplace bullying, visit our resources page “Let’s Talk About…”™ and view our webinar, Bullying In the Workplace.

*© 2008, Workplace Bullying Institute,

(Originally posted to

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