Within a week of the publication of my second article about workplace bullying in FedSmith.com, the scope and effect of this issue was illuminated for a national television audience. On February 24, ABC’s morning news show Good Morning America took on workplace bullying in a story titled “Women Bullies Often Target Other Women.” The reporter, Deborah Roberts, discussed the subject with anchor Diane Sawyer before and after the video clip was run.
The story itself was largely about a woman who, while working in a hospital in Nashville, Tennessee, found herself being bullied at the workplace for so long – two years – and to such an extent that she had a mental breakdown and had to quit work; seven years later, she still has not been able to return. She has also endured a long court battle with her former employer.
In summarizing her experience as a workplace bullying victim, the woman stated, “I feel like this took away my life as it was. It caused damage to my family; it caused damage to my reputation; it caused damage to us significantly financially…I feel like it was probably the worst thing that has happened to me in my entire life.”
The video also featured female executives who admitted to engaging in some form of bullying behavior. “In a ‘bully broads’ roundtable discussion” facilitated by the Growth Leadership Center, a California-based organization which “counsels women whose ‘tough’ office demeanor amounted to aggression,” they “talked about their hostile workplace behavior.”
Good Morning America’s expert for this story was Dr. Gary Namie, a psychologist and co-founder of the Workplace Bullying Institute. I borrowed Dr. Namie’s term for workplace bullying, “psychological violence,” for the title of my first article and consulted with him in developing the second one.
Dr. Namie pointed out in the video that “Many women are afraid to confront their bullying bosses and suffer in silence…” He went on to say that “You should not have to risk clinical depression, debilitating anxiety, or — and as 30 percent of women experience — post-traumatic stress disorder. You shouldn’t have a war wound in the workplace.”
According to a 2007 survey conducted by Zogby International, an estimated 54 million people say they have been bullied at work.
Dr. Namie noted that “While men tend to target male and female employees equally, women bosses are likely to aim their hostility toward other women more than 70 percent of the time…”
The Good Morning America story went on to state that “Workplace experts have different theories on why women more often target other women. Some say these women see female co-workers as possible competition for only a few top-level positions.”
Dr. Namie’s take was that “it’s more important to get help (than to) analyze the tormenter’s motives,” and the Workplace Bullying Institute estimates that “more than 80 percent of those bullied lose their jobs, and 41 percent suffer clinical depression.”
Whether or not you accept the validity of the various statistics presented in the Good Morning America story, I would consider the problem of workplace bullying to be pervasive if the number of people to report having been bullied was 5.4 million, so I find the 54 million estimate to be nothing short of astonishing.
After the video ended, Ms. Sawyer closed the story by inviting viewers who have experienced workforce bullying to write to the show via “ABCNews.com.” Many of you advised me of such experiences in response to my articles; I’m sure there are many others who feel they have been victimized by workplace bullying. I would encourage any of you who are so inclined to share your stories with Good Morning America, since Ms. Sawyer and Ms. Roberts promised to follow up on this issue.
In closing, I would like to correct an omission from my second workplace bullying article, during which I discussed a wide variety of possible actions for a person who feels she/he is being bullied at work. However, I somehow managed to ignore one pretty obvious one, which is talking to the person who is allegedly doing the bullying and asking him/her to stop. I think there is an analogy here to sexual harassment, in which the tactic of confronting the alleged harasser and asking him/her to stop the offending behavior has proven very effective.
The problem, and a major reason why alternative forms of redress must be made available, is that in about 99% of the cases in which I’ve spoken with an alleged victim of sexual harassment, she/he has been unwilling to speak directly to the alleged harasser, often because the situation is embarrassing, the employee fears reprisal action, or both.
I think that’s true when it comes to workplace bullying arena as well. From what I have read and observed about workplace bullying, including Dr. Namie’s findings, the overwhelming majority of employees who feel they are being bullied would never dream of asking the person allegedly doing the bullying to stop, but I should have listed in the previous article the direct approach as one option.
As in the previous articles, I would urge everyone to be alert to signs of workplace bullying and to learn what agencies – via cooperation among managers, supervisors and non-supervisory employees – can do to prevent or eliminate it. I am once again recommending that readers at least peruse the Workplace Bullying Institute website, because I think it contains more information about the issue than does any other website I have visited.