Victims of Bullies Often Quit, Impacting Production

A new survey from the Workplace Bullying and Trauma Institute finds that bullying in the workplace is probably more pervasive than many of us realize.

Bullying is "the repeated, health-endangering mistreatment of a person (the target) by a cruel perpetrator (the bully)…it interferes with an employee's work production and the employer's business interest," according to the institute. The institute polled 1,000 victims of bullying and found that in 33 percent of the cases, the target of the bullying quit, and in 37 percent of the cases, were fired.

The majority (80 percent) of those bullied were women; the average age was 43; and 84 percent were college educated. Corporations (36 percent) and government workplaces (31 percent) seemed to foster more bullying than nonprofit organizations (12 percent) and small businesses (11 percent)

"Targets are predominantly 40-ish, educated and veteran employees, specifically people who have experience with the employer before the bullying interfered with their careers," noted researcher Gary Namie, Ph.D.

Bullying lasted an average of 23 months, which means, Namie surmised, that targets are not thin-skinned and stay for a long time working under conditions most people would find intolerable.

The majority of survey respondents (61 percent) reported that bullying was current and ongoing, but for the respondents for whom the bullying has ended said it stopped because:

  • 37 percent of the victims were fired or involuntarily terminated
  • 33 percent of victims quit (typically taking some form of constructive discharge)
  • 17 percent of victims transfered to another position with the same employer

"Once targeted, bullied individuals face a 70 percent chance of losing their jobs," said Namie, who noted in the report that only 4 percent of bullies stopped bullying after punishment or sanctions and 9 percent of bullies were transferred or terminated.

"Bullying is done with impunity," Namie noted. "Perpetrators face a low risk of being held accountable. Targeted individuals pay by losing their once-cherished positions."

The top tactics employed by bullies include:

  • Falsely accusing someone of "errors" not actually made (71 percent)
  • Staring, glaring, nonverbally intimidating or clearly showing hostility (68 percent)
  • Discounting the victim's thoughts or feelings (example: "Oh, that's silly.") in meetings (64 percent)
  • Using the "silent treatment" to "ice out" and separate victim from others (64 percent)
  • Exhibiting presumably uncontrollable mood swings in front of the group (61 percent)
  • Making up own rules on the fly that even she/he does not follow (61 percent)
  • Disregarding satisfactory or exemplary quality of completed work despite evidence (58 percent)
  • harshly and constantly criticizing, or having a different "standard" for the victim (57 percent)
  • Starting, or failing to stop, destructive rumors or gossip about the victim (56 percent)
  • Encouraging people to turn against the person being tormented (55 percent)

Men bullies were more likely to participate in public screaming, illegal verbal tactics, post-complaint retaliation and threatening job loss or punishment. Women were more likely to encourage colleagues to turn against the victim and give victims the silent treatment.

"Clearly," said Namie, "men bullies chose tactics that ranged from the blatantly illegal through different forms of aggression to threats of physical force. Men are meaner."

Reasons for bullying ranged from "the bully had personality problems" to "I remained independent and refused to be controlled or to be subservient" to "retaliation for reporting unethical or illegal conduct, whistleblowing."

Namie said a critical defining characteristic of workplace bullying "is that it harms the health of the targeted individual. Health endangerment distinguishes bullying from routine office politics, teasing, roughhousing, prickliness, incivilities and boorishness." Health-related problems related to bullying include heart arythmia; use of substances such as tobacco, alcohol, drugs and food to cope; recurrent memories, nightmares and flashbacks; chronic fatigue syndrome; ulcers; chest pains and heart attacks; and panic attacks.

The full report on bullying can be found at bullyinginstitute.org/home/twd/bb/res.html.

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