Those of us who favor stronger organizational and legal responses to workplace bullying must do a better job of articulating it as a critical public health issue.
The 2007 national public opinion survey conducted by Zogby International pollsters in partnership with the Workplace Bullying Institute certainly verifies that bullying at work is a public health concern, with 37 percent of respondents reporting that they have experienced workplace bullying at some point in their work lives, and 45 percent of these bullying targets reporting stress-related health consequences. Other studies have put the frequency of bullying even higher.
The percentage of workers who experience bullying at work is comparable to the percentage of children who experience bullying at school. However, although some 35 states have enacted various laws dealing with school bullying, as of this writing no state has enacted a specific workplace bullying statute.
Here in the U.S., those concerned with school bullying are demonstrating success in characterizing it as a public health problem. In “Antibullying Legislation: A Public Health Perspective” (Journal of Adolescent Health, 2008; no free online access), co-authors Jorge C. Srabstein, Benjamin E. Berkman, and Eugenia Pyntikova put forth an “Antibullying Public Health Criteria Index” that represents “an ideal collection of the legal elements necessary for an effective bullying program.” These elements include “(1) the definition of bullying, (2) the legislative recognition of the link of bullying to health or safety risks, (3) the prohibition of that an antibullying statute has been enacted within the basic framework of public health concern.”
Transnational bodies such as the World Health Organization and International Labour Organisation have recognized the costs of workplace bullying to workers and employers, and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health has hosted roundtable discussions of experts on workplace bullying, linking it to workplace violence. Hopefully these are signs that we are closer to classifying the widespread and destructive effect of workplace bullying as a legitimate public health concern.