Workplace bullies, jerks, and the recession: Wall Street Journal op-ed gets it wrong

Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Joe Queenan, humorist and observer of American life, claims that the recession has freed us of workplace jerks because (1) “in times of high unemployment, most people don’t care if they work with jerks” and (2) “jerks are often the first people fired during recessions.”

Reading Queenan’s entire op-ed piece, it appears he cannot decide whether the jerk phenomenon is a real problem or the product of oversensitive employees who whine about disagreeable co-workers when times are good.

In any event, when it comes to workplace bullying — the repeated, targeted, malicious stuff that wreaks such havoc — he’s wrong to suggest that “jerks” suddenly disappear or magically become less destructive simply because people are stressed out about their job security.

Social psychologist Harvey Hornstein studied patterns and frequency of abusive supervision during the economic downturn of the 1990s and found that bullying activities intensify as times get tough.  The Workplace Bullying Institute’s analysis of survey data on the impact of the current recession indicates that bullying has been on the upswing since September 2008, when the financial meltdown went into overdrive (

In addition, when bullying occurs during a recession, targets have fewer options for leaving and finding another job.  They may be less likely to complain about bullying because they fear unemployment, but this means they’re more likely to bottle up the impact of the abusive behavior as it continues to take its toll on their health. 

For Queenan’s “The Fall of the Workplace Jerk”:

8 responses

  1. No laughing matter and the recession does not make psychological harassment anymore palatable nor does it make it any less likely that suicide could result from such terrorizing. Only those who have been subjected to repeated, psychological abuse, by psychopathic personalities, would apparently understand that this is no joke and no one should make light of this criminal behaviour. Recession, depression, high times or low times, feast nor famine, are any reason for why someone should be thankful that their abusive boss has not fired them, especially if it is a government job that is paid by tax payers. We will not accept such behavior even now during the worst of times. No one has the right to treat anyone so badly that they want to kill themselves. Shame, shame, shame.

  2. David, I totally agree with you. In fact, new research shows bullying cuts a much wider swath of destruction than ever imagined, not only on workplace culture but on employee productivity. People should fire their bullies. But bullies often are ‘destructive achievers,’ whom companies are loathe to fire during a recession. In those instances, they should remove their management responsibilities and and otherwise isolate them. I stumbled upon your blog and love it – am going to RSS now. Thanks!

  3. Pingback: How Bullies Thrive in a Recession, and Why You Shouldn’t Let Them |

  4. July 20, 2009

    Subject: “Bullying is a Misnomer” for the 21st Century – For Justice Sake – Improve It!

    Dear Fellow Targets!

    I would like to know what you think!

    Those who have not as yet been through this ‘horrific’ experience think all one needs to do is turn around and punch the Bully in the nose – That may have worked decades ago but certainly does not apply in the 21 century; and, it is ‘not’ that those who are speaking-out are ‘Thinned Skinned’ or ‘Weak. I hear this all the time.

    Dr. Anthony Mazzarelli, MD, JD, MBE, also a Talk Show Host in Philadelphia, Pa, The Big Talker, 1210 AM on Sunday’s from 10:00pm to 12:00 also believes the Bullying Name is not telling others what this experience is doing to Targets.

    Targets, including Tweens, Teens, and Adults are being Physically/Emotionaly Harmed, perhaps for life; even Death!

    So far this is what I came-up with: Beyond Bullying; Workplace Violence and School Violence; Bullying in the 21st Century.

    I would like to hear your ideas on this subject!


  5. Pingback: More on workplace bullying and the recession: WBI Survey « Minding the Workplace

  6. Pingback: More evidence of management-by-bullying during the recession « Minding the Workplace

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