New WBI survey: 27 percent have experienced repeated abuse at work, 93 percent want workplace anti-bullying law

A new, scientific public opinion survey on workplace bullying in the U.S., conducted by the Workplace Bullying Institute, shows that repeated, abusive conduct remains a significant problem in the American workplace, that employers are doing little to stop it, and that the American public strongly supports workplace anti-bullying legislation.

The 2014 survey, done in conjunction with Zogby Analytics, surveyed a nationally representative sample of 1,000 adults in late January. Here are the survey highlights:

  • “27% of adult Americans have directly experienced ‘repeated abusive conduct that is threatening, intimidating, humiliating, work sabotage or work abuse.’”
  • “Counting witnesses, 48% have been affected”
  • “72% of Americans are now aware of workplace bullying”
  • “93% of Americans want a law to protect them from abuse in addition to anti-discrimination laws”
  • “Employers are lagging far behind and doing relatively nothing voluntarily to stop abusers on the payroll”
  • “Women bullies still target women at a disproportional rate (68%)”
  • “Women are still the majority of targets (60%)”

A full 17-page summary of the survey findings is available in pdf format here.

More accurate, focused survey findings

Improving on its 2007 and 2010 survey instrument, WBI tweaked its survey to zero in on severe, targeted abuse at work. At first blush, the 27 percent figure of those who have directly experienced workplace bullying may appear lower than previous surveys. In actuality, it reflects sharper questions designed to elicit responses about genuine workplace bullying, while screening out reports of lesser forms of incivility and disrespect.

Employer reactions

When asked about their understanding of employer reactions to workplace bullying, some 72 percent of survey respondents indicated that employers deny, ignore, or minimize concerns about bullying behaviors — and that some even encourage them as part of competitive organizational cultures.

Clearly we need to dig deeper into what employers are doing to prevent and respond to workplace bullying, but the overwhelming public perception is that they’re sweeping it under the rug.

Anti-bullying legislation

The survey questions also more closely track the language and intent of the Healthy Workplace Bill, which provides a legal claim for damages for targets of abusive mistreatment at work and creates legal incentives for employers to act preventively and responsively toward bullying behaviors.

In this context, over 9 in 10 respondents supported workplace anti-bullying laws.

More to come

The long summary is packed with useful, interesting findings. I’ll have more to say about the survey results in future posts.

8 responses

  1. I for one am really glad that the WBI has done a new study. This helps all of us understand the what is happening inside the actual workplaces according to the employees, managers and owners themselves.

    The thing that stood out most for me was the enormity of the problem and the obvious lack of concern shown by the companies over it. I’m sure if they realized what it costs them to have a bully on board they might think twice about ignoring the problem.

  2. Interesting that the public awareness and concern is so far beyond that of legislators and employers, particularly when both public and business/economic interests are best served by addressing the issue of workplace bullying effectively. Perhaps our leaders need to learn how and when it is smart to follow.

    • Yes, the challenge of enacting the Healthy Workplace Bill is highlighted for us when we get reports from citizen activists saying that they had to explain workplace bullying to their legislators or legislative staffers!

  3. It’s a complicated issue buried deep in archaic work ethics and culture. America is competing globally for markets and companies are just starting to come around to the idea that the Next Gen workforce does not produce well under the draconian rule of “if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen”, fostering the mindset of all a co-worker needs to do to is turn up the heat to get ahead. In some workplace’s it turns out to be a circular firing squad. Last man standing get’s the promotion. It’s not always about “the cream always rises to the top”. Collaboration and creativity are key factors towards the success of company. The challenge today is that It’s not easy to legislate morality.

  4. Is bullying in the worlkplace a problem? Yes. Is legislation by Congress the solution? No. We do not need any more laws. What needs to be done is for it to be easier to switch jobs. This will increase competition between workplaces to obtain good employees. The bad workplaces will need to clean out the their toxic waste or face extinction. Right now it is too difficult to switch jobs precisely because there are too many regulations. And besides, watch this video and tell me if you really want these guys writing any kind of “anti-bullying” legislation:

    • What are all the “regulations” that prevent people from switching jobs? Most American workers are employed at will, which means that they can be terminated for any or no reason and can quit for any or no reason. Furthermore, with sharp cutbacks to pension plans, portability of pensions is much less a concern that it was a generation ago. Finally, its faults notwithstanding, the Affordable Care Act makes health care coverage less dependent upon employment status, and if we could get a single payer system we’d finally decouple jobs from health care coverage.

      Citing a video of one out-of-control member of Congress (yes, he definitely is a thug) is not a reason to oppose legal protections that incentivize prevention and response by employers. In fact, it justifies such legislation.

  5. “72% of Americans are now aware of workplace bullying”

    Kudos David. These survey results are proof that your efforts are having an impact. Change is coming.

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