Boomers and workplace bullying: Cause or cure?

Can Baby Boomers play a lead role in stopping workplace bullying? In a blog post published earlier this weekNext Avenue’s Nancy Collamer says yes:

So what are you willing to do about it? I ask because many boomers are in management and as a result, some are in a good position to take action. Even if you’re not among your employer’s leadership team, you still might be able to make a difference.

If you’re well respected by colleagues, have good relations with key influencers at your employer or have strong job security, it’s likely easier for you to speak up and get management to take bullying seriously than it is for your younger co-workers.

Nevertheless, she acknowledges that Boomers can be among the responsible parties for bullying at work, quoting Gary Namie of the Workplace Bullying Institute:

“Boomers are among the guiltiest of the bullies,” says Gary Namie, director of the WBI. “It is our generation that revered command-and-control management style.”

In fact, Namie argues that younger generations (including the boomer’s kids who were groomed on the intolerance of bullying throughout their school years) will be the ones who make bullying unacceptable sometime in the future.

Collamer goes on to suggest familiar ways in which individuals can help to prevent and respond to bullying behaviors at work.

Boomers and bullying

I’m a big fan of the PBS Next Avenue website, and Collamer’s piece echoes its generally optimistic view of how folks in the 50+ age cohort can live meaningful, impactful lives. On this question, however, I believe that Gary’s perspective is more realistic. It’s not to say, as Collamer suggests, that Boomers cannot make a positive difference here. Rather, with the exception of those who have experienced or witnessed workplace bullying close up, many Boomers simply don’t get it.

Boomers — as a group — are in positions of considerable power. Many are managers, directors, presidents, department heads, and senior executives. However, it’s clear that many Boomers in positions of leadership are condoning, enabling, defending, supporting, or perpetrating these behaviors.

Older workers targeted

Furthermore, older workers, including a lot of Boomers, may be targets of workplace bullying at disproportionate levels. Last year I reported on the results of the Workplace Bullying Institute instant poll suggesting so:

Midlife correlates with an increased risk of being bullied at work, suggest the results of a Workplace Bullying Institute instant poll released earlier this month.

The instant poll asked visitors to the WBI website who have experienced workplace bullying to respond to a single question, “How old were you when the bullying at work began?” WBI collected 663 responses and reported the following:

The average age was 41.9 years. Targets in their 40’s comprised 30% of all targets; in their 50’s were 26.4%; under 30 years of age were 21.3%; those in their 30’s were 18.9%. The prime productive years are also the prime years for being [targeted] for bullying.

Will it be up to the Millennials?

The success of Collamer’s article is in bringing this topic before an audience that needs to hear the message.

Until that message sinks in, we’ll continue to see executives complicit in workplace bullying, defended by lawyers denying that any such behaviors have taken place, and bolstered by corporate lobbying groups that oppose legal protections against targeted abuse at work.

In fact, I believe that the passage of workplace anti-bullying laws will be among the spurs toward getting Boomer executives to take workplace bullying seriously. The mere threat of the Healthy Workplace Bill being enacted already has prompted some management-side employment lawyers to advise their clients to adopt workplace bullying policies.

Or maybe, as Gary suggests, it will be the Millennials, raised on the idea that bullying is wrongful behavior, who bring our society to the next level on this. If so, perhaps generations hence will look back at the largely Boomer-led, top-down organizations and wonder how we could’ve been so misguided.

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Related post

Triple jeopardy: Workplace bullying at midlife (2013)

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