Targets of workplace bullying: A short checklist for assessing options

 

(Image courtesy of clipart lord.com)

(Image courtesy of clipart lord.com)

We can identify four stages that targets of workplace bullying, mobbing, or abuse may experience in working their way to better places in their lives. I have discussed them at greater length in an earlier piece, but here’s a quick summary:

  • Recognition — Recognizing and understanding the bullying behaviors and their effects on you;
  • Response — Figuring out how to respond to the mistreatment;
  • Recovery — Recovering from the experience; and,
  • Renewal — Moving forward.

These stages often overlap, and they are not necessarily linear.

Weighing options

Getting to that better place, however, is no easy task. To help people understand the scope of potential options, here is a quick checklist of possibilities, with a note that the legal and employee benefit options are specific to U.S. readers:

1. Medical assistance — For seeking treatment for physical and mental health conditions related to the mistreatment.

2. Therapy and counseling — For addressing mental health issues related to the mistreatment, ideally with a licensed mental health provider who understands interpersonal abuse and traumatic stress.

3. Coaching — For understanding, developing, and assessing options and choices.

4. Career coaching/counseling/consulting — For obtaining career guidance in the midst or aftermath of a bullying situation.

5. Employer-provided vacation, personal, and sick days — Using up accumulated leave days to remove yourself from the toxic work environment and to consider options.

6. Family and medical leave — Federal and state laws providing (usually unpaid) family and medical leave may offer an option if you have used up paid leave time but want to retain the right to return to your job.

7. Legal assistance/potential lawsuit — As many readers know, we are still working to enact comprehensive workplace bullying legislation. However, in some instances, anti-discrimination laws, disability laws, whistleblower and anti-retaliation protections, collective bargaining agreements, employee handbooks, and other miscellaneous legal provisions may provide the “hook” you need for a potential legal claim.

8. Legal assistance/public benefits — Unemployment benefits, workers’ compensation, and Social Security Disability offer potential sources of income replacement due to job loss and work-related injuries.

Resources

The Need Help? page of this blog contains links to helpful resources and past blog posts that expound upon some of the items above.

Also, I highly recommend these two affordably priced books:

Gary Namie & Ruth Namie, The Bully at Work (2d ed. 2009) — Gary and Ruth are co-founders of the Workplace Bullying Institute, whose website also is an excellent source of information. This is the bestselling book on dealing with workplace bullying situations, and for good reason.

Maureen Duffy & Len Sperry, Overcoming Mobbing: A Recovery Guide for Workplace Aggression and Bullying (2014) — Maureen and Len have written an excellent book, especially for those who are facing mobbing-style mistreatment at work.

A final word

As many readers can attest, there are few quick fixes when it comes to dealing with most severe workplace bullying situations. Furthermore, the challenge of sorting out options is often left to the individual experiencing the mistreatment. Making smart decisions in the midst of a bullying or mobbing situation requires arming yourself with as much information as possible and seeking out available sources of help. There are no guarantees, but these efforts can make a positive difference.

Bully Nation: How economic power and inequality are fueling a bullying culture

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Bully Nation: How the American Establishment Creates a Bullying Society (2016) by sociologists Charles Derber (Boston College) and Yale R. Magrass (UMass-Dartmouth) takes a “big picture” look at how the economic Powers That Be have fueled a deeper, broader culture of bullying behaviors. Here’s part of an excerpt published on AlterNet

Any economic or social system based on power inequality creates potential or latent bullying that often translates into active bullying, by institutions and individuals. So this is not a problem exclusive to capitalism; bullying was brutally manifest in systems claiming to be socialist or communist, such as the Soviet Union, and it is also obviously a major problem in China today. But capitalism is the dominant system currently and has its own, less recognized, institutionalized bullying propensities.

This looks like a promising book. Unfortunately, however, Drs. Derber and Magrass also take an unmerited swipe at the anti-bullying movement, by suggesting that we have failed to link bullying to the broader economic and political forces that frame their analysis:

Though the bullying of vulnerable kids in schools gets a lot of attention, the bullying of vulnerable workers usually is ignored. If the mass media mention it at all, they typically parrot the corporate view that the agitating workers are troublemakers who deserve punishment. The failure of scholars in the “bullying field” to see even illegal (not to mention legal) corporate threats, intimidation, and retaliation as bullying is another profound failure of the psychological paradigm that views bullying only as a “kid thing” in schools. Such scholars are blind to the adult and institutionalized bullying that is endemic to our economic system.

It appears that the co-authors neglected to do the necessary homework to learn more about the workplace anti-bullying movement. Indeed, the ongoing campaign to enact legal protections against workplace bullying has its philosophical roots in the value of employee dignity. In the law review article that led to my drafting of the Healthy Workplace Bill, “The Phenomenon of ‘Workplace Bullying’ and the Need for Status-Blind Hostile Work Environment Protection” (Georgetown Law Journal, 2000), I explore the social and economic conditions that are fueling bullying at work.

In addition, I connect the dots between the state of workers’ rights, employee dignity, and economic power in my 2009 law review article, “Human Dignity and American Employment Law” (University of Richmond Law Review, 2009). My 2014 blog post drawing from that piece stated:

American employment law has been dominated by a belief system that embraces the idea of unfettered free markets and regards limitations on management authority with deep suspicion. Under this “markets and management” framework, the needs for unions and collective bargaining, individual employment rights, and, most recently, protection of workers amid the dynamics of globalization, are all weighed against these prevailing norms.

Furthermore, we know darn well about the plutocratic forces that want to keep workplace bullying legal. Here in Massachusetts, a powerful corporate trade group, the Associated Industries of Massachusetts, has spearheaded opposition to the Healthy Workplace Bill. The Chamber of Commerce and the Society for Human Resource Management are among the other corporate friendly trade groups that have opposed employer accountability for severe workplace bullying.

This oversight aside, it appears that Bully Nation has the potential to raise our collective consciousness about how concentrated power is fueling abusive behaviors. I look forward to taking a closer look at it.

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Do more Americans need to pack their bags in order to maximize work opportunities?

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Arthur C. Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute (a conservative think tank), believes that Americans must be more willing to move in order to maximize their work opportunities. In a recent New York Times op-ed piece, he writes:

Mobility is more than just a metaphor for getting ahead. In America, it has been a solution to economic and social barriers.

. . . Even for those already here, migration has long been seen as a key to self-improvement. As Horace Greeley so famously advised in 1865: “Go west, young man, and grow up with the country.”

. . . Fewer and fewer people are taking Greeley’s suggestion. In the mid-1960s, about 20 percent of the population moved in any given year, according to the United States Census Bureau. By 1990, it was approaching 15 percent. Today it’s closer to 10 percent. The percentage that moves between states has fallen by nearly half since the early 1990s.

Brooks offers a provocative thesis built on statistics of which I was previously unaware, and he offers thoughtful policy prescriptions to support greater individual mobility.

On a personal level, I understand the benefits of mobility. I’ve made two major moves during my life, first from NW Indiana to New York City, and then from NYC to Boston. Both helped to open up significant career and work opportunities for me. By contrast, at times I’ve been frustrated when, at my downtown Boston university, some of my students have passed on promising opportunities in places as close as New Hampshire or Connecticut, citing a reluctance to “relocate.” Could my anecdotal experience be connected to Brooks’s observation that since the Great Recession, “mobility decline . . . has actually been the most pronounced among millennials”?

However, we also must assess the reality of what has been called the Great American Jobs Machine. In recent decades, the largest job growth has been in the lower paid service sector. True, marginally better opportunities may present themselves, as Brooks suggests, to people in Mississippi (6.3 percent unemployment rate) who move to New Hampshire (2.6 percent). But that won’t do much to reverse the burgeoning wealth gap and the ongoing demise of good jobs with decent wages and benefits.

Thus, it’s arguable that until we create a stronger base of jobs nationally, we’re doing only slightly more than shifting around the deck chairs on a sinking ship by encouraging people to move where jobs are in greater supply. A greater sense of flexibility and even adventure may help to better match the right people with the right jobs, but ultimately we need more good jobs just about everywhere.

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