Are some companies starting to understand the costs of bullying bosses?

In a piece for Bloomberg, Matthew Townsend and Esme E. Deprez dig beneath media reports of sexual harassment and sex discrimination at Nike to find the presence of bullying behaviors:

After Nike Inc. ousted a handful of male executives for behavior issues over the past few months, some media reports tied the departures to the #MeToo movement and its revelations of sexual harassment and assault. Interviews with more than a dozen former Nike employees, including senior executives, however, paint a picture of a workplace contaminated by a different behavior: corporate bullying. The workers say the sneaker giant could be a bruising place for both men and women, and that females did bullying, too.

I was interviewed for the piece and suggested that maybe some companies are starting to get it:

“Some companies are realizing that a bullying boss isn’t the best way to manage a company,” says David Yamada, a professor at Suffolk University Law School in Boston who’s authored antibullying legislation. “Maybe we’re starting to see a tipping point.”

Gary Namie of the Workplace Bullying Institute “says one reason some companies have long tolerated or even encouraged such behavior is that many American managers believe the workplace is by nature rough around the edges.” This assumption pits worker against worker in a “‘zero-sum, competitive work environment where people feel they need to obliterate their competitors.'”

Workplace bullying and sexual harassment

The emergence of the #MeToo movement has drawn long overdue attention to sexual harassment and assault. I pointed out the ongoing links between sexual harassment and workplace bullying:

When executives feel entitled or untouchable, that often leads to bullying and then to other inappropriate behavior, Yamada says. In many of the workplace environments that resulted in some of the high-profile #MeToo moments, such as that at Weinstein Co., an “undercurrent” of bullying created a belief that mistreatment would go unpunished, he says. “It’s that bullying atmosphere that helps to enable and empower sexual harassment.”

These connections have been made repeatedly during the nascent history of the #MeToo movement. In an op-ed piece for the Los Angeles Times, media professor David Lieberman stated that if we want to end sexual harassment, then we need to end workplace bullying:

But legislators can do more to address the problem. They can make workplace bullying illegal. Too many corporate leaders find it expedient to look the other way when bosses — especially ones they deem indispensable — systematically intimidate and humiliate underlings. Bullies who believe that their whims matter more than other people’s dignity often don’t see why their sexual impulses shouldn’t be just as indulged.

Here in Boston, noted public radio personality Tom Ashbrook was terminated from his job after initial complaints about sexual harassment led to a deeper inquiry about bullying behaviors. In a February post, I wrote:

Workplace bullying, not sexual harassment, prompted this week’s termination of popular Boston public radio program host Tom Ashbrook by his employer, Boston University, which owns the WBUR-FM radio station.

. . . In December, sexual harassment allegations against Ashbrook surfaced publicly, and soon it became evident that bullying-type behaviors were also part of the alleged misconduct.

Absence of legal protections

The Bloomberg article devotes considerable attention to the absence of legal protections for bullied workers, and, correspondingly, the lack of legal incentives for employers to address these behaviors:

One reason few companies have specific antibullying policies is that there aren’t federal or state laws in the U.S. outlawing the behavior, which makes America a laggard when compared with Western Europe, Canada, and Australia.

A lack of legal protections greatly reduces the possibility of liability for employers. It’s difficult to bring a lawsuit based on bullying, and businesses have worked to keep it that way. . . . If there were antibullying laws, companies would be liable and do more to deter the practice, according to Namie. “It’s the only form of abuse that hasn’t been addressed by law,” he says.

Nevertheless, as Townsend and Deprez point out, Nike is among the companies that have an anti-harassment policy covering bullying behaviors. It’s a stark reminder that policies alone are not enough. Without legal protections and organizational commitments to workplaces that embrace worker dignity as a core value and practice, bullying, mobbing, and abuse at work will continue to flourish.

5 responses

  1. My boss is an intellectual bully and actually manipulates your thoughts by pouring in his poison. He is a narcissist a con man who actually thinks he is nice. I’ve complained about him before but he is retaliating so then I reported that! It’s exhausting. Same box different sand- all jobs are the same, vomit. I am so sick of these toxic personalities in work. Just live and let live! I do not trust this guy AT ALL and it’s starting to really affect my work performance. What to do….

  2. I will hold on to the hope that this is a tipping point. I am afraid that these behaviors may be so embedded into our culture that bullying will be the norm. I am, for just a year, subbing in elementary, junior high and high school in an upper middle class area, and I am here to tell you that privileged American children have a long way to go in terms of respectful behavior. The most disturbing part of this is that the adults accept extremely poor behavior as “the norm” and move past it without acknowledgement or concern. Of course, I was bullied out of my classroom, so I am not surprised to see this epidemic in our children and how the adults react to it. It’s like mobbing practice as a child, really! This whole “be kind” bully free stuff is not working, you actually have to practice and model it. I may sound cynical, but I’ve been mobbed and bullied within the academic system, and it is no fun at all. In another email, we can talk about victim blaming and shaming, too….

  3. I am going through this situation right now. My employer has actually investigated this individual; a manager, numerous times before and has even given him a life coach to better relate to his employees; or at least thats his story as he brags about the life coach at work. Goes to show what this company thinks of him intimidating people versus the employee complaints.
    Just this week he stormed into my office red-faced, fists clenched, ready to fight and fully out of control. He entered my office and immediately started calling me a liar in a high voice. I asked him to sit down numerous times to have a sensible conversation but he kept standing up and continued moving closer. He came across the face of my desk and was standing over me as i was sitting down. I had no escape route so I stood up and we were immediately chest to chest. I moved toward him to drive him out of my office to defuse his anger.
    He left and of course the next morning, I was written up for foul language and intimidation. I had already left a note for the ethics and compliance group to get a hold of me to file a complaint.
    I know nothing will happen, HR is defenseless against a senior manager who thinks this guy is golden. I am considering filing an EEOC complaint against him for retaliation and age discrimination. This nonsense has to stop.

  4. “You’ll look up and down streets.
    Look ’em over with care.
    About some you will say, “I don’t choose to go there.”
    With your head full of brains and your shoes full of feet,
    You’re too smart to go down any not-so-good street.”
    – Dr. Suess

    I found that little nugget in “Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein Delivers Remarks at Compliance Week’s 2018 Annual Conference for Compliance and Risk Professionals”

    https://www.justice.gov/opa/speech/deputy-attorney-general-rod-rosenstein-delivers-remarks-compliance-week-s-2018-annual

    It’s an excellent primer on why we need laws and compliance programs to support them that address destructive interpersonal behaviour in workplaces. When we value and respect employees to make evidence-based decisions, we naturally want to promote healthy workplaces that attract and retain ethical, law-abiding employees.

  5. today the anger sets in, the inability to do anything and know that nothing will get done. That feeling of helplessness is what produces the anger. For the last two years defamation, ridicule, intimidation, bullying and hatred because you are the professional you are. They hate you because you are accomplished and they are not, they hate you because you are popular and they are not and lastly they hate you because you have a legacy and they don’t. Anger is what I feel, bu this too shall pass …

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