Over 65 Million Workers Affected by Bullying, But Most Employers Don't React Adequately

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By Rhonda Smith  

March 28 --Twenty-seven percent of U.S. workers are either experiencing abusive conduct at work now or did so in the past, and 21 percent have witnessed it, according to a 2014 national survey report from the Workplace Bullying Institute.

A total of 65.6 million workers have been affected by bullying, the Bellingham, Wash.-based WBI said.

The survey results also show that employers still fail to fully address repeated mistreatment and abusive conduct by managers as well as rank-and-file workers, the report's authors said. As a result, bullying--which ranges from threats and humiliation to intimidation, work sabotage or verbal abuse--continues, they said.

“It is clear that in 2014, despite significant public awareness … employers are doing very little voluntarily to address bullying,” the report said. “At the time of the survey, there is no state law yet enacted to compel employers to attend to, rather than ignore, abusive conduct.”

Zogby Analytics conducted the online survey of 1,000 U.S. adults Jan. 27-28.

Most Workplace Bullies Bosses, Men

The WBI found similar results about workplace bullying in national survey reports it released in 2007 and 2010, according to Daniel Christensen, a research assistant who helped compile the 2014 report. “There are some patterns that have stayed the same,” he told Bloomberg BNA March 28.

“Most workplace bullies are bosses,” Christensen said. “And most are men.”

According to the survey results, 40.1 percent of respondents said bosses were the principal perpetrators of bullying and abusive conduct in U.S. workplaces.

Fifty-six percent said the perpetrator held a higher rank than the victim, 33 percent said the abuse came from peers and 11 percent said the bullying involved subordinates.

Sixty-nine percent of respondents said perpetrators of abusive conduct were men, while 31 percent said they were women.

Among respondents who had experienced or witnessed bullying, 60 percent said the targets were female and 40 percent said male.

Employer Reaction to Abusive Conduct Varies

Employer response to bullying and abusive behavior in the workplace varies, the report said, noting that 25 percent of respondents said their employers deny it happens and fail to investigate complaints.

Another 16 percent said employers discount bullying or describe its impact as not serious, while 15 percent said employers rationalize it by describing the bullying as an innocent, routine way of doing business.

According to the report, 12 percent of respondents said employers take steps to eliminate bullying by creating and enforcing certain policies and procedures.

But 11 percent said their employers defend abusive conduct when the perpetrators are executives and managers, and 10 percent said employers acknowledge the behavior and show concern for affected workers.

Although 6 percent of workers surveyed said employers condemn bullying and exercise zero tolerance for it, 5 percent said employers encourage abusive behavior as necessary for a competitive organization.

“Respondents were clear that employers fail to appropriately react to abusive conduct much more frequently than they take positive steps [to] ameliorate bullying,” the report said.

15 States Have Bullying Bills in Process

Christensen said public support for a “Healthy Workplace Bill” at the state level is growing--with 93 percent of survey respondents in 2014 saying they would support enactment of legislation to protect employees from abusive conduct at work. “In 2010,” he said, “only 64 percent of [respondents] supporting enacting the legislation.”

Since 2003, 26 states have introduced healthy workplace legislation, the WBI said, but no proposed laws have been enacted.

Currently, 15 states have 21 active bills that address bullying and abusive conduct at work, Christensen said. New York and Massachusetts have come closest to gaining approval of healthy workplace legislation.

Opponents of this effort generally say such laws would be too costly for employers, Christensen said.

“But we really think that's misguided,” he said. “Workplace bullying, as it is today, is very costly for companies,” because of its detrimental impact on employees' health and career options, he said.


To contact the reporter on this story: Rhonda Smith in Washington at rsmith@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Susan J. McGolrick at smcgolrick@bna.com

Text of the report is available at http://workplacebullying.org/multi/pdf/WBI-2014-US-Survey.pdf.

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