Stop the Bullying

Gavilan College workshop (2013)
Dr. Charles Majuri, Counselor

with commentary by Dr. Marilyn Chap, Sociologist


Who bullies?
Staff can bully each other.
Supervisors can bully underlings.
Underlings can bully supervisors.
It's pervasive in US workplaces, a sociological, cultural, psychological and mental health issue. A growing problem in the US. It's not easy to prevent and stop it.


Definition of bullying
Repeated and targeted hostile coercive humiliating aggressive behavior by a person or group towards a person or group in order to create a gross imbalance of power in a situation.


Severe mental and emotional trauma occur, and sometimes physical; trauma can persist for years and cause many problems for years. There is physical psychological verbal and cyber bullying. Cyber is most prevalent now: email, texts, FaceBook; more new social media create more bullying platforms. Cyber platforms are perfect: 24/7 and anonymous, easy to get away with and very impactful. Little can be done about cyberbullying. 43 percent rise in incidents of reported cyberbullying between 2011 and 2012. Much of this is young to mid-teens, but more and more at college level, and more and more in workplace. Cyberbullying is easy and convenient to do.


Mental Health Issues
It's a mental health issue in various ways:


Victims are traumatized: often suffer depression, anxiety, fear, PTSD; drugs and alcohol to self medicate, insomnia, eating disorders can result. Kids and some adults commit suicide--it's frequent in kids.


Bullies also sometimes have problems. Prone to depression, prone to major mental disorders especially ADHD and oppositional disorder. High incidence of personality disorders: passive aggressive, narcissistic. Problem with judgements and decision making, learning and assimilating information in an appropriate way. Not well people, and they need help. Often, though, bullies get a lot of power and self esteem from bullying. They enlist others. They won't stop on their own and see no problem with their behavior--they normalize bullying by making the culture over to accept it as "tough love" or "workplaces are like this so toughen up." Thus they must be stopped as they will not stop of their own accord.


Any kind of bullying is unacceptable in a workplace. You can't have a healthy functional institution in which bullying is tolerated or present.


Bullying singles someone out to embarrass, humiliate, intimidate, alienate from the group. Bullying cuts them out of activities and excludes them. Bullying can become violent. Usually bullying is done by boss or supervisor towards people working under or around. Co-workers may bully out of jealousy--clothing, appearance, fear of job security. Most common workplace bullying is verbal: swearing, inappropriate language, blaming, being critical, shirking responsibility, manipulation of others into uncomfortable situations, repeated practical jokes on people. All this creates power imbalance.


Three related but different behaviors to understand
--Bullying--repeated targeted behaviors vs. group or individual


not the same as

  • A negative employee who creates a hostile environment--bad jokes, swearing, ranting, meanness, complaining may be repeated, but not targetted to one person
  • Harrassment--ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation, age. Has legal protections, is against the law. Must document when this happens as it can lead to a legal case that you will win.

1/3 all US employees get bullied sooner or later. Of these, 20 percent of bullying cases become harrassment. High as these numbers seem, they are probably low as most bullying is probably unreported.


Losses due to Bullying
Effects upon bullied: stress, absenteeism, anxiety, depression, high blood pressure, insomnia, eating disorders, anger, substance abuse, home life and relationships. Many are relcutant to discuss or unable to discuss; often men are ashamed that they can't handle it alone and aren't always able to discuss.


Bullying bad for business or education, in our case. Turnover high when bullying is allowed. Workers are less motivated, sick costs increase. Lack of innovation and creativity results because people are preoccupied. When public, bullying creates a sense of fear in discussion. Word gets around that an organization permits bullying. Institution has more trouble attracting quality employees.


A hostile environment can include when someone keeps slamming others via email.


Responses and Lack of Response
Some organizations have adopted a zero tolerance policy regarding bullying. Hard to stick to zero tolerance, and it requires commitment and detailed documentation, and key people usually administrators and HR to enforce a policy.


People who witness bullying usually stay silent--why? Afraid own situation, no clarity on what to do, fear that no one will respond
71% say bullying is part of their work culture
4% say someone intervened to try to help

11% said peers tried to help
85% said no one tried to help


No one wants to talk about it or deal with it--head in sand, easier to ignore.When someone tries to intervene, problem can get worse especially if there are no consequences for bully. The complainer becomes the problem. Bullies build teams and increase pressure that way.


So how to free the culture from this? Prepare to do something about the problem.
Asking bullies to stop doesn't work--they are often bullying victims themselves and it's a cycle of abuse. Fingerpointing doesn't help a solution.


If it happens regularly, there is a problem. It needs to be totally unacceptable. Kids go to parents, then parents go to school, then nothing is done, then kid commits suicide. Bully is sometimes joined by others on the bullying team; one person is chosen as the goat, and then other people join in.


Individual responses
First, document what happened. If you're being bullied secretly, keep the texts or emails.
Enlist friends who can see it.
Try to be in situations where others, allies, witness it
Get professional help.
Then, seek help from the right people at your organization--allies needed.


Don't blame yourself
Regain control of situation
Use your right to complain
Tell someone who can be of help and support
Confront the person and tell them to stop
Get a friend or union to do it with or for you


Bullying is similar to domestic violence and rape, so someone who is in the powerful position enjoys and likes being powerful. They carefully teach the person they are bullying to accept the power dynamic and blame selves for it. People are groomed to accept this. Bullies seldom work with someone who won't take on the power trip. Bullies carefully identify where they target, often choose people who have been bullied before.


Institutional responses
Survey employees to get data on scope and frequency
Ask Admin to make this a discussion among selves and with employees
Anti-bullying culture requires education but you can't JUST educate
A zero tolerance for bullying policy requires enforcement
Staff Development Training for everyone on recognizing and intervening
A whole culture supports bullying--change the culture so people treat each other with respect or are very conspicuous when they don't do so
Posted signs defining bullying--training for students
Keep talking and involve more people
Staff mediation program that makes working out differences safe despite power differentials.