Why “just leave” is absurd advice for a workplace bullying target

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On Facebook, we’ve seen some people who’ve never been bullied at work (or more likely who are bullies themselves or aren’t vulnerable and emotionally tough enough to admit they’ve been bullied) tell workplace bullying targets to “just leave” their jobs if they don’t like them.

I ask those people: if you were to “just leave” your job today, what would be the consequences? In a 2013 poll, the Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI) found the biggest barrier to a workplace bullying target “just quitting” was loss of income and the affordable, employer-provided, crucial-while-being-bullied health insurance that went along with it (40 percent of respondents).

The second most popular response, however, is the one I find most striking. In a close second, 36 percent of respondents said personal pride, the injustice of it all, and loving their actual jobs were the reasons they weren’t just going to up and leave. In other words, targets weren’t going to “just quit” simply because they weren’t in the wrong and shouldn’t have had to. That awareness, level of integrity, and self-defense are motivated by strength, not weakness, and a building block for a social movement to end workplace bullying.

The third most popular response: 24 percent of respondents said they were waiting for an investigation that never came. Workplace bullying targets expected employers to do the right thing.

“Just quitting” versus find another job
You might think this idea of sticking around is in direct opposition to our usual advice to workplace bullying targets: leave since your health comes first and your employers won’t change. The difference is the hastiness of the decision to maintain your health. Consider:

  • Your safety net. Do you have savings? Can you collect unemployment? Do you have multiple family incomes you can fall back on until you find another job? Do you have dependents who rely on your income for basic needs?
  • How quickly you could find another job. What’s the job market like in your industry? How strong is your network? Have you updated your resume and your online resume?
  • Your health. How strongly is your workplace abuse affecting your health? How quickly is your health deteriorating? Can you leave on disability until you’re able to find another job?

The reality check
Employees “just quitting” (without speaking up) won’t do anything to challenge the status quo and hold employers accountable. What’s important is when you are ready to leave (and you do owe it to yourself to find a job where your employer values you), speak up to your employer in a way you feel comfortable. Don’t let your employer off the hook and perpetuate “the soft bigotry of low expectations.”

In The New York Times article “What Women Really Think of Men,” a piece about not letting men off the hook for not recognizing women’s equal humanity, writer Irin Carmon uses the phrase “the soft bigotry of low expectations” to describe “just dealing” with the status quo. “Men taking responsibility, even retrospectively, is what it’s going to take for us to believe another world is possible, one in which we don’t romanticize female superiority to let men off the hook,” she says.

While we’re not exactly talking about misogyny with workplace bullying (though 80 percent of workplace bullying targets are women, according to WBI), the same rule applies. If we simply replace Carmon’s bottom line with the different players in the power abuse struggle, we get “employers taking responsibility, even retrospectively, is what it’s going to take for us to believe another world is possible.”

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One comment

  1. toriiannbottomley

    In my job most bullied employees were women over 50. They need to stay to get sufficient years for their pension, because at their age they are not likely to get hired and if they do, they will be under-employed and not make the same annual income. Also their reputations are ruined and unless you get a job via a friend then there is a very good chance that your perspective employeer will call your previous employer for the scoop. Legally they are only allowed to state your position, salary and length of service; but bullies don’t care about laws. They care about ruining the lives of their targets. Anything less does not give them the crack high they are addicted to and crave at all costs.

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