We’ve all seen our Facebook feeds flood with #metoo after the Harvey Weinstein allegations spread, showing the sad culture of sexual harassment and sexual assault far too many women (and some men) have endured. It’s a culture most of these sufferers have had to tolerate to succeed “because this entire town [culture] is built on the ugly principals that Harvey takes to a horrific extreme,” says Krista Vernoff, who co-runs ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy (HollywoodReporter.com).
“If I didn’t work with people whose behavior I find reprehensible, I wouldn’t have a career…. We work within this culture so we can amass some power so we can have a voice. And those who don’t do that — those who shout and scream ‘this is not OK’ when they feel threatened or belittled (those women who DID speak out against Harvey BEFORE the New York Times piece) — they largely live on the fringes of this town. They don’t get the power. They don’t get the platform that the mainstream provides,” she says.
But there’s another side of the story so many of us have lived through — that few talk about. Once it came out that Harvey Weinstein’s assistants would disappear once he made his targets feel safe, leaving him alone to harass and assault, one former assistant spoke up. “She and other women at his company were also victims of Weinstein’s abuse – regularly exploited and manipulated, leaving some severely traumatized,” according to the Guardian. Female employees “were not willing collaborators and had also suffered through verbal abuse, vicious threats, and intimidation.”
“You think you’re going to get this illustrious career. You really want to believe you are going to succeed. He preys on this. He preys on young, vulnerable people he can manipulate…. You’re trapped. You’re tired. You’re vulnerable. He starts breaking you down. It just spirals out of control the minute you start to realize what’s going on. You start to feel like you’re going insane.”
— One of Weinstein’s former employees
Basically, his employee claims Weinstein is a serial abuser, and she lived in fear that he’d ruin her career if she pushed back, leaving her feeling isolated and powerless.
It’s all #toofamiliar.
They aren’t just fears of retaliation and isolation so many experience at work (though more than 85 percent of those harassed at work don’t ever report it according to the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC)). Retaliation and isolation are actually the norm. “Employers predominantly did nothing and actually retaliated against the target in 71 percent of cases who dared to report it,” says the Workplace Bullying Institute’s Gary and Ruth Namie in their book The Bully At Work.
Why So Many Workplaces Go Unchecked
We’re talking here about a culture that’s complicit — a culture where too many want to speak up but fear retaliation and loss of their jobs and careers. The highly competent, highly ethical workers assume everyone else has the same mindset as them until they encounter the less competent, less ethical power abusers who climb the ladder and use their power to serve their egos (rather than their organizations — what they’re getting paid for). It’s a clash of two opposing worldviews.
Those in power tolerate it. They don’t understand how power abusers create cultures where the best employees have less reason to care, so absenteeism and turnover go up, and productivity and innovation go down — along with their potential bottom lines.
How we change the culture
Step one in changing the culture was sexual harassment law. If you speak with women who worked before the law improved the culture, they’ll tell you how much safer workplaces are now for women.
Step two will be passing the workplace anti-bullying Healthy Workplace Bill to reduce the number of unsafe workplaces where workplace abuse is tolerated.
As we learned from #metoo, the culture of abuse still exists even with laws to protect us from abuse. But the collective voices saying enough is enough resulted in the #HowIWillChange response, putting the responsibility for change on those in power.
So here’s step three. Even with accountability through law, the responsibility will fall with those in power. It’s about those in power “being willing to stand up and say they won’t tolerate this,” says Amy Oppenheimer, an attorney who specializes in workplace harassment cases according to Bustle.com reporter Lauren Holter. It will fall on the shoulders of business owners and leaders all the way up the ladder to create healthy cultures and judges to enforce the Healthy Workplace Bill once it passes.
It’s time to blow our whistles even louder. It’s time to hold employers accountable. Enough is enough.
Your calls are continuing to work! We’re up to 19 sponsors, and we still have three full days left to gain support in the State House:
Rep. RoseLee Vincent (D-Chelsea)
Last session, we had 58 sponsors. So keep those calls and emails coming, asking your Massachusetts state legislators to sign onto Senate Docket 768 (lead sponsor: Senator Jennifer Flanagan). We want to reach 70 co-sponsors by Friday, February 3.
Email past supporters by this Friday
Call your legislators by this Friday
Call. Text your zip code to (520) 200-2223. Within a few minutes, you’ll get a text back with your legislators’ phone numbers. Call the two bottom numbers and ask the person who answers to request that the Rep or Senator co-sponsor Senate Docket 768, lead sponsor Senator Jennifer Flanagan. It’s that simple!
Email. If you absolutely can’t call because you can’t get away from work during business hours or if you want to back up your phone call, email both of your legislators. We’ve made that process simple, too: Visit our easy tool to find your legislators and a form letter or write your own. The message will come from your email box.
If you don’t see both a Rep and a Senator in your text or you get a return email saying your message couldn’t go through, go to the Massachusetts Legislature website, find your State Rep’s and State Senator’s email addresses, and email them the old-fashioned way.
These state legislators haven’t co-sponsored in the past but have expressed interest in doing so. Give these legislators an extra phone call if you’re in their district:
Senator Richard Ross (R-Wrentham), 617-722-1555
We have until Friday, February 3 to make urge our legislators to end workplace bullying, but the sooner you call or email, the more legislators we can ultimately reach.
We need your help. Getting legislators to request to co-sponsor the anti-workplace bullying Healthy Workplace Bill shows support behind the bill. Now is the time in the two-year legislative session when we sign on co-sponsors. We need you to ask your State Rep and State Senator to request to co-sponsor the bill.
In the past three full sessions, we’ve gone from 13 to 39 to 58 co-sponsors. We aim to sail past those numbers this session with thousands more supporters.
Here’s what we need you to do in the next week:
- Call your State Rep AND State Senator. Calling is much more effective than emailing. Legislators can’t ignore phone calls but can ignore emails in their inboxes. We’ll make it incredibly easy:
Text your zip code to (520) 200-2223. Within a few minutes, you’ll get a text back with your legislators’ phone numbers. Call the two bottom numbers and ask the person who answers to request that the Rep or Senator co-sponsor Senate Docket 768. It’s that simple!
We’ll be in close contact with Senator Jennifer Flanagan’s office in the upcoming week to find out who’s signed on and who we need to nudge, so the sooner you can make these calls, the more co-sponsors we can sign on to end workplace bullying in Massachusetts. Email this post onto your contacts so we can flood our legislators with phone calls.
- Email your State Rep AND State Senator. If you absolutely can’t call because you can’t get away from work during business hours or if you want to back up your phone call, email both of your legislators. We’ve made that process simple, too:Visit our easy tool to find your legislators and a form letter or write your own. The message will come from your email box.
If you get a return email saying your message couldn’t go through, go to the Massachusetts Legislature website, find your State Rep’s and State Senator’s email addresses, and email them the old-fashioned way.
We have until Friday, February 3 to make urge our legislators to end workplace bullying, but the sooner you call or email, the more legislators we can ultimately reach.
Thank you for your part in helping to end workplace bullying.
The National Violent Death Reporting System (NVDRS) reports the number of suicides associated with job problems in Massachusetts per year:
What this data says
These stats tell us a total of 322 people took their lives from job problems over five years. And we know that workplace bullies drove at least some of these people to suicide.
A study published in the American Journal of Public Health last September revealed that bullied targets are twice as likely to have suicidal thoughts than those who were never bullied. Pioneer Heinz Leymann estimated that 10 percent of those bullied take their lives, according to the Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI) article “The very real link between workplace bullying and suicide: Twice as likely to contemplate suicide.”
Researchers defined bullying as harassment, badgering, and freezing out that:
- Occurred repeatedly over a period of time.
- Involved two parties in which one had a higher ranking than the other.
It happens so often that there’s now a term for it. “Bullycide” happens when the cause of suicide is attributable to the victim having been bullied.
How workplace bullying can lead any of us to suicide (“bullycide”)
Researchers also tested to see if qualities of workplace bullying targets warranted uninvited psychological assaults. They found nothing: zero data to support reason to blame the victim. In other words, targets are not simply those with exploited weakness.
In fact, evidence shows the opposite. Targets are often high performing, highly ethical employees whose competence poses a threat to their low performing, low ethical bosses. The bully’s only real motivator is to battle the target while having the upper hand – an unethical tactic used to uphold the image they long for but are unable to get through competence:
- They abuse their power. They care about hurting, manipulating, controlling, and eliminating the target (generally after two years after the employee’s start date). They are kiss up, kick down managers who are masters of deception.
- They deceive others into thinking the target is the problem. They use the emotional abuse they caused to convince others that the target is mentally ill, setting the stage for mobbing, in which coworkers join in to isolate the target.
A bully’s typical recipe:
- The bully initially repeatedly reprimands the better than average target for trivial matters and those that would be described completely differently by the target. The bully repeatedly puts the target down.
- The bully convinces others that the target is incompetent, so others can begin to shun the target and unwittingly participate in the emotional abuse.
- The bully drives the target to go to report the problem to the bully’s boss or to Human Resources and then escalates the bully behavior.
- The bully makes their tactics so outrageous that the target’s support system (family and friends) doesn’t believe the target and can’t offer advice. Then these family and friends become tired of hearing the target obsessively repeat issues that can’t be resolved.
- The target is now very much alone and increasingly vulnerable to suicide. Targets try everything and then give up hope. If not stopped, the prolonged abuse causes depression and often suicidal thoughts. “Targets who sense that they’re about to be fired and cannot cope with that eventuality are vulnerable to suicide,” adds reporter Natasha Wallace in her article “Suicide, When Related to Workplace Bullying.”
“There is a body of research identifying bullied targets as more emotional than others. But anxious personalities are not rare in our society. Witness the prevalence of anti-depressant drugs prescribed,” says WBI.
Our false perceptions of suicide
The public often finds fault with the people who take their lives. And mental health folks rarely understand the severity of abusive conduct at work’s effect on targets’ lives, so they discount the contribution of abuse at work and instead point to family and financial matters as root cause.
But the reality is that workplace bullying can cause a target to abandon hope over time, to not see a future or alternatives. Abuse tactics are often so outrageous that no one believes the target when a bully attacks. They think the target must have done something wrong or exaggerates. Then abandonment by coworkers and impatience of family members and friends lead to utter loneliness and despair. When everything they try fails, they lose all hope. “Bullying causes severe health harm, much more acute than is experienced by those sexually harassed. Anxiety (80%); panic attacks (52%); depression (49%); PTSD diagnosis (30%); suffering intrusive thoughts/flashbacks (50%); sleep disorders (77%); hypertension (59%) to name some of the negative health consequences,” adds the WBI.
These responses are the natural. “Depression is caused by the unremitting abusive conduct. And their lives unravel if it is not stopped…. It is the nature of the human stress response. With prolonged exposure to distress, changes in the brain occur. Thanks to modern neuroscience studies of social phenomena like ostracism, stress, and bullying, we know that atrophy of key areas of the brain impair decision making. Thus, it is highly likely that a brain flooded with steroidal glucocorticoids is not capable of clear, rational thinking. Suicide is the result of the failure to imagine alternatives to one’s current reality,” adds WBI.
Write your legislators to let them know workplace bullying needs consequences.
It’s plain and simple: people are dying over workplace bullying. It needs to stop. We need a law. The time is now.
In January and throughout the two-year legislative process, we’ll look to reach you to let you know when it’s go-time to contact your legislators. And in some cases, we’ll only need to let some of you know because we’ll need to urge just your rep or senator. Or you might miss our Facebook posts and miss out on a crucial timeframe for emailing or calling your legislators.
So we ask you to sign up for our email legislative alert system. That way you won’t have to be on the lookout on Facebook to know when it’s time to contact your legislators. The message will show up in your inbox.
And we need as many contacts as possible so we can contact our legislators at key times and get this bill passed this session. So share this message.
Workplace bullying is bad for business; it leads to decreased productivity, lower morale, increased absenteeism, and attrition.
Workplace bullying, by definition, happens at work. It interferes with the target’s confidence that her or his livelihood is assured. Broad societal economic crises threaten millions of workers at the same time and impersonally. Bullying is a laser-focused, personalized economic crisis affecting the target and her or his family. When bullies have control over the targets’ livelihood (as in 72% of situations), they have tremendous leverage to cause financial pain. Single parent workers are the most vulnerable.
Economic harms to businesses
Keeping a bully on staff is the equivalent of burning a big pile of money in the back of your building. But how much does it cost, exactly? The Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI) explains the hidden and not-so-hidden costs of allowing bullying in the workplace.
A simple formula for calculating costs
Turnover: Combined salaries of departed workers x 1.5
Opportunity lost: Lost revenue
Absenteeism: Number of missed hours x hourly rate
Presenteeism: Total salaries of checked out workers/2
Legal defense: Varies
Workers comp: Varies
For an employee paid $50,000 annually, the grand total could look like:
Opportunity lost: $30,000
Legal defense: $30,000
Workers comp: $2,000
An employer could pay a productive employee for three years instead of allowing the bullying to happen. Is pretending the bullying isn’t happening really the easy way out?
How to calculate the effect on your bottom line
Step 1: Determine who was targeted and for how long. Record the time period and all of the people involved with the bullying (both direct targets and those who witnessed the bullying).
Step 2: Calculate all costs involved:
- Turnover. Replacing top notch employees (those most often bullied in the job) costs money. “Turnover costs include employer contributions to COBRA insurance for the departed worker, expenses to announce the job opening, headhunter/recruiting firm fees to recruit worthy candidates, time spent by managers and staff to meet all candidates at meetings while getting no work done, hiring bonuses/incentives, moving expenses (?), and the harder-to-calculate lost production during the entire process that must be made up by coworkers,” according to the WBI website. To determine these costs, simply multiply the combined salaries of departed workers by 1.5 (a low-ball estimate). For example, for each target earning a $50,000 salary, the recruit and replace expenses are $75,000.
- Lost opportunity. Bullying targets pose a threat to their bullies through jealousy. Those talented targets have value. When targets leave, the company loses. “For instance, if that person was responsible for 5 clients that produced $1.4 million in revenue, that account and that money is lost to the employer,” says the WBI website. Add in all lost revenue.
- Absenteeism. Targets tend to stay away from work to preserve their mental health. They often use their paid time off (sick leave, vacations, and holidays) to do so. Add the number of hours per day targets and others miss work and multiply by the hourly rate. (For salaried exempt workers, divide the annual salary by 2020 to find the hourly rate of pay.)
- Presenteeism. Presenteeism describes employees coming to work sick to avoid reprimand for being out. While coming into work sick is difficult to attribute cost to, employees can make others sick or simply not add value to companies anymore by becoming disengaged. The disengagement can rub off on others and create a whole staff of checked out employees. Add up the salaries of the checked out employees and cut that number in half. That’s about how much the business loses to by paying unproductive employees.
- Litigation and settlements. Though there aren’t laws in Massachusetts to protect employees from workplace bullying, targets can still sue. And the business will still have to pay to respond, especially if there’s a discrimination claim.
- If the legal defense involves internal staff, multiply their hourly fees by the number of hours spent on the case.
- If the defense involves arbitration, multiply the hourly costs for all managers involved by the number of hours spent on the case.
- If the defense involves outside legal help, add on $30,000 per lawsuit. Make it $60,000 if the case goes to court. That’s conservative.
- If you settle to avoid huge legal costs, add on $30,000 at least.
- Workers comp and disability insurance claims. When you have a workers comp claim, your insurance costs go up. Add on more costs if you need to investigate the validity of a claim.
Step 3: If you’re the employer, hold the bully accountable. Talk to the bully and begin the warning process with the ultimate goal of termination if the behavior does not change.
If you’re the target, take the total estimate with cost breakdown to the highest-ranking employee you can find who does not side with the bully, who cares about the bottom line, and is honest. Ask that person for a 15 minute meeting to share ways to significantly cut costs. Present your value to the company. Attribute the losses to the bully. Ask that they be punished and that you be put in a safe position with no loss of pay or status. If you do not get your needs met, leave. “You were too good of an employee to have given your talent for so long only to be dealt with as you have been. Leave with your head held high. Your departure is their loss,” says the WBI website.
Economic harms to individuals
Controlling bullies can block transfers to a safe job, can make targets so miserable that they quit (constructive discharge), or impair target health to the extent they have to quit to stop the stress from campaign of interpersonal destruction. In the U.S., losing work means losing health insurance. No job. Get sicker. Lose the ability to seek medical help.
- Lost ability to be left alone to do the once-“loved job”
- Forced to transfer from loved job, often a punitive transfer (13%)
- Constructively discharged without reasonable cause (24%)
- Target quits to reverse decline in health and sanity (40%)
(from the Workplace Bullying Institute)
When we launched our tool to let you easily send a letter to your legislators about the anti-workplace bullying Healthy Workplace Bill, we built templates around costs to businesses and your own story. Now we introduce a third template that lets your legislators understand the link between workplace bullying and suicide (“bullycide”).
Based on our recent blog posts showing the clear connection between workplace bullying and suicide, the template links to the research, explains the connection, and tells three stories of ethical, competent workplace bullying targets who took their lives after the downward spiral from workplace bullying.