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.”
Many people look to us for advice on their personal workplace bullying experiences or those of their family members. While we’re not qualified to give legal or mental health advice, I wanted to pass along what I learned from my own bullying experience and my experience with the Massachusetts Healthy Workplace Advocates:
- Justice may not be achieved in the way that you think. When I went through my experience, I knew that the abuse was unfair and should be illegal. The truth is that most workplace bullying cases are currently not illegal. When you’re up against leaders who won’t take responsibility for workplace abuse, you likely won’t see change. I’ve heard of legal battles full of more bullying. For me, justice isn’t directly going up against those who violated me. I’ll never get anywhere. Justice will be achieved when this bill becomes law and my former bullies can be held accountable in the future for their toxic behaviors.
- Doing nothing may be more effective than doing something. This idea goes against our sense of integrity, but a 2012 Workplace Bullying Institute study shows that those who spoke up at work generally had the same results as those who said nothing. While involving the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC), your union, an attorney, or a lawsuit were more effective (16.4% effective tops), studies showed that doing nothing (3.25% effective) was almost as effective as speaking up to the boss (3.57% effective), the bully’s boss (3.26% effective), or senior management/the owners (3.69% effective). My bully retaliated when I spoke up to higher-ups and Human Resources. Nothing improved and in fact got worse. Speaking up is tempting and can be empowering. And a lawsuit can be warranted. But more often than not, workplace bullying situations apply to the big gap in the law that doesn’t protect you as an employee from a bullying boss or the retaliation that may come after you speak up.
- Just leave. While I blogged earlier about how frustrating it is when people tell you to “just leave,” unfortunately the clock usually starts ticking once you’ve become a bullying target. Once targeted for bullying, an individual faced a 78% probability of losing the job he or she once loved through quitting, firing, or being forced out according to a 2012 Workplace Bullying Institute study. While employees shouldn’t have to “just leave,” it may be the wisest decision to start the ball rolling to find a way out if you’re up against a toxic corporate culture and no end in sight to the bullying.
While each case is different and I’m in no position to give professional advice, I wish that I’d been told these ideas years ago when I went through my bullying experience. I sense that until we pass this bill, we’ll most likely experience uphill battles resulting in nothing but frustration when we directly stand up to our bullying bosses. We just aren’t protected against workplace bullying.
What advice do you have for people going through workplace bullying right now?