Workplace bullying is an injustice. When a competent target poses a threat to a deeply insecure aggressor, “the disconnect between deservedness and the deep misery experienced is at the heart of the injustice. Years after targets are out of harm’s way, they still feel lingering pangs of unfairness, inequity, injustice,” says the Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI). Without a law making workplace bullying illegal, targets are left with finding justice in other ways.
In a 2012 poll, WBI found that 54 percent of targets never found a sense of justice. However, 46 percent of respondents said they found at least some sense of justice by (in order of popularity):
- Exposing the bullying to senior management
- Prioritizing their health and career over that particular job
- Becoming an advocate for the cause to end workplace bullying
- Hiring an attorney and mounting a legal response
- Telling their stories to the media
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?