“Educators experience workplace bullying at a much higher rate — more that three times as high — than other workers,” say researchers in the newly published 2017 Educator Quality of Work Life Survey, released by the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the Badass Teachers Association. This year, 830 AFT members, educators in two New York school districts “where educator unions have built strong collaborative labor-management practices on the quality of their work life,” and an additional 4,000 educators responded to their 30-question survey.
Most educators surveyed reported that their schools have workplace harassment policies prohibiting bullying, yet bullying still happens at a high frequency. Stress from workplace bullying is compounded by large workloads, feelings of having to be “always on,” a lack of resources, changing expectations, deficient building conditions, equipment and staff shortages, and insufficient time to prepare and collaborate with colleagues — in other words, limited feelings of respect, control, and influence in their work.
What’s more: “in 2015, 34 percent of our respondents noted that their mental health was ‘not good’ for seven or more of the past 30 days. In 2017, among the more than 4,000 respondents to the public version of our survey, that number had climbed to 58 percent,” explain researchers, noting that the presidential election took place in between those years.
The result: “teachers reported having poor mental health for 11 or more days per month at twice the rate of the general U.S. workforce. They also reported lower-than-recommended levels of health outcomes and sleep per night,” according to the study.
When educators don’t have healthy and productive environments, students don’t either. “Districts that fail to recognize the importance of educator well-being may be faced with higher turnover, more teacher and staff health issues, and greater burnout, all of which leads to higher costs, less stability for kids and, ultimately, lower student achievement,” say the survey researchers.
A better way
Respondents overwhelmingly said that strong educator unions are vital to supportive learning environments. “We can ensure safe, welcoming, supportive learning environments for kids when communities, parents, educators and administrators work together to build supportive working environments for teachers and school staff…. Forthcoming research from Saul Rubinstein and John McCarthy shows that union-district partnerships produce increased school-level collaborative environments and, in turn, improved student outcomes,” say the researchers. Educators in the two surveyed school districts report collaborative environments, including teacher mentoring programs and peer evaluations. Teachers in these districts were bullied by supervisors less frequently, found work to be less stressful than teachers in other districts, felt more respected by supervisors, had fewer physical stress symptoms, and were less likely to plan to leave teaching.
Through their in-depth American Working Conditions Survey (AWCS) of 3,066 U.S. workers, Rand Corp., Harvard Medical School, and the University of California, Los Angeles found that “the American workplace is very physically and emotionally taxing,” CBS reports.
Before you say “I could’ve told you that,” let’s see how bad it really is:
- 1 in 5: the number who say they face “a hostile or threatening environment at work, which can include sexual harassment and bullying.”
- 1 in 2: the number who say they face “unpleasant and potentially hazardous” conditions.
- 3 in 4: the number who say they “spend at least a fourth of their time on the job in ‘intense or repetitive physical’ labor.”
- 4 in 5: the number who say they’re required to be present at work rather than telecommute.
- 2 in 5: the number who say “their jobs offer good prospects for advancement. And the older they get, the less optimistic they become.”
- 1 in 2: the number who say they “work on their own time to meet the demands of their job.”
- 1 in 3: the number who say they have “no control over their schedules.”
The lesser the education, the tougher the work conditions, meaning those with college degrees can more often take breaks when they want to and lift heavy loads much less often.
College educated workers aren’t off the hook, though. A high percentage of workers, especially women, find it difficult to take time off to deal with personal matters. So while roughly half of workers adjust their personal schedules for employers, employers less often return the same favor.
Toxic working conditions might be keeping Americans out of work. “The percentage of Americans who are working or looking for work — 62.9 percent in July — has not returned to prerecession levels and is well below its 2000 peak of 67.3 percent,” says CBS.
Luckily there’s some good news. “Workers enjoy considerable autonomy: more than 80 percent say they get to solve problems and try out their own ideas. Moreover, 58 percent say their bosses are supportive, and 56 percent say they have good friends at work,” says CBS.
The point is that working conditions matter. Employers: take note.
The Workplace Bullying Institute just released key findings of its 2017 U.S. Workplace Bullying Survey:
• 19% of Americans are bullied, another 19% witness it
• 61% of Americans are aware of abusive conduct in the workplace
• 60 million Americans are affected by it (roughly equal to the number of people who live in California and New York combined)
• 70% of perpetrators are men; 60% of targets are women
• Hispanics are the most frequently bullied race
• 61% of bullies are bosses, the majority (63%) operate alone
• 40% of bullied targets are believed to suffer adverse health effects
• 29% of targets remain silent about their experiences
• 71% of employer reactions are harmful to targets
• 60% of coworker reactions are harmful to targets
• To stop it, 65% of targets lose their original jobs
• 77% of Americans support enacting a new law
• 45% report worsening of work relationships, post-Trump election
What’s striking is that nearly half of respondents observe their work cultures worsening since the election. (Read what one organization is doing about it.) So workplace bullying is on employees’ radar now more than ever.
We know workplace bullying can harm a target’s health, leading to such issues as anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and even suicide. But what about the bullies? Publishing their findings in the October 2016 Journal of Business Ethics in “Victim and Culprit? The Effects of Entitlement and Felt Accountability on Perceptions of Abusive Supervision and Perpetration of Workplace Bullying,” researchers focused on the problem — what makes a bully bully. They determined that bullies feel less accountability and more entitlement than those who don’t bully. “There’s an indirect relationship between entitlement and coworker bullying through perceptions of abusive supervision that is stronger for employees who report lower levels of felt accountability than employees who report higher levels of felt accountability,” said the researchers.
We reported earlier this year that a Norwegian study 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).
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.
Now researchers in Australia report similar findings. In June 2016, Australian researchers determined that workplace bullying or harassment was associated with 1.54 greater odds of suicide ideation.
How workplace bullying can lead any of us to suicide (“bullycide”)
Findings show that none of us have a thick enough skin to be exempt from the workplace bullying-suicide connection. Not only did researchers find nothing to support the idea that targets are not those with a weakness that brings on psychological assaults, but evidence shows that 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.
Normally having competence and ethics would help someone sleep at night. But with these traits, a workplace bullying target can find themselves on a slippery slope to bullycide – and it can happen to any of us.
- 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. Bullying can also produce confusion, emotional numbness, and the fight-or-flight reaction normally associated with traumatic stress.
- These responses are 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.
“Ending the distress allows the person to recover. The brain literally ‘heals’ thanks to its property of plasticity. Restored gray matter volume brings back lost cognitive abilities — better decision making, optimism, a visualized future,” says WBI.
How you can help
So when will legislators say enough is enough? How many more competent, ethical workers will lose their lives from workplace abuse before we address this epidemic trough law?
We’ll change the rules when enough of us take a stand. School bullying legislation sat on desks until the tragic suicide of Phoebe Prince forced attention on the issue. Our goal is to help legislators understand that workplace bullying can and does cause great workers to take their lives. Read about three highly competent, ethical workers who took their lives from workplace bullying.
Share your stories
If you know of an employee who committed suicide from workplace bullying, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Change the rules
If you live in Massachusetts, write to your legislators and demand that employers be held accountable for workplace bullying through legislation.
If you live outside Massachusetts, find out how to help end workplace bullying in your state.