We’ve reported before on suicides from workplace bullying. We’ve learned of another one:
Graham Gentles was driven to suicide after a walk of shame in California
Graham Gentles was a 22-year-old in Pasadena who committed suicide on July 18, 2014 after Target store management allegedly accused him of stealing, handcuffed him, and paraded him through the store in front of both customers and coworkers. Gentles jumped to his death from the top of a hotel just three days later.
During the abusive humiliation and shame tactic, it is alleged that “police forcefully grabbed him, emptied his pockets, and pulled his hat off,” explains ABC7. Meanwhile, a shocked and confused Gentles had no idea why police were arresting him. Police took Gentles into custody, released him the same day, and never charged him. Gentles told his mother he never stole anything.
Allegedly, an argument between Gentles and a coworker at a bar outside of work hours may have prompted the incident. The coworker made the allegations of theft after the argument.
If you live outside of Massachusetts, visit HealthyWorkplaceBill.org for information on how to make workplace bullying illegal in your state.
Now that the hearing in front of the Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development is over, we’re getting ready for next steps. Normally at this stage of the process, we’d be just past the third of eight steps, and next we’d land in the House. But this session, we’re hoping to jump to the Senate before the House to build support to end workplace bullying.
Here’s where you come in. Some of you live close enough to Boston and can make it to the State House in the morning without a problem. If you’re one of those people and have morning availability, we’re looking to you to help. Senators have both formal and informal sessions. We’re asking you to:
- Look at the Senate Session schedule and choose either type of session.
- Stand outside the Senate chamber around an hour or less before a session you choose and hand out these flyers to educate State Senators on workplace bullying and to put a face to the cause as they’re walking into the chamber. You don’t have to ask which ones are Senators. You can hand flyers out to aides or simply interested people. There are 40 State Senators, so bring around that many flyer copies or more for maximum impact.
You could hand out flyers every Senate Session, just once, or somewhere in between. Any time you’re willing to give will be a huge help in telling legislators that ending workplace bullying is still a priority and that there are actual, real people behind this cause looking to end the abuse.
It’s up to each of us in this all-volunteer group to do what we can to further this cause to end the suffering, so we thank you in advance if you decide to make the trek and reach out to legislators. If you do, we ask you to send us photos at firstname.lastname@example.org to help inspire others to take action.
In the meantime, feel free to write members of the Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development to thank them for listening to our testimony and urge them to read Senate Bill 1013 favorably out of committee:
Jason.Lewis@masenate.gov, Patricia.Jehlen@masenate.gov, Sal.DiDomenico@masenate.gov, John.Keenan@masenate.gov, Patrick.OConnor@masenate.gov, Paul.Brodeur@mahouse.gov, Tricia.Farley-Bouvier@mahouse.gov, John.Rogers@mahouse.gov, Liz.Malia@mahouse.gov, Aaron.Vega@mahouse.gov, Christine.Barber@mahouse.gov, Steven.Ultrino@mahouse.gov, Gerard.Cassidy@mahouse.gov, Juana.Matias@mahouse.gov, email@example.com, Keiko.Orrall@mahouse.gov
Often jealous of their targets, workplace bullies treat targets like they’re nuts. “People who find themselves trapped in a bullying scenario can attest to the crazymaking, irrational nature of the mistreatment. Much of the harm caused by the abusive conduct stems from the shattering of targets’ beliefs about fairness. First, they are typically the high performers who unknowingly trigger the envy of perpetrators. Targets are aware of their work skill at a deep personal ontological level. Perpetrators come into their lives who determined to reject the agreed upon perceptions of the targets’ skills,” says the Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI).
How workplace bullies get away with their toxic behaviors
Here’s how others come to believe the target is the problem, not the bullying, according to WBI:
- Abuse of power. “Perpetrators often use their formal (by organizational rank) or informal power to state the obviously opposite perception about technically skilled targets. Though this defies reality, they convince organizational allies to believe them and not targets,” says WBI. “In simplest form, it becomes a ‘he said, he said’ deadlock.”
- Manipulation. “Most bullies who are bosses rely on support from higher up to add weight to their side. The shrewdest perpetrators use ingratiation over many years to convince their executive sponsors (their enablers) that they, the bullies, are indispensable,” explains WBI. “Further, if and when they are described as abusive or destructive by one or more targets in the future, the executive will defend her or his ‘indispensable’ perp by ignoring the target’s portrayal of a friend and colleague.”
- Mobbing. In situations where targets have multiple perpetrators and who are coworkers, several individuals who provide accounts of alleged bullying incidents simply outnumber the target. Mobs also deprive the target “of the chance to have her or his story corroborated by coworkers. Though few coworkers ever step up to offer support to targets, some do. When coworkers are the bullies, the potential source of support is lost. Gullible investigators (typically working inside the organization for another department) will have their judgment swayed by many against one and believe the tale that many tell even if those versions are not true,” says WBI.
“Conditions are not favorable when targets report the facts about what they have experienced at the hands of the favored perpetrator. After all, targets do bring negative news about people who typically outrank them,” adds WBI.
When targets aren’t believed
Studies show it’s honesty and integrity that often put a bullseye on a targets’ backs. “Such moral individuals are primed to experience letdowns and disappointments when organizations given equal or more credence to abusers and their supporters. The feeling is betrayal and injustice. There is a profound unfairness when lies routinely trump the truth,” explains WBI. Feeling injusticed often goes with feeling powerless.
In a 2014 poll, WBI found that “91 percent of targets are not believed when they describe their bullying experiences.” Like many cases of domestic violence and sexual harassment, we’re not believing recipients of abuse, despite the fact that perpetrators are more motivated to lie through performance appraisals over time.
“Exposing one’s vulnerability, shame, and humiliation (i.e. being emotionally wounded, depressed, spending weekends in bed, strained relationships with spouses or partners) is not the material on which lies are built. In some cases, disbelief of targets is couched in the benign sounding line ‘there are two sides to every story.’ At other times, the target is straightforwardly accused of lying. In 18 percent of cases, the disbelief is based on the notion that the conduct described is too outrageous to be believed,” says WBI.
“Perpetrators hiding behind closed doors think ahead. They want deniability. And when a power imbalance is present, the manager is the one believed while the target is not. To not be believed is an insult. It impugns the integrity of the person not believed. Insult added to the stress-related health injuries from suffering abuse at work,” explains WBI.
“It’s not my responsibility to fix it” was the general consensus among workplace bullying targets’ and witnesses’ perceptions of their employers’ attitudes toward workplace bullying according to a 2012 Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI) poll.
“Employers abdicate responsibility to act in 88.4 percent of cases,” says WBI. “Telling individuals to ‘work it out between yourselves’ forces target-victims to solve a problem they neither invited nor deserved. Sadly, in 2012, American employers still believe they are not responsible for work conditions that encourage worker-on-worker violence or for fostering toxic work environments that sustain bullies.”
Wait… what? Employers aren’t responsible for their own work conditions? They aren’t responsible for creating their own work cultures and for holding those who can’t abide by that healthy culture accountable? Sounds like a major abuse of power to take the easy way out and do nothing, even if it’s at the expense of their bottom lines.
- 85 percent of nurses have been verbally abused by a fellow nurse.
- 1 in 3 nurses quit because of bullying.
- It’s bullying, not the wage, that is the major cause of the global nursing shortage (the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that by 2022, there will be a shortfall of 1.05 million nurses).
- Many hospital units don’t give nurses time to eat, take a walk, or even go to the bathroom.
– Claudia Sanborn, author of The Yellow Sick Road
Where she believes bullying comes from
Sanborn attributes workplace bullying to bullies’:
- Need for power
- Poor self-esteem
- Poor leadership training
- Learned behavior in their own family
- Lack of rules or consequences
- Lack of funding. “Funds are cut back in medicine, so nurses have more patients. They then take their stresses out on other nurses to survive. Nurses resort to politics so they don’t have to care for the more demanding patients,” explains Sanborn.
- Fear of becoming the next target or losing their jobs
Why she wrote the book
How we change the culture
- Speak up. Sanborn spoke at a nurse rally in DC in May about her book. She’s networked with other leaders. She’s had book signings. She spreads the word on Facebook. She’s trying to get on talk shows like Dr. Phil. “I am semi-retired now and can’t be blackballed. I can’t be fired or laid off,” explains Sanborn of her ability to speak up.
- Get involved. “Be involved in legislation and get laws passed to make workplace bullying illegal.”
- Get support. “Join unions and have them fight for you.”
Join us EVERY THURSDAY at 10am EST starting on October 6 for a check-in on what’s working and what’s not working with building awareness about workplace bullying. Our focus is on actions in New England states, but anyone is welcome to call in for inspiration and to give updates to inspire others.
It’s all about collaboration, communication, support, and action.
Call into 515-739-1020, access code 335720.
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.