With music on VH1, Oxygen, and Bravo, Musician Cheryl “Shellee Shae” Williams produced, wrote, and sang “Standing Ovation” to speak out against workplace bullying. Now she performs in the music video that tells the story of two workplace bullying targets who receive ridicule from bullies for their strong work ethics.
“I pitched stories of actual workplace bullied targets (some I know and others whose stories I’ve only heard), explaining the end goal of passing workplace legislation, to New York-based production team TOM ON THE WALL. Its founders — Chuy Gutierrez, Christian Ritter, J. Ian Sample, and Jorge Chapa — work with artists, directors, and creators on scripts, web series, commercials, videos, and short- and feature-length films. Their team wrote, directed, and conceptualized the theater vibe after hearing the song,” explains Williams. “They get a standing ovation for their tremendous work and for giving their time to help with such an important fight for change.”
“We’ll bring an end to workplace bullying when we focus on the problem,” says Williams.
A big thank you to Williams and TOM ON THE WALL for their inspiring work.
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 email@example.com 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, firstname.lastname@example.org, Keiko.Orrall@mahouse.gov
If you think workplace bullying is a bigger issue than managers often suspect, you’re right. Research supports that workplace bullying simply often goes unreported but it’s still happening. In their Employee Rights and Employee Policy Journal article, Researchers Loraleigh Keashly and Joel H. Neuman said a study of the VA healthcare system, the VA Project, showed a gap between those who experienced workplace bullying and those who reported it their experience to a supervisor. “Of the people identified as being exposed to bullying behavior (36 percent of the total sample), 53 reported their experience to a supervisor. An even smaller proportion (15 percent) filed a formal grievance.”
Possible reasons for not reporting bulling behavior at work:
- Lack of awareness of what one is experiencing
- Feeling each bullying incident is minor in isolation
- Fear of being deemed “overly sensitive” or unable to adapt to the work culture
- Feeling the organization isn’t supportive of employee concerns
- Seeing others have been ignored for reporting bullying or had their complaints minimized and chalked up to a personality conflict, blamed, or retaliated against
- The organization promotes a climate of fear
What organizations can do to address workplace bullying
So if workplace bullying is likely more prevalent in your workplace than data supports, what can your management team do? Keashly and Neuman point to a five-step plan that’s been proven to work:
- Collect data on the culture to know where to focus attention.
- Involve active participation at every level of the organization.
- Change the conversation in the organization in terms of content and process.
- Create a supportive atmosphere.
- Continuously monitor, evaluate, and adjust with every new implementation and new data collection.
A case study: the VA Project
Keashly and Neuman go back to the VA Project as an example of changing a work culture to reduce the number of workplace bullying incidents. The organization first gathered a group of employees — employees, leaders, union officials, and researchers — to inquire about the focal issues of stress and aggression. (They did not use expert consultants or programs.) This group used an “action-research cycle” in which they addressed actions as they occurred to understand context rather than evaluate after the fact.
This phase required two crucial elements:
- Data to drive the process.
- Active participation from key stakeholders.
At each facility, management created joint management-labor groups, comprised of those who demonstrated leaderships skills, had credibility with employees, those who acted on ideas, and those who committed to learning — from various levels of the organizational hierarchy. These groups created their own action items.
Made up of academic partners and organizational personnel (management, union leadership, and employees), a core project team guided the overall project. This team gathered data on processes and practices, performance measures, and changes in these variables over time through employee surveys and HR data. The project team then trained the actions teams on how to collect and interpret data. Action teams implemented a Workplace Aggression Research Questionnaire. The goal: to track aggressive behaviors and determine their root causes — all in a timely manner.
Action teams shared both organizational-wide and facility-specific data with employees to analyze root cause. Then they tested root cause hypotheses through additional data collection. The result: action items to fix root cause, with zero guidance from the core project team.
When it comes to changing thoughts and behaviors to create a culture of fair treatment, respect, and valuing employees, the process is as important as the result. “Within the VA project, the ‘fix’ that we were looking for turned out to be the process that we were using to find the fix,” said Keashly and Neuman. In other words, the implementation phase helped move the culture to one of support, encouragement, action, and reflection.
Within the VA project, the “fix” that we were looking for turned out to be the process that we were using to find the fix.
During the process, team members asked their fellow team members to back up assumptions with data. Specifically, team members:
- Encouraged each other to question hostile attributions when an unexpected or unpleasant situation occurred. Stopping to question motives without data on others’ motives encouraged employees to manage their aggression.
- Used a “left-hand-column” exercise to document what another employee actually said vs. how they felt or what they thought based on what the employee said. The result: people shared their honest feelings on a more regular basis. Honest communication supports a culture of valuing, respect, and fairness.
- Implemented a “stop-reflect-and-dialogue” approach. Periodically, team members stopped to reflect in silence about activities and their effectiveness during meetings. Then using a “talking stick,” each member shared their reflections without interruption, resulting in more carefully thought out comments and more active listening without trying to formulate a rebuttal or finding an opportunity to jump into the conversation.
Data from surveying supported that the culture improved:
- Less aggression. Hostile behaviors (swearing, gestures, yelling, kicking, hitting, threatening, and pushing, for example) improved.
- Continued engagement and application. After three years of the project, all eleven remained engaged, with fewer disciplinary actions and more frequent application of skills to solve work-related problems and improve meeting quality.
- Continued excitement. “If this were not enough, the success of the project — and the excitement of the people involved — is spreading within the VA,” said Keashly and Neuman.
Researchers concluded that reducing workplace bullying involves a Collaborative Social Space (CSS) — a safe space for engaging in open and honest inquiry that fosters trust, security, and quality interaction. Higher trust means less conflict and aggression. Ultimately, the atmosphere becomes one where trust and fair treatment are the norm, and bullying is inappropriate.
Reducing workplace bullying involves a Collaborative Social Space (CSS) — a safe space for engaging in open and honest inquiry that fosters trust, security, and quality interaction.
Keashly and Neuman look to organizational justice theory to explain how to sustain a CSS:
- Distributive justice means what people invest has an equal ratio to the outcome. Outlining inputs and outcomes from the getgo creates a mutual understanding and reduces the likelihood of injustice and disappointment.
- Procedural justice means fairness in the process. A process should involve suppressed bias, consistent allocations, accurate information, correctable steps, and inclusion of all recipient concerns and should be based on “the prevailing moral and ethical standards.” Procedural justice involves both procedures (inclusion in decision-making, for example) and interactional (sensitivity, politeness, and consideration).
“We believe that the VA Project is an example of an innovative, data-driven, and collaborative approach for reducing aggression at work,” said Keashly and Neuman.
On Tuesday, I joined with other supporters of the Healthy Workplace Bill (HWB) to testify on its behalf at a hearing before the Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development of the Massachusetts legislature, held at the State House in Boston. Getting a favorable decision out of the Committee is the first critical step toward […]
We hope to fill the room with advocates to show support for the Healthy Workplace Bill.
At the hearing, legislators listen to testimony about several bills. Last session, legislators waited until the end of the hours-long hearing to listen to testimony from our advocates. We encourage you to speak at the end on behalf of the bill.
Dos and don’ts of speaking at the hearing
DO speak about your experience. Speak from the heart about how workplace bullying affected you, especially how it harmed your health and affected your personal relationships. Remember that legislators want to hear from you.
DO keep your testimony to under two minutes. By the end of the hours-long hearing, legislators may be tired. The last thing we want to do is turn them off, so stick to the facts and to your own experience and keep it brief. It’s difficult to summarize months or years of bullying into two minutes, but it’s important to do so.
DO stick to our talking points. Refresh yourself on the main points we want to get across:
- Accountability, not just training, is what will change behavior.
- There will be a high threshold for recovery.
- The bill is based on the U.S. Supreme Court’s definition of a hostile work environment for sexual harassment.
- The bill enters the picture only when the bullying behaviors have become severe and harmful.
- Employers can minimize their liability exposure by acting preventively and responsively toward bullying.
- The bill focuses on addressing the bullying behavior, not killing jobs.
- Many workplace bullying targets already lose jobs, choosing their health over daily suffering.
DO visit your state rep and senator that day. Before or after the hearing, stop by your legislators’ offices and ask them to support the Healthy Workplace Bill. That’s one State Rep and one State Senator. Try to make an appointment with them beforehand. If you can only speak with an aide, do that. Aides will pass along information to legislators. The State House is hard to navigate, so write down the State House room numbers before that day, bring them with you, and don’t be afraid to ask someone how to get to those offices. Bring a copy of each of these fact sheets (two of each, one for each legislator) to leave with your legislators:
DO email these fact sheets to your legislators if you can’t make it that day. Your legislators want to hear from you.
DON’T mention bully’s names or workplaces — unless asked. The goal is to pass the law, not to out a boss or workplace.
DON’T feel like you have to testify to show support. If you’re not ready to speak under two minutes about your experience, don’t feel obligated to speak. You may not be ready, and that’s ok. Showing your support by attending is much appreciated whether or not you speak.
Remember that perseverance is key. Most bills take years to pass, and we’ve come a long way with just 20 advocates six years ago to now more than 8,000. Help become part of history by showing your support and helping to fill the room today.
Her music has aired on VH1, Oxygen, and Bravo, to name a few, and now she’s helping make workplace bullying illegal in Massachusetts. Musician Cheryl “Shellee Shae” Williams produced, wrote, and performed “Standing Ovation” to speak out against workplace bullies, including those who targeted and mobbed her while working in a career within law enforcement.
“Music helps us heal,” says Williams, who lives in the Boston area and works in television, film, and radio. “I enjoy writing songs about real life issues to help people overcome obstacles.”
Williams got involved with the anti-workplace bullying movement when a Facebook post calling for action to make workplace bullying illegal led her down an inspirational path. “I clicked on Neal Dias’ story, which touched my heart, and a story about huge photos on display at the Massachusetts State House of people like me who’d been bullied at work, fighting for change. At that moment, I knew I wanted to get involved,” explains Williams.
“I hope my music brings comfort, healing, peace, joy, and love to targets,” says Williams. “I want targets to know they’re not alone.”
Boston will walk and roll out bullying on Saturday, June 3. And we’ll show our solidarity against workplace bullying by wearing these black shirts, which you can buy before the event.
It’s Boston’s first Anti-Bullying Walk & Roll-A-Thon, and supporters of ending bullying in all forms will hit the streets to say enough is enough. Funds raised will go toward:
- 2Fruits Productions Youth Mentoring Program, designed for “at risk” youth to develop skills. Donations will fund laptops, production supplies (cameras, mics, tapes, and lighting), educational textbooks, music and art education programs, physical education sessions, facilitators, and more.
- XMEN Scholarship Fund, which provides college scholarships to high school seniors every year.
- BlackberryRadio.com, our sole sponsor and an advocate for women’s rights. Funds will help the station run.
You can volunteer your time and/or money. Total family involvement builds awareness, and we ask each participant to raise $92.85, with a total goal of $13,000. The three children who reach more than their target goal will receive prizes.