- 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.”
So you have a reputation of being a go-to person at work. One who gets things done and gets them done well. One who wants your organization to be great.
But suddenly you look around, and it’s the selfish, incompetent ones clawing their way to the top while you’re stuck reporting to them, making less money than them, and getting bullied by them.
So what’s the deal? How did this illogical power structure become so common?
- They’re great at maneuvering. They kiss up and kick down, so those who promote them either don’t see the damage they cause or don’t care about the damage they cause, but everyone else does.
- They’re entitled. When bullies simply take power and feel entitled to dictate, belittle, control, or manipulate targets by calling them “sensitive” or “emotional,” and others believe the dismissal of the targets rather than hold the bullies accountable, bullies get ahead. But it’s not just about believing bullies. It’s about seeing sensitivity as negative rather than human or that the bullies are insensitive, regardless of how their targets react.
- Incompetent people overrate themselves, and competent people underrate others. The phenomenon is called the Dunning-Kruger effect. According to Wikipedia, “the Dunning–Kruger effect is a cognitive bias in which unskilled individuals suffer from illusory superiority, mistakenly rating their ability much higher than average…. Actual competence may weaken self-confidence, as competent individuals may falsely assume that others have an equivalent understanding.” The result: the competent workers believe they’re average, while the incompetent workers believe they’re above average, and everyone believes both viewpoints, often positioning the incompetent workers at the top.
- Their bosses are the same way. Workplace cultures start at the top. If those at the top don’t tolerate bullying, it won’t happen. But when those at the top are bullies, they tend to hire other incompetent kiss ups who validate their own behaviors of getting by on ego rather than merit.
The good news: we don’t have to resign ourselves to the way so many workplaces run. We can educate others on these patterns so there’s a collective awareness of them and we begin to see them as negative and unacceptable.
While we’re gearing up for a t-shirt decorating and sign-holding event in Providence today with the Rhode Island Healthy Workplace Advocates in preparation for Boston’s first annual bullying walk next weekend, it’s the perfect time to remind us all of our power to create change: by posting an event on our Action Team event page, you can:
- Spread the word about what workplace bullying is and why it needs to end.
- Mobilize advocates in your area to support each other and to feel empowered.
- Show legislators how much of a force is behind this cause.
There’s no better way to take back the power than to take action (if you’ve healed from the trauma of workplace bullying). You can:
- Host a gathering at your home to talk about what workplace bullying is and what you can do in your local area to spread the word about ending it.
- Hold signs while the weather is warmer and politics are on people’s minds. For less than $10, you can buy posters, markers, and some cocoa and pick a high-traffic corner in your town to stand on for a couple of hours.
- Get creative. Come up with another easy concept to bring people together and spread the word.
We’re behind you 100%. You have our full support to take action to help make history. All you need is a couple hours and a partner. We’ll even post the event on Facebook for you to help spread the word.
At the beginning of the 2015-2016 legislative session, 1,766 people liked the Massachusetts Anti-Workplace Bullying Healthy Workplace Bill Facebook page. That’s 1,766 people since roughly 2010.
Today, 2,660 people like our Facebook page. That’s an increase of 66 percent in the last two years alone. That’s no small feat.
Our website user base is growing at the same rate. Until the last legislation session, we had 20,570 users.
In the last full session, we added more than 10,000 users, most of them new and spending nearly 2:30 minutes on the website each.
Thanks for all of your work. We’ve come a long way to make “workplace bullying” a household term.
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.
In June 2016, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) called for a “reboot of workplace harassment efforts” after approximately 30,000 charges filed with the EEOC in 2015 included allegations of workplace harassment.
A task force presented the Report of the Co-Chairs of the EEOC Select Task Force on the Study of Harassment in the Workplace. “We present this report with a firm, and confirmed, belief that too many people in too many workplaces find themselves in unacceptably harassing situations when they are simply trying to do their jobs,” says the EEOC website.
The urgent need is clear: workers are suffering from unwelcome harassment, and the EEOC finally and formally recognizes this problem. The time to “shift cultures towards more respect and fair treatment for all employees” is now.
The task force finds that:
Workplace Harassment Remains a Persistent Problem. Almost fully one third of the approximately 90,000 charges received by EEOC in fiscal year 2015 included an allegation of workplace harassment. This includes, among other things, charges of unlawful harassment on the basis of sex (including sexual orientation, gender identity, and pregnancy), race, disability, age, ethnicity/national origin, color, and religion. While there is robust data and academic literature on sex-based harassment, there is very limited data regarding harassment on other protected bases. More research is needed.
Workplace Harassment Too Often Goes Unreported. Common workplace-based responses by those who experience sex-based harassment are to avoid the harasser, deny or downplay the gravity of the situation, or attempt to ignore, forget, or endure the behavior. The least common response to harassment is to take some formal action – either to report the harassment internally or file a formal legal complaint. Roughly three out of four individuals who experienced harassment never even talked to a supervisor, manager, or union representative about the harassing conduct. Employees who experience harassment fail to report the harassing behavior or to file a complaint because they fear disbelief of their claim, inaction on their claim, blame, or social or professional retaliation.
There Is a Compelling Business Case for Stopping and Preventing Harassment. When employers consider the costs of workplace harassment, they often focus on legal costs, and with good reason. Last year, EEOC alone recovered $164.5 million for workers alleging harassment – and these direct costs are just the tip of the iceberg. Workplace harassment first and foremost comes at a steep cost to those who suffer it, as they experience mental, physical, and economic harm. Beyond that, workplace harassment affects all workers, and its true cost includes decreased productivity, increased turnover, and reputational harm. All of this is a drag on performance – and the bottom-line.
It Starts at the Top – Leadership and Accountability Are Critical. Workplace culture has the greatest impact on allowing harassment to flourish, or conversely, in preventing harassment. The importance of leadership cannot be overstated – effective harassment prevention efforts, and workplace culture in which harassment is not tolerated, must start with and involve the highest level of management of the company. But a commitment (even from the top) to a diverse, inclusive, and respectful workplace is not enough. Rather, at all levels, across all positions, an organization must have systems in place that hold employees accountable for this expectation. Accountability systems must ensure that those who engage in harassment are held responsible in a meaningful, appropriate, and proportional manner, and that those whose job it is to prevent or respond to harassment should be rewarded for doing that job well (or penalized for failing to do so). Finally, leadership means ensuring that anti-harassment efforts are given the necessary time and resources to be effective.