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Stand up to grown-up bullies

Stand up to grown-up bullies

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SALT LAKE CITY -- Bullying has long been considered primarily a schoolyard phenomenon. Yet today, bullying has graduated to the adult ranks where it is becoming more prevalent in the workplace, community organizations and even in the world of sports and hobbies.

“It’s everywhere,” says Dr. Gary Namie, who, with his wife, Dr. Ruth Namie, founded the Workplace Bullying Institute after on-the-job intimidation and harassment wreaked havoc on Ruth's career.

The mission of the organization is to “understand, correct and prevent all abuse at work.” Its particular focus is on the “non-physical” and “sub-lethal” workplace bullying, which it defines as "repeated, health-harming mistreatment, verbal abuse or conduct which is threatening, humiliating, intimidating, or sabotage that interferes with work, or some combination of the three."

Workplace bullying a far-reaching problem

What is happening is that the individuals that do have high ethical standards fall prey to those that don't, and the entire community comes under bondage to those engaged in this immoral behavior.

–Denise Halverson, WBI

In 2007, WBI worked on what was then the largest scientific survey of bullying in the United States. Out of 7,740 online interviews, 37 percent of U.S. adults reported being bullied at work and an additional 12 percent had witnessed incidences of bullying. The study concluded that more than 71 million Americans are affected.

“Look at all the reality TV shows today,” Gary Namie says. “We have become a country that reveres humiliating others. Humiliation — and elimination — have become entertainment to us.”

Rather than the age-old, Olympic-style competition that was intended to encourage besting one’s own record and pushing the limits of achievement, “We’re mired in strong aggression where we’re always going at someone else," he said.

The results of workplace bullying are far-reaching, affecting job status and position and resulting in stress-related health conditions and even death. The WBI study showed that 45 percent of targets suffer stress-related health problems -- and yet 40 percent of bullied people never tell their employers.

Various factors contribute to bullying

Bullying is especially common in workplaces that are deadline-oriented and where high-stakes decisions must be made. For example, in the military and in information technology, harsh treatment from superiors reportedly leads to high sickness rates, low morale and poor productivity.

Denise Halverson, the WBI’s legislative coordinator in Utah, says bullying also is prevalent in the health care industry.

“Right now, in the Utah medical workplace, anything goes with respect to workplace abuse,” Halverson says. “What is happening is that the individuals that do have high ethical standards fall prey to those that don’t and the entire community comes under bondage to those engaged in this immoral behavior.”

Are you being bullied?
What bullied targets can do
  1. Name the problem, legitimize yourself. Choose a name -- bullying, psychological harassment, psychological violence, emotional abuse -- to offset the effect of being told that because your problem is not illegal, you cannot possibly have a problem.
  2. Take time off to heal and launch a plan of action. Get emotionally stable enough to make a clear-headed decision to stay and fight, or to leave for your health's sake. Research your options and make a plan for your next steps.
  3. Expose the bully. Stick to the bottom line. If you drift into tales about the emotional impact of the bully's harassment, you will be discounted and discredited. Help good employers purge the workplace bully.

Halverson continues, “We cannot afford for this to continue to happen, especially in our medical community where the ramifications are so serious.”

Gary Namie says today’s economic climate has only exacerbated the problem.

“In this terrible job market, people can’t just quit their jobs to get out of a situation where they are being bullied,” he says.

He believes bullying will prevail until employers become more aware of the economic toll it can take.

He also believes legislation is important.

Since 2003, 21 states have introduced some version of the WBI Healthy Workplace Bill -- yet no state or federal law against bullying has been enacted. Utah was the 14th state to consider such a bill when Rep. Stephen Sandstrom, R-Orem, introduced House Bill 224 in 2009 but it was never passed into law. To find out more about the Healthy Workplace Bill and learn how to help, visit

Help for bullying victims

Pauline Rennie-Peyton, a London psychologist and author of “Dignity at Work,” says the most important step in putting an end to bullying is to report it.

“People don’t report their problems because they feel it will blow over by itself or because they lack a sense of confidence in the system,” she says. “Don’t keep it to yourself. Keep a diary of the events: when, where, who were the witnesses, what time it happened, the impact it had on you and then take it further to members of staff.”

Arizona State University professors Sarah J. Tracy and Jess K. Alberts and University of New Mexico professor Pamela Lutgen-Sandvik agree, but offer a caveat. Based on a two-year study of workplace bullying, they report:

“When trying to tell their stories and promote change, some targets actually are blamed for their situations and become further victimized. Unfortunately, a story of abuse that is not deemed credible is unlikely to motivate those in power to step in and stop the bullying.”

They say the following eight tactics can help foster listening when targets share their stories:

  • Be rational
  • Express emotions appropriately
  • Provide consistent details
  • Offer a plausible story
  • Be relevant
  • Emphasize your own competence
  • Show consideration for others’ perspectives
  • Be specific.

For more details, see their report, “How to Bust the Office Bully.”Two books by the Namies, “BullyProof Yourself At Work” and “The Bully At Work,” as well as their website at, provide additional information about ways individuals can avert workplace bullying.

The bottom line: Targets and their advocates agree that workplace bullying needs to stop.

“There’s no room for these kinds of intimidating and disruptive behaviors, no matter what the reasons for them are and no matter who exhibits them,” Halverson says. “Workplace bullying is a problem that needs to be addressed by our society as a whole. We are all stakeholders in this very important issue.”

Cecily Markland is a freelance writer, book editor, publicist and author of "Hope: One Mile Ahead" and the children’s book, "If I Made a Bug." She owns Inglestone Publishing and produces a calendar of LDS events in AZ (

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