Thursday, July 9, 2009

Bullying is not new

The idea that bullies exist at work is not a new one; articles and workshops on “dealing with difficult people” and “mean bosses” are abundant. However, “bullying” only recently became of interest to social scientists in the areas of organizational psychology and business management within the last 15 years, and within organizational communication within the last five. Bullying is different from these other topics because it is about under-the-radar and power-seeking behavior and communication tactics that are sincerely and severely destructive to the targets and the organization.

While harassment and sexual harassment are certainly illegal and therefore against any company’s policy, if the harasser is an equal opportunist victims find they have no managerial or legal recourse. In fact research indicates most often the victim is seen as the problem and either punished or let go for speaking up. This is a shame - victims are often besieged because they are high producers, and therefore a threat to the bully and thus singled out as a target. In an attempt to close the legal gap, David Yamada, Professor at Suffolk University, wrote the Healthy Workplace Bill. Under review in 15 states, including California in 2003, the bill has yet to pass into law in any of them. Only the government of Ireland (since as early as 1997), and the province of Quebec, Canada (since 2003), have specific laws against the act of bullying at work.

In addition, research indicates workplace bullying is far more harmful to victims than harassment and sexual harassment. It might be safe to assume that because harassment and sexual harassment is against the law it generally would not be allowed to go on for prolonged periods of time. Yet bullying often lasts between six months and five years, with the average victim leaving an organization after two years.

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