How Best To Manage Workplace Bullying

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Some form of hazing or bullying seems part of sports and military culture but what about in office environments? Linda Wertheimer talks to Gary Namie, director of the Workplace Bullying Institute, about what subtle forms of bullying can take place in the workplace.


Allegations that Miami Dolphins players harassed one of their own teammates got us thinking about other subtle forms of intimidation that can happen in the workplace. One out of every three people report being bullied on the job. That's according to a survey done by the Workplace Bullying Institute. Its director, Gary Namie, spoke to NPR's Linda Wertheimer. He told her bullying happens across income levels but that it's more likely to occur in particular professions.

GARY NAMIE: Where is there a vast pool of easily exploited targets? And it turns out, they are in health care and education. What is it that teachers and nurses share? A pro-social orientation. They're the do-gooders. They're the good people who got into their industry because they wanted to teach and help and heal and develop. And that makes for an easily exploitable person.

LINDA WERTHEIMER, BYLINE: You know, what you're talking about sounds very much to me like there's a gender element to it.

NAMIE: More than half of the bullied targets - 57 percent, in our last national study - are women. But when the woman is a perpetrator, a bully, she actually targets another woman 80 percent of the time.

WERTHEIMER: It seems like a cliche - you know, women are catty. You can support all this?

NAMIE: The data support it. Explaining it, as a man, is a tough assignment. I always let the women in the audiences where I speak explain it. And they will say that it's petty, and it's somewhat catty but actually, it's competitive. Look, all bullying is about the need to control another person because either you lack the technical skill or the social skill that other person possesses.

WERTHEIMER: What kind of bullying, then, is the most frequent?

NAMIE: Women are the most frequently bullied, 57 percent, but men are the overwhelming majority of perpetrators, 62 percent. But men have learned to be more democratic about it, and split their choice of targets pretty much evenly between men and women.

WERTHEIMER: Now, what recourse do the victims of workplace bullying have? I think a lot of people feel that going to see the human resources department probably won't help.

NAMIE: Even worse, they'll take it to the bully's boss. Well, who do you think put the person in that place, and supports and sustains them? So that's why that poor individual target is so isolated. And an individual worker is powerless. What stops the bullying is the targeted person will leave.

WERTHEIMER: So what are you saying - if you're in a bullying situation in your workplace, the thing to do is quit?

NAMIE: No. So what an individual has to do if they are stuck, understand that it is an emotional injury, and that will affect how you tell your story. You must make a dispassionate case about the cost of the bullying to the organization and appeal to a rational,bottom-line mindset. And find a high-level manager who will understand that in terms of turnover, absenteeism and litigation, that it is a very expensive proposition to hold onto that aggressor, and that they should be somehow sanctioned. And that's basically, your only chance in an organization.

WERTHEIMER: Thank you very much.

NAMIE: Thank you, Linda.

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