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article imageWorkplace bullying: Silent epidemic destroys emotional health Special

By Carol Forsloff     Feb 23, 2010 in World
Workplace bullying can hurt, injure or kill, according to advocates of legislation to curb what they call a destroyer of employee health. What is being done to prevent a problem that some call a form of workplace violence and an epidemic?
In Wisconsin one woman was so distraught from constant bullying by her supervisor she killed herself. Friends, families and interested people have, as a consequence, banded together and are working towards a law to prohibit bullying that endangers health. In a number of states there have been 17 cases prompting citizens to ask for anti-discrimination laws that impact the workplace, specifically how people are treated that could have a negative impact on their well-being and performance.
According to the proponents of new legislation, the proposed bills encompass behaviors so severe that a victim's health is seriously affected. This means, as brochures point out in advocacy statements, "The perpetrator is more than a harmless, laughable jerk. Those health-harming bullies are walking occupational health hazards."
Monica Walker is the Wisconsin Healthy Workplace Bill Coordinator. She wrote to Digital Journal indicating she had the "pleasure to meet Joie and hear her niece Jodie's story last year." Jodie committed suicide as a result of workplace bullying, and her sad story became the impetus for the interest and proposed legislation in Wisconsin. Joie is Jodie's aunt who has been working tirelessly in support of new legislation combating workplace bullying. Walker goes on to say that Assembly Rep. Kelda Helen Roys has assured her " that she will be introducing the Workplace Bullying Institute's (WBI) Healthy Workplace Bill early this spring. She concludes: " Bullying is certainly a cause we all need to work together to overcome." Her organization Healthy Workplace is described as "a network of citizen activists working in over 25 states to pass legislation and encouraging employers to address workplace bullying."
Joie Bostwick has worked tirelessly against workplace bullying since her niece Jodie committed suicide three years ago following ongoing harassments and bullying from her supervisor. This occurred in spite of Jodie's excellent performance reviews after Jodie had challenged the way an issue had been handled at work. Over time there were numerous encounters with the supervisor where Jodie's work was discredited and her efforts denigrated, in a pattern that drove Jodie to try to get transferred to another department in the hospital where she was employed. She was unable to secure the transfer because of lack of work available in other departments or because she was called "over-qualified." The harassment continued, and finally, in emotional pain and frustration, Jodie took her own life. This dramatic incident is a stark reminder to many people of the risks of workplace bullying.
Carrie Clark has been at the vanguard in her advocacy, trying to get legislation passed to prevent workplace bullying in California. She and a colleague, Michelle Smith, were victims themselves of workplace bullying and decided to reach out to others who have been victimized. They co-founded the California Healthy Workplace Advocates in 2004 as a means of coordinating with others working on the same issue in the several states.
In her correspondence with Digital Journal Clark writes, "Our country is negligent. We need social evolution that spells out immoral behaviors. We were taught this in kindergarten. For many however, no law means no regulation. It's another silent epidemic, especially during these down times. Getting really mean out there! Bullies know workers can't just quit. And they are not all bosses. Some are co-workers and some are subordinates."
In working with others to combat workplace bullying, Clark goes on to declare, "The vast majority of truly bullied targets were doing a great job that posed a threat to a bully. Many bullies get high off targeting. Once they dispose of one target, they find another. It's a blood sport for many of them."
The movement against workplace bullying began more than a decade ago. Pioneers in this movement include Prof David Yamada who wrote the California bill's initial language. Drs. Gary and Ruth Namie founded The Workplace Bullying Institute. Clark states Canada is now ahead of the United States in developing regulations against workplace bullying. There is much to do in the United States, and interest in the healthy workplace initiatives is gaining momentum as a result.
Clark's formal presentation on workplace bullying is available at BNet, where she describes the specifics of the problem and the efforts being made to prevent it. The presentation can be found here.
But it isn't just the United States and Canada where workplace violence is an issue. In a comment section by Ross Arrowsmith within the International Law Office article on ending workplace bullying, it was noted that last year on June 25, 2009, the Union of Luxembourg Enterprises, the Independent Trade Union Confederation of Luxembourg and the Luxembourg Confederation of Christian Trade Unions signed an agreement at the industry level on what constitutes workplace bullying and measures to prevent it. The agreement, according to the article, helps to provide an additional framework to provide specifics on how the former European agreements on workplace bullying can be applied. It is said to fill a significant gap since prior to this, Luxembourg law had no agreed definition of what constitutes workplace bullying in the private sector. The new agreement helps provide those details.
The United Kingdom has been working also for more than a decade to end workplace bullying. A website gives advice and information on what the founders of this movement call a serious epidemic that causes stress that can lead to poor emotional health of victims of such violence.
Dr. Lisa Barrow writes a blog on workplace bullying, supporting efforts to curb the type of violence called workplace bullying. She includes on her blog a link to Jodie's story, a video describing the sad circumstances that led to Jodie's suicide. The proposed legislation in Wisconsin is referred to now as Jodie's Law.
Barrow cites the Workplace Interaction Survey created by LMSB Consulting consisting of what have been determined common bullying characteristics outlined by researchers Charlotte Rayner and Helge Hoel (1997). Rayner & Hoel categorized bullying behaviors as follows:
1)Threat to Professional Status (e.g., humiliating the person in public or sabotaging the person’s work)
2)Threat to Personal Standing (e.g., name calling, spreading malicious rumors about a person, teasing or intimidating a person)
3)Isolation (e.g., preventing access to opportunities, or isolating the person physically or socially)
4)Overwork (e.g., imposing undue pressure to produce work and setting impossible deadlines)
5)Destabilization (e.g., failing to give credit where it is due, assigning meaningless tasks, removing responsibility or setting the person up for failure)
The survey found that 7% of women who completed this survey maintained they had considered suicide to escape the emotional pain from workplace bullying.
Barrow concludes a section of her blog with this statement, summarizing those of others reviewed by Digital Journal for this article:
"Workplace bullying can no longer be ignored. A life should not be lost because of our failure to address bullying in our workplaces. We all have a responsibility to do what we can to prevent workplace bullying. What will you do today to stop bullying in your workplace? What will you do to save a life?"
More about Workplace bullying, Workplace violence, Anti-discrimination laws
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