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Wusses in the Workplace: Yeah, I’m Talkin’ to You!


Workplace Bullying

The above cartoon is a total misrepresentation of reality. No, not the actions of the boss. That is clearly satirical license showing how American management routinely bullies their underlings.

I mean the actions of the worker. She fights back with a bit of creative guerrilla theater.

But how many people that you know actually push back against the verbal and physical abuse that American management dishes out as a matter of course? This abuse takes on the form of malicious rumors, constant criticism, profanity, unfair punishment, tampering with work equipment, posting nasty pictures, sexual intimidation, spying, stalking, unreasonable work assignments, screwing around with vacation and time off, stealing a person’s ideas, internet harassment and others much too numerous to mention. Seriously, there are now whole books written on the subject.

Workplace bullying exists because we are so terrified of losing our jobs that we will put up with any kind of abuse. Our other popular alternative is to quit, which is our way of running away and leaving our former co-workers to cope as best they can.

In other words, most of us either cower or run. It’s not surprising. Because of the thrashing our labor movement has been subjected to, most workers don’t have a union to defend them. If they do have a union, its defensive powers are likely to be much diminished. Our labor laws have weak protections built in and enforcement is problematic. Sure we can "sue the bastards", but that’s expensive, time consuming and risky. It also involves spending a lot of time with lawyers. Most people get quite enough of lawyers just watching Boston Legal or LA Law.

So we grin and bear it or maybe grit our teeth and bear it but all of this  grinning and gritting comes with a price. You might be surprised to learn just how pricey workplace bullying can be.

What follows are various guestimates about how much workplace bullying costs. Hold on to your hat, the numbers are big, but they are also all over the place. This suggests that no one really knows the scope of the problem or even how to quantify it it. It’s like taking a tape measure to calculate the height of a mountain range.

An Australian study suggests, "…that workplace bullying costs Australian employers between $6 – $36 billion [Australian] dollars every year when hidden and lost opportunity costs are considered."

A British report claims that "…the cost of lost working time and legal fees associated with the impact of workplace bullying has been estimated at 4 billion British pounds per annum."

"Irish companies lose up to 3 billion Irish pounds a year in terms of reputation and profitability," according to a 2005 study.

Studies in Sweden, Norway and Finland also confirm that workplace bullying can be a very expensive proposition.

Now keep in mind that all of the above countries have much more advanced labor laws and stronger unions than we do and workplace bullying is STILL a problem. What is even more depressing for us is that a Scandinavian study claims workplace bullying is 50% more common in the USA than in Scandinavia.

According to a study quoted in the Orlando Business Journal, a survey of only 9000 U.S. federal workers revealed that over a 2 year period workplace bullying cost $180 million in "lost time and productivity." But us Yanks are still in denial about this disaster as there have been precious few attempts to  calculate the costs of workplace bullying to our ailing economy.

OK, now that your eyes are  glazed over from a barrage of statistics that even Alan Greenspan would have trouble wrapping his head around, it’s time to wake up. Lets examine what all of this can cost you, and I don’t just mean in dollars (important as those are in our soulless economy).

In fact, let’s start really small and take it down to the cellular level. When a person is stressed out from workplace bullying, the body releases a flood of stress hormones that play havoc with the very building blocks of our bodies. Apparently our cells undergo a process of premature aging which messes up our immune system and can contribute to to such joyful experiences as cancer, auto-immune diseases and heart attacks.

So when you say,"The boss makes me sick," you’re not kidding. Oh and by the way, do I have to spell out what that means to people trapped in the bureaucratic maze of our dysfunctional health care system? Or what that means to people who don’t even have any kind of health insurance? I don’t? Oh good, you are already familiar with the gory details of our health care crisis. OK, then we can move on.

So let’s speculate on what this means to American families when a stressed-out angry depressed parent comes home to the social complexity of a spouse, kids, aging relatives, the dog, the cat, and yes, even the pet goldfish. Do you see any possibilities of marriages collapsing? How about child abuse or elder neglect? Why is the dog cringing in the corner and why hasn’t the cat come home in a week? As for the goldfish, it sure looks kinda weird floating on its back in the bowl.

What about the time you spend at work? Is it really fun to stand around the coffee machine and watch a bunch of gloomy haggard people whose hopes have been dashed on the rocks of workplace bullying? I just know you enjoy hearing the inevitable bitching and whining and complaining. It will get worse when the company goes down the tubes because  this culture of fear and degradation has squeezed all of the innovation and creativity out of it. Oh, and did you hear about that expensive harassment lawsuit that so and so won? It’s going to bankrupt what’s left of the place and you’re all doomed. Meanwhile the company stock prices are disappearing down the toilet bowl in the executive washroom.

And of course there is always a racial and gender aspect. This is America  and we can never seem to escape our bizarre obsessions with race and gender. According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), "Racial harassment cases have more than doubled since the early 1990s, hitting an all-time high of 6,977 in 2007…" The harrassement includes racist graffiti, vicious racist leaflets, vile hate speech, hangman’s nooses and even physical violence. Sexual harassment is still going strong despite decades of expensive lawsuits. Pornography, nasty remarks about women’s body parts, repeated unwanted invitations to sexual encounters, groping and leering, cat calls and whistles and of course outright assault sure make for a safe and pleasant work environment.

And don’t think that the situation will necessarily improve by having a minority or female supervisor. If they answer to a particularly vicious management, they will feel pressured of be even meaner than any white male bastard in the place. Back in slavery times, the black slave driver competed with the white overseer for the title of the meanest SOB on the plantation. Some modern corporations have evidently studied U.S. history and managed to replicate those bad old days right here in 21st century America.

Numerous studies point to the fact that female workers suffer the most workplace bullying. So who better  to terrorize a largely female workplace? Why a misogynistic female who gets her jollies by terrorizing other women. She can then feel safe in a vicious patriarchal system by being the female equivalent of the slave driver. In both cases, the white boys at the top get to keep their hands fresh and clean. It’s really quite ingenious if you have a Mussolini mentality.

Now some people will tell you that workplace bullying is actually all for the good. The screaming, scheming, stealing of ideas, retaliation, backbiting, lying and tantrums toughens us up and makes us lean mean fighting machines capable of beating the Euros, the Chinese, the Indians, the Japanese or whoever is the current "economic threat" to our survival. After all, vicious personal abuse works for the U.S. Marines at Parris Island. Marines go through the worst type of workplace bullying you can imagine and it works for them. Right?

Uh not exactly….the US Marines are smart enough to cut out the worst of the crap once they have molded those soft civilians into fighting men and women. The Marines who drove the Japanese off of Guadalcanal didn’t need some foul mouthed drill sergeant telling them drop and do a zillion pushups every 15 minutes as they hacked their way through  the jungle dodging mortar rounds.

So if workplace bullying is a blot on our society, a drain on our economy and dangerous to our health, why do we put up with it? Fear is part of it. We’re afraid of the consequences if we fight back. Do you know how to empty a room full of your co-workers who are moaning about workplace bullying? Just say you’re organizing a union to fight back. Most will flee, but a few will stick around. Then you have a ray of hope.

But there is an uglier reason that is less often talked about. Some of us want people to crack under workplace bullying so we prove ourselves worthy of the boss’s favor. Some of us want to become the informers and the enablers who collaborate to gain that favor. Some of us even want to become the bully so we can beat up on others and make up for all of the slights and resentments we’ve accumulated 

Basically I have a pessimistic view of human nature, but I do know that many of us do rise above our lowest and most vile instincts. So for those of you who prefer decency over savagery check out the Workplace Bullying Institute. Drs. Ruth Namie and Gary Namie have been fighting this plague for over 10 years and freely share the results of their experience.

­Learn how  to avoid being a workplace wuss. It’s a great way to reclaim your life from that asshole at work who thinks that any expression of joy is an invitation to insult and belittle. If you are the patriotic type, remember that your country will benefit from your efforts even if nobody ever gives you a medal for it.

Happy bully-busting!

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