Monday, February 10, 2003

Bully bosses get theirs

Hostile environment hurts bottom line, researchers say

By Maureen Milford
Gannett News Service

Nearly everyone who has had a job could tell a funny story or two about a bad boss. But for workers faced with a truly abusive boss, the experience is no laughing matter.

During the past five years, the economic cost of bullying has increasingly become an area of interest among psychologists and management and organizational researchers.

Abusive behaviors are defined as everything from the silent treatment to aggressive eye contact to name-calling to threats of job loss.

  When it's dog-eat-dog, underdogs need help. Gary Namie, author of The Bully at Work, offers these suggestions for people who are being bullied:

• Name the abuse. Call it psychological violence or emotional abuse or bullying, but name it to externalize it. Know that it is not your fault.

• Bully-proof yourself. Tell your co-workers because they can be witnesses to the abuse. Never go into a meeting alone. Get medical or psychological support outside of the organization.

• Get away from the bully. Begin taking steps to get a transfer or find another job.

• Expose the bully. Try to build a rational case that shows the negative impact the bully has on the workplace.

Researchers are hoping recent studies, particularly those that attempt to put dollar costs on abusive behaviors, will find application in the business world.

A study by Joel H. Neuman of the Center for Applied Management at the State University of New York in New Paltz, shows bullying results in losses of hundreds of millions of dollars a year in terms of absenteeism, employee satisfaction, customer satisfaction, product quality and productivity.

Some organizations are paying attention, experts say.

"I think as the economy has turned down, companies want to improve employee satisfaction in ways that don't have to do with money," said Gregg Campa, director of client relations with the Business Research Lab in Houston. "They know it's important to their bottom line."

But Kurt Landgraf doesn't buy it.

He is president of Educational Testing Service in Princeton, N.J., and former chief executive of DuPont Pharmaceuticals, acquired in 2001 by Bristol-Myers Squibb Co.

"I think most organizations all talk about how much they care. But the real fact of the matter is, the corporate culture is so accepting of these kinds of aggressive actions, it's not going to go away,'' Landgraf said.

Workplaces that have competitive reward structures - where managers compete for promotions, salaries, benefits, recognition and office space - tend to promote political behavior and abuse. That aggression, in turn, sometimes is passed on to subordinates.

Research done by Karl Aquino, an associate professor of management at the University of Delaware, indicates the increasing number of younger managers in the workplace can contribute to abusive behaviors.

"With age, people are better able to handle stress or mistreatment without passing it down," said Aquino. "It's well-known that younger people tend to act out in a way that can be construed as aggressive."

Gary Namie, a psychology professor at Western Washington University in Bellingham and author of The Bully at Work, said his 2000 study found 16.8 percent of workers report being mistreated by their bosses.

Research suggests both men and women can be bullies. But in 75 percent of cases, women are the victims. Female bullies target other women 84 percent of the time said a survey conducted by the Workplace Bullying & Trauma Institute.

Researchers distinguish between a challenging boss and an abusive one. A challenging boss will make employees stretch, but within a support system, which could include more training, help from a more experienced co-worker or a greater tolerance of mistakes. An abusive boss will make unreasonable goals with no support.

Author advocates taking ACTION
ECKBERG: New tone needed in job safety
Morning Memo: Hot tips & news to start your business day
Making It: Promotions & new on the job

Some major stores taxing online sales
Bully bosses get theirs
Gas up nearly 11 cents in two weeks
Machine tool sales up 45.5%
Women's magazines get makeovers
Bethlehem retirees scrambling for benefits

SEC says trader took investors' money, lived large
East End eyes development warily
5/3 anxiously awaits end of federal inquiry
Dig a bit to find gold in reports