WBI BLOG for Decision Makers in Organizations

Advice, Ideas, Research, Benchmarking Lessons

February 25th, 2016

C-Suite Talking Points for HR About Workplace Bullying

By Gary Namie, PhD

Assumptions: (1) No anti-bullying initiative can succeed without support from the top. (2) It will be the job of HR to take that message up the ladder.

Here is a list of reasons senior leaders should care. It includes, but is not limited to, the following:

• Workplace Bullying is a costly litigation nightmare. Even though a low proportion of incidents of bullying also have an aspect of discrimination (20%), the public erroneously believes hostile work environment protections apply to everyone. Therefore, too many individuals shop for an attorney willing to either threaten or file a lawsuit or EEOC formal complaint. At the very least, a defense has to be mounted, or settlement paid, or trial and penalty expenses absorbed.

• Recruitment & retention of highly skilled workers undermined. The typical bullying scenario finds the best & brightest targeted for baseless, mindless persecution until they either voluntarily quit or are driven away. This is unwanted, unnecessary and PREVENTABLE turnover.

• A tarnished reputation as one of the “worst places to work” on the street (mainly in social media) follows the expulsion of highly qualified workers. In turn, recruitment is made more difficult.

• Bullying causes stress-related diseases. Allowing it to continue unabated directly contradicts the internal commitments to wellness and employee well being. In fact, research clearly shows the causal role of personalized bullying in cardiovascular and gastrointestinal diseases, changes in the brain that lead to irreversible behavioral dysfunction that passes for incompetence to the naive observer, life shortening interference with DNA cellular replication, and doubling the rate of suicidal ideation. Why should we allow the health-harming misconduct to continue knowing that our staff and associates are being so severely impaired?

• Because of the health harm, workers affected by bullying — those directly targeted and those witnessing it as coworkers — typically use paid time off disproportionately. They exhaust the allotment taking “mental health” days trying to lessen the distress they feel. In many cases, the absenteeism exceeds PTO because the workers can no longer cope in the environment where they are subjected to abuse. That absenteeism (and presenteeism) eventually precludes productive work. The lean work team comes to resent their absent colleagues and soon experience their own sense of overload.

• To allow bullying to continue with impunity sends the message to internal stakeholders that our workplace culture prizes ruthlessness, abuse, victimization, domination and humiliation of employees. Not exactly the terms posted proudly on our Mission, Vision, Values placards throughout the company. Sustaining bullies contradicts lofty aspirational phrases such as we “respect all individuals,” and any claims to diversity or fairness. Bullying is immoral. The failure to condemn it is understood by employees as condoning it.

• Bullying cannot thrive without executive sponsorship. Yes, dear leaders, you may be contributing to the problem. No one is accused of ordering subordinate managers to willfully harm their work teams. Rather, bullies are skilled manipulators. They are able to bond with supporters, through disingenuous ingratiation over time, so that you come to see them only in a positive light. When they are accused of abusing others, it seems impossible that people so kind and admiring in your presence are capable of what they are accused. In fact, they are the same people: tyrants to those below them in the organization and fawning great folks to those above.

• Constraint vs. Change. On repeat offenders in the past, we have wasted too much money on attempts to change their personalities. Personality, by definition, is stable and constant for adults. Further, long-reinforced habits, however destructive, are ingrained. A better approach is to constrain or limit negative behavior by creating new boundaries which when crossed brand the conduct unacceptable, and therefore, punishable. The teaching of limits and their reinforcement rely on principles of human learning.

• The historical problem is that we (the company, the managers, the system) have inadvertently rewarded bullying. Examples of this type of implicit reward include ignoring complaints, choosing personality clashes as the preferred explanation for events, or not believing the target-complainants. Over time, bullies have no reason to believe they would ever be held accountable because we have not told them they were doing anything wrong or unacceptable.

• To accomplish the goals of constraint and mitigation of negative destructive interpersonal conduct, we have to create new explicit standards and be granted the authority to enforce misconduct that crosses the line. If we cannot show offenders where the expectation is clear that they violated, we lose the moral authority to monitor conduct at all. Further, everyone at all levels of the organization should be made to follow the same standards. No exceptions. Those of you in leadership must be role models.

• Finally, we have to inculcate the newly adopted intolerance of abusive conduct to everyone. The message flows from the top. We need your endorsement, and if you are willing, your participation in education efforts. More important, to sustain the anti-abuse initiative, we need you to support HR’s implementation of the new code and enforcement provisions. Do not interfere in cases involving your personal friends. Please let the system work independently and without political intervention. This is the only way employees come to trust leaders to make their workplaces safe.

• To enable all workers to function free from fear of being abused during the work day is not a luxury. It is a fundamental occupational health and safety issue. And it is the cornerstone to personal psychological safety. Only with this freedom can workers optimize their productivity for employers.

Some of the above points are “safer” to raise than others. Only you can gauge how easily threatened are your executive team members. Most don’t ever want to hear bad news, but they are not leaders. True leaders care very much about everyone in their organization. Find those people and you will save your organization.


We can help. Call WBI. 360-656-6630


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October 17th, 2015

The Worst Kinds of Bosses

Eight of the Worst Kinds of Bosses
By Scott Wooldridge, Benefits Pro, Oct. 16, 2015

Bad bosses are, unfortunately, more common than anyone would like. One silver lining, perhaps, is that they are easy to identify. What follows are some general characteristics of bad bosses, taken in part from The Bully at Work, the landmark book by Gary and Ruth Namie, plus some other bad-boss habits that are all too common.

The Screaming Meemie

This boss, as the name suggests, is probably the best-known type of bad boss, but not necessarily the most common.

“It’s the poster child of bullying,” says Frank Mulcahy, manager of business development at the Workplace Bullying Institute — which was founded by the Namies. This type of boss berates and belittles employees. “They intimidate to instill fear … they scream to mask their own incompetence,” Mulcahy says. “They’ll even invade personal space.” He points to former basketball coach Bobby Knight as an example of this type of behavior.

The Constant Critic

A much more common type of bad boss is this type — who may not act out as much, but who still works to destroy confidence. The constant critic does just that; always finding fault with a worker, regardless of whether the criticism is justified.

“[The work] is never going to be good enough,” Mulcahy says. “It’s very demoralizing.” He notes that the Constant Critic does a lot of damage in one-on-one settings, which provide more deniability.

The Two-Headed Snake

“The most prevalent type of a bully is the Two Headed Snake,” Mulcahy says. “This is the Jekyll and Hyde, passive-aggressive back-stabber.” Mulcahy said this type of manager (the type can also be a co-worker) manages his or her image for higher-ups, but turns into a bully for workers under his control. “It’s all about controlling the target’s reputation, starting rumors or even failing to stop rumors.”

The Gatekeeper

The Gatekeeper blocks resources, controls communications, or changes schedules to exert power over a worker. “They withhold the resources needed to get the job done,” Mulcahy said. “Or they say, ‘I know it’s your day off, but I need you to do this.’” “It always comes when they know somebody has to be somewhere.” The Gatekeeper is another type of bully that can be either a manager or a co-worker.

The Micromanager

Not all bad bosses are bullies — some just don’t have a good grasp on how to most effectively work with their team. A common case is the micromanager, who thinks they have to monitor every decision point for every project. This very common type of manager can drive workers crazy. There can be some hope that bosses will eventually “unlearn” this behavior, but until they do, the employees under them are likely to dread the sound of their manager’s approach.

The Recluse

The Recluse is the opposite of the Micromanager. According to Cam Marston, author and founder of Generational Insights, there is an entire cohort of Gen-X managers who grew up as latchkey kids and consider working solo, with little or no supervision or collaboration, to be the ideal way to get things done. These managers give orders to underlings, go back to their offices and shut the door, satisfied that the workers are happy to be left alone to do their job. In fact, many workers feel confused and abandoned by this approach.

The Workaholic

This type of boss never seems to stop working, texting and/or emailing on the weekends or late at night, making you feel guilty for having any personal time at all. The recent firestorm stirred by reports that Amazon.com was driving its employees to work all hours and become “Amabots” in their search for perfection is an example of committing to a workaholic lifestyle.

Perhaps it works for Amazon. For many employees at other companies, it won’t.

The Slacker

Another polar opposite, the Slacker sits on the other end of the spectrum of the Workaholic. This boss typically has some connection to top management that allows him to coast along, even though he is often not at work or tends to fall behind on projects.

The Slacker’s team runs a real risk of being blamed for late or incomplete work, even when it’s their manager who’s not getting the job done. Unlike the Recluse, the Slacker is not likely to have a basic level of competency — he is just overmatched in his job.


Contact Frank Mulcahy at 713.545.2222 to discuss solutions for your organization

Read the Namies’ book written for employers, The Bully-Free Workplace, seeking to end abusive conduct inside their organizations.


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October 3rd, 2015

Microsoft Paid $2 Million in Texas Bullying-Related Case

By Brenda Craig, Lawyers and Settlements.Com, Oct. 2014

Michael Mercieca kept the faith and after seven years finally saw the courts order Microsoft to pay for bullying him to a near breaking point.

The judge in the Texas employment labor law case, Tim Sulak, has issued a Final Judgement ordering Microsoft to pay $2 million in compensatory and punitive damages and legal fees. Judge Sulak found the tech giant guilty of “acting with malice and reckless indifference” in an organized office retaliation against salesman Mercieca.

Previously, a jury, by unanimous agreement, found that Microsoft and key managers had created a hostile work environment that led to Mercieca’s constructive dismissal and ordered that the 55-year-old Mercieca be paid $11.6 million, but the judge reduced it to the amount as is permitted.

A highly regarded member of the sales department with an unblemished record, Mercieca found himself drowning in nasty workplace conspiracy whereby fellow employees and supervisors undermined his work, falsely accused him of sexual harassment and expense account fraud, and marginalized him and blocked promotions.

The story began sometime before 2007 when Mercieca ended a relationship with a woman who went on to become his boss. Conditions at work began to change for him. Even though Mercieca went to the human relations department at Microsoft, the company did not act and allowed the behaviors to continue and even to escalate.

In addition to complaining about his own treatment in the workplace, Mercieca directly complained to Microsoft icon Steve Ballmer about sexist and racist comments made in the office by VP Eddie O’Brien.

“I wrote directly to Ballmer and told him what O’Brien said after the tsunami in Japan,” says Mercieca. “He said, ‘I would have zero pity for Japan. I would throw them right under the bus and create another tsunami if I have to.’” (Depositions.)

That complaint to Ballmer, Mercieca maintains, was another reason his co-workers began to isolate him and make the workplace hostile toward him.

Mercieca and his legal team of two lawyers were up against 250 lawyers that Microsoft set to work on the case. Despite that, Mercieca and his lawyers Roy Pollack and Paul T. Morin of Austin, Texas, four years of litigation and some 90,000 documents eventually won the day.

“Rather than do the right thing, the management team went after Michael by getting a female employee to file a sexual harassment complaint and a complaint of retaliation against him,” says Paul T. Morin. “Microsoft could have taken Mercieca’s charges seriously and disciplined the senior manager but instead it engaged in the worst kind of corporate bullying.”

“They (Microsoft Corporation) remain guilty today, tomorrow and in perpetuity over egregious acts against me and racist comments by their executive that led to the retaliation and vendetta resulting in my firing,” said Mercieca after the Final Judgement was announced.


WBI Note: Technically, the case was about retaliation for reporting racist and sexist remarks by an executive. This falls well within the realm of status-based discrimination, illegal activity.

Dr. Gary Namie can serve as an expert witness for employers who do the proper thing and terminate harassers and those who discriminate.


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October 3rd, 2015

Suicide Risk Doubled by Workplace Bullying

At WBI, Dr. Ruth, I and several of the staff have listened to long-winded tales of misery endured at the hands of workplace bullies for many years. It amazes us that as many people survive the process as they do. It’s a testament to human resilience.

Suicide is the abandonment of hope, of not seeing any future, of not perceiving alternatives. It happens. How often it is the choice of bullied workers is not known. The international pioneer of the movement, Heinz Leymann, wrote in the early 1990’s that about 10% of those bullied do take their lives. It was his educated guess.

Now comes an important study from our Norwegian friends at the Bergen Bullying Research Group led by Stale Einarsen. The principal author of the study published Sept. 17 in the American Journal of Public Health is Morten Birkeland Nielsen.

The subtitle of the article is “A 3-Wave Longitudinal Norwegian Study.” The key contribution made by the study is that it measured the same group of people during three different time periods. Its longitudinal approach clarifies the sequence of events. It was a test to determine which caused which — bullying at work or considering suicide (the academics and clinicians call it suicidal ideation). The one that preceded the other can be considered a cause of the second.

The study overcame a problem common to all cross-sectional studies (in which different groups of people are measured only once) — the question of correlation between factors. That is, if we ran a study here at the WBI website of bullied individuals and asked two questions — have you been bullied and have you considered suicide — and the two scores were highly correlated, we still could not say with certainty that bullying caused people to consider suicide. The Nielsen, et al., study solved that problem with its unique tracking of a single group over time — in 2005, 2007 and again in 2010. In wave 1, 2,539 (our of 4500 solicited from a national random sample) returned the researchers’ surveys. By 2010, the sample was still at 1,291 individuals — the final group with three measurements.

Continue reading this article… »


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October 3rd, 2015

Unnecessary Organizational Shame & Guilt Related to Bullying

By Gary Namie, PhD

Individuals targeted for bullying by other employees, regardless of rank, suffer a great deal of personal shame. Sadly it is the consequence of being on the receiving end of humiliation, degradation and threatening misconduct. It freezes the person and inaction leads to stress-related health problems.

Shame is the negative emotion associated with a feeling of worthlessness. The external message directed at people being shamed is that they are worthless. It cuts to the person’s core sense of who they are. It says you are a bad person. Guilt feels similarly negative, but it differs from shame. The guilt message is that one did something wrong knowing there were options. Guilt is feeling bad over one’s behavior, one’s choices, not over one’s identity.

Guilt has a way of influencing organizations in a bad way, too. We’ve seen it all too often in our consulting. It leads to a paralysis, nearly a parallel form of inaction, an inability to solve the bullying problem that has festered for months or years.

For instance, good moral individuals, who may serve as Sunday church deacons, somehow fall into the trap of ignoring bullying because U.S. laws say they can. But gnawing at them is the knowledge that it is wrong to turn one’s back on suffering individuals. Personal guilt ensues. Then coommon rationalizations — “we have no policy,” “it’s a matter of he said/she said,” “I can’t believe the complainant – the story sounds too bizarre and extreme,” and “Bob is a friend — I’ve never seen him be cruel to anyone” — make it easy to move on. Guilt is assuaged.

Decision makers who become internal anti-bullying advocates avoid guilt through a much different path. They act on their internal moral code. They call us. But their fight is uphill in asking permission to address abusive conduct within the organization. They rarely get the permission they seek.

Continue reading this article… »


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September 29th, 2015

Consistency vs. Case-by-Case Approaches to Solving Workplace Bullying Problems

By Gary Namie, PhD

One of the major complaints from bullied workers is the unfairness and inequity inherent in their employer’s approach to bullying complaints. As a group, bullied individuals are very sensitive to perceived injustices.

It is key to remember that if it is an American employer, there is no legal risk-avoidance reason to compel them to take complaints about bullying and abusive conduct seriously. If they treat complaints as legitimate and serious at all, it is because they choose to do so voluntarily.

When a sympathetic, well-intentioned employer does allow bullying complaints to be lodged, that openness is often followed by resolution attempts on a case-by-case basis (CBCB). Adopting CBCB sounds good but is plagued by unintentional consequences.

To employers, CBCB affords flexibility. It allows the investigator and decision maker to take into account mitigating circumstances. For instance, offenders can be forgiven if their misconduct is found to be based on following orders from a higher ranking manager. It also makes sense to be lenient in delivering negative consequences for first-time offenders. How could this be unfair?

From the perspective of rank-in-file employees the CBCB method is perceived much differently. From that view, in the first instance the given orders were unseen. Only the absence of punishment or changes was noticed. Therefore, the decision smacks of favoritism. And if the offender was a department head or director, then it appears the employer is protecting managers. Bullying is met with impunity.Leniency, too, looks like the employer decided to grant the bully wide latitude.

In both cases, employer flexibility feels like employer betrayal to workers.

This is a preventable error.

Continue reading this article… »


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