From domestic diva Martha Stewart to firebrand former ambassador John Bolton, the headlines are filled with examples of bullying bosses. But a new survey reveals that the phenomenon may be common to all levels of management, not just occupants of the corner office.
More than 44 percent of 534 U.S. workers surveyed feel that their bosses bully them on the job, according to the Employment Law Alliance, a San Francisco-based network of employment and labor attorneys. The survey also found that 64% of workers feel they should have the right to sue if bullied.
"I am somewhat surprised," said Stephen Hirschfield, CEO of the Employment Law Alliance. "It's a new issue and I did not know how pervasive it was."
Bullying bosses are those who publicly criticize, rudely interrupt, tease, give dirty looks, use sarcastic jabs, or flat out ignore certain employees, according to the survey's respondents.
Hirschfield said he was also surprised at how many workers would consider litigation, adding that he does not feel courts should be addressing the problem, because such cases would put "the jury in a situation where they have to Monday-morning quarterback."
Since it's difficult to characterize bullying, juries would have a tough time legally defining the problem, according to Hirschfield. They would have to decide whether certain behavior constitutes bullying or just a "lack of common courtesy."
Hirschfield suggested that companies change their sexual harassment policies in order to include the most common bully tactics that bosses seem to use. "It would put management on notice of what is acceptable and what isn't," Hirschfield said. The policies "should have a zero tolerance policy for those problems."
Gary Namie, an author on the subject and founder of Work Doctor, a Washington-based company that helps businesses develop plans to stop the intimidation seen from bullying, said he thinks the issue permeates far more insidiously and destructively than the poll implies -- and believes laws should be designed to prevent the behavior.
Namie said bullying has two distinct characteristics, instead of the minor signs mentioned in the survey. "It is a deliberate campaign to destroy somebody else's job or career," he said. "And it is severe enough to cause harm to one's health."
One must distinguish between a bully and a boss with poor leadership skills, according to Namie. The skills can be taught, while you probably should get rid of the brutish bully that has no hope.
The problem is most people do not realize that bullying is an issue. Namie suggested that business owners look at turnover rates and absenteeism numbers. If people in a certain division show a tendency to not come to work, then the division head may have pushed the employees to the extreme measure of avoiding the job altogether.