If you’re like most Americans, you’ve probably have heard horror stories of the bullying boss. You may have even worked for one yourself. And while workplace experts say the best way to keep your sanity would be to leave the toxic environment, in today’s economy, where workers are often forced to remain in jobs they don’t like, or face the possibility of unemployment, leaving is not that easy.
Credit: Rienk Post | Graphic Design One out of three adults report having been bullied at work.
According to the Workplace Bullying Institute, a national advocacy organization, 35 percent of adults either have been bullied or are being bullied at work. They are intimidated, humiliated, demeaned, degraded, and threatened. They are often so stressed out that they find it almost impossible to do their jobs.
“The best thing in this instance would be to find a new job,” says Chester Spell, an associate professor of management at the Rutgers School of Business-Camden, who has conducted research on how individuals cope with injustice at work. “But that’s not always practical. So if that’s not a possibility, you have to find a way to lessen the stress at work so that it doesn’t take over your entire life.”
Stress at work, according to the American Psychological Association, costs more than $300 billion annually in employee absenteeism, turnover, and productivity as well as medical, legal, and insurance expenses. This psychological distress, Spell says, is often caused by an injustice, either real or perceived, which can lead to depression, anxiety, irritability, exhaustion and disengagement from fellow workers.
“What we found in our research on the connection between fairness and psychological health is that how a worker is treated is an even more important predictor of mental health than how much he is being paid,” says Spell. “And even if the unfairness is not directed at all workers, but they see it going on around them, it is like a contagion on the whole environment.”
This is why, he says, workers who are supported by their colleagues and have a small group of people that they can confide in have a much lower level of anxiety and depression because the social support acts like a buffer against bullying behavior.
Injustices, bullying or abuse directed personally at an employee, he says, can hurt to the core especially if done in front of others. “Such an attack really sticks on a person and affects their mental health in that workplace situation.”
In an attempt to protect workers from a bullying boss, Healthy Workplace bills have been introduced in 22 states, including New Jersey. Last year, an anti-bullying bill was passed in the New York Senate and is under consideration in the Assembly, which, if passed, would make New York the first state in the country to pass such a law.
“The reason there is support for this type of legislation is because the law currently does not address workplace bullying except in cases where the bullying behavior is severe and pervasive and it targets an individual because of his or her membership in a protected class such as age, race, or gender,” says Sarah A. Luke, assistant general counsel at Rutgers, who has been involved in reviewing New Jersey’s proposed anti-bullying law. Luke says the proposed legislation would assist those who experience bullying that does not constitute unlawful harassment under our civil rights laws.
Still, no one expects anti-bullying workplace legislation will be instituted quickly. So, while having a job with a great boss might be a future goal, finding a job where you have the support of your colleagues is even more important to your health and well-being.
In a recent study at Tel Aviv University, researchers found that people who did not feel connected or supported by co-workers were two-and-a-half times more likely to die at the end of their 20-year study than those who had supportive relationships with colleagues at work.
Spell says these workplace relationships — often based on gender, education and seniority — become a safe habor where employees feel comfortable to confide in each other about office problems.
“It provides a social support mechanism which can help relieve distress and this is healthy,” he says.
Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey