This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
One year ago, a new set of requirements went into effect for state agencies. Those rules were directed at helping employees cope with workplace bullies and were promoted by advocate Denise Halverson as part of a nationwide effort by an information resource website, the Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI).
House Bill 216, titled the Healthy Workplace Bill was introduced in 2015 by Orem Rep. Keven Stratton and quietly went into effect on July 1, 2015. The law establishes training for state workers that defines the types of abusive behaviors, which when directed by one or more employees of an organization toward a targeted worker can result in damaging psychological as well as physical effects. According to WBI sponsored studies from 2014, those effects result in the targeted employees leaving their jobs 61 percent of the time to get away from the abuse.
Appropriately, a good deal of attention has been focused on preventing children from being bullied at school and other places. However, the abusive behavior does not end when everyone gets older. Unfortunately, bullying in the workplace is alive and well with a WBI 2014 survey showing one in five workers reporting they have been or currently are subject to abuse behavior on the job. If you doubt this is happening, then just ask some of your friends, coworkers or family. Chances are you will hear of disturbing experiences, when some of them have either been the target of bullying or have witnessed it at their work.
Unlike the schoolyard bully, the workplace perpetrators rarely resort to assault or threats of physical harm, which are just plain illegal. Maybe our first image of a bully is someone who is confrontational and belligerent, which they can be, but more often he or she is not that outwardly aggressive person in the next cubicle. According to WBI, about 56 percent of the bullies are identified as the supervisor, manager or other bosses who have authority and control over their targets. They usually have the power, position and means to carry out threats, verbal abuse and work interference designed to humiliate, intimidate and sabotage the targeted employee. The bosses sometimes enlist the help of the Human Resource Department specialists, who also work for them.
You may wonder what is the difference between workplace bullying and legitimate efforts to correct a poor performing employee. The difference is bullying is not directed at improving the worker through a well-established and fair process. Bullying is a repeated and continuing set of actions designed to disrupt the targeted employee's ability to do their job and causes physically and psychologically harmful stress. The bullies, if they are your bosses, control the means, timing and methods directed at you, and they may enjoin other employees as willing helpers in their efforts. By in large, the targeted worker has been in good standing as an employee and the abusive behavior is being done for reasons other than to improve their work performance.
I came to experience being the target of bullying during my last year of work as a middle manager for a government agency. I was subjected by an administrator to several months of criticism, disrupted work and finally required to complete a corrective plan designed to be arbitrarily rushed and difficult. Despite working for about a month to accomplish the many "corrective" tasks, I realized my supposed improvement was not the real goal, when that administrator made the offer of severance pay in exchange for my leaving. Why would you offer to pay someone to quit if you really wanted them to make changes? I decided to leave. Two other managers, who were similarly targeted, also made their decisions to leave.
The bottom line is bullying is wrong, and employers that have ignored, enabled or perpetrated those actions need to make a break from the past and put a stop to it. It is long past the time to change this dark side of workplace culture and now that state agencies have adopted new requirements, other government agencies and private employers need to step up and adopt similar safeguards for their employees. Ultimately, employees have the largest stake in the quality of their work lives, and they should demand those protections.
C.B. Stirling is a retired resident of Sandy. His government work includes 40 years of service, first for the state of Utah and later in county government, all in the criminal justice field.