What do you mean there’s bullying in the workplace – and why shouldn’t there be – isn’t that just normal?

When I try to think like most people who haven’t experienced workplace bullying or deny that it even exists, I imagine that when they hear “The Healthy Workplace Bill,” it can sound sort of naïve or even Pollyanna-ish (if that’s even a word). “What? People need a law in place to FORCE them to be NICE? And what is ‘nice’ anyway? What about competitiveness, aggressive go–getter stuff; all that? Isn’t that normal in business? If you ruled that out, what would you have? A bunch of powder puffs trying to get stuff done.”

No, what I am talking about is there being a law that prevents deliberate acts of complete and intentional cruelty above and beyond anything to do with work. Often times, employees’ time is spent trying to comply with orders that are given, when bullying is taking place, that have nothing whatsoever to do with productivity or the success of the company. It is torture for the sake of torture.

Some people literally cannot seem to help themselves resist abuses of power. Just because they can. Or for deep psychological issues they never came to terms with and never want to. Or because someone else is bullying them from the top.

I recently rented the move, “The Gift.” Being somewhat of a horror, scary movie fan, I thought it was going to be a thriller. It was, but it was also and more importantly a movie about bullying. Clever. No one would intentionally go to a movie advertised to be about how rampant, typical, ordinary and almost expected (though often denied) bullying is in our culture. Gotcha! I highly recommend this film both for its entertainment value and also for the message.

No one should have to go to work in fear that one of these types of people will be playing a cat and mouse game with them – sometimes for years on end. Companies should want to develop a culture where all peoples’ ideas are valued and their work time is honored and respected, not spent redoing a spreadsheet 15 times just because someone feels good torturing them, for instance; sabotaging their work, accusing them falsely of things, writing them up just because they don’t like them.

A healthy work culture is a lot more than having a game room. It means not living in fear that you will be called into a private room where you are excoriated verbally and sometimes physically, but you take it because you need that job and jobs are hard to find.

Statistics show that women get bullied more than men, but I personally find that hard to believe. Most men that I know of endure coming-of-age bullying that starts in kindergarten if not earlier that only gets worse as it is spoken of – so it runs deep into the bone. The only way to overcome bullying in that environment is literally to beat that person up! This is MORE bullying!

Girls are learning this as well now. I suppose all bullying of every kind cannot be totally stopped, but many countries are pressing for change in school to identify bullying especially as, if unchecked, it can result in terrible carnage when guns are involved. We also now have cyber bullying where students are tortured to the point of suicide. To my knowledge, no one has done any study to find out if workers who “go postal” were bullied, but I digress.

The point is our society values strong, tough guy managers who yell and scream and “get things done” using any means necessary without studying the impact on employees’ well-being or productivity. Imagine studying what work would be like if there were no yelling, screaming, pushing and shoving.

The Healthy Workplace Bill seeks to give bullied employees legal recourse as there is no law against this type of harassment on the books currently in any state. It also encourages companies to take a look at their work culture and take proactive steps to both avoid lawsuits and create a productive work culture where people are valued for the work they perform because they feel valued, included and motivated by feeling their work is important to the organization.

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What do you mean there’s bullying in the workplace – and why shouldn’t there be – isn’t that just normal?

Getting on a roll with the Rhode Island Healthy Workplace Bill

Like the female version of Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark – “I’m making this up as I go!” Well, with the incredible assistance of those working on the Healthy Workplace Bill in Massachusetts, whose progress I have been following for at least a year.

The curse and the blessing of working on this project is that you sort of have to experience the trauma of a truly toxic, harmful-to-human-health workplace to be able to and want to do something about it. Also, just think of someone you really care about having to face the dread each day of being falsely accused of things they didn’t do, written up for non-existent infractions, possibly feeling suicidal, having increasing inability to sleep or function, well, you get the idea.

How do we stop this, you ask? We must give employees legal leverage in the form of the Healthy Workplace Bill, written by David Yamada, law professor at Suffolk University in Boston. Groups in every state are taking steps to promote this law to their state legislatures.

Pretty amazing steps, evolving away from a sort of Dickensian sweat shop mentality that I, for one, thought we had left behind. I thought Unions had made things better for employees – and they have. The problem is that ever since the Great Recession, employers have used “the company is in trouble” to spur employees to greater and greater productivity.  That strategy can work for a  while, but over time, it can lead to what looks like kicking a dead horse or “blood from stones.”  Then outsourcing to get fresh people who are willing to work for next to nothing serves several purposes. 1) It creates fear in Americans that they will be totally replaced by H1b visa status workers, leading them to overwork 2) It causes employers to view Americans as desperate workers, as desperate as the people willing to leave their homelands to make better lives for themselves. These newly desperate American workers can then be offered almost any conditions that they will accept rather than be unemployed. What follows is abuse by people in positions of power, figuring that “anything goes” in the treatment of any worker.

There are laws to help people in the so called “protected classes” – those with disabilities, those of minority races, women and older workers, but there is no law currently on the books to protect workers from bullying – a unique form of harassment.

The irony is, the worse employees are treated, the worse they perform and the worse the company performs. Somehow, no one seems to have figured out this connection.

That’s where the Healthy Workplace Bill comes into play. Have a look at the bill itself at http://www.HealthyWorkplaceBill.org and look at the work the Workplace Bullying Institute has done to define the term “Workplace Bullying”  www.WorkplaceBullying.org

Working hard is one thing, but “work shouldn’t hurt.”

Please go to the Rhode Island Healthy Workplace Advocates Facebook Page and our website http://www.RIHealthyWorkPlace.org – sign up as an advocate, let me know how you’d like to help, make suggestions – let’s get this off the ground and THANKS!

More later – Jessica Stensrud

Getting on a roll with the Rhode Island Healthy Workplace Bill