Bosses that bully

Bosses that bully

By Melissa Martin - Contributing columnist

As a therapist of many years, I’ve provided counseling services to employees that were victims (also called targets) of boss bullying. An occurring theme of passivity described many of the targets, and most were women. Their symptoms included loss of appetite and sleep, agitation and anxiety, crying spells, feeling hopeless and helpless, obsessing about work while at home, morning dread before the workday starts, and a decrease in work productivity.

A debate in research literature ensues in reference to targets experiencing symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) due to severe and prolonged workplace bullying. Visit DOI:

The Workplace Bullying Institute found that 70 percent of boss perpetrators are male and 60 present of targets are female. I’ve also experienced boss bullying a few times in my career where bosses wielded dictatorial control and power. My boss bullies were male with the exception of one female. Most of these bosses used monthly staff meetings to blame and berate employees for agency financial problems. Employees were overworked, underpaid, and overwhelmed. Staff morale was low. In some agencies and organizations, bad bosses negatively influence the Human Resource Dept., the Board of Directors, and outside state and federal regulating agencies.

Workplace mobbing is a new phrase that describes group bullying — when coworkers align with the boss bully who demands blind alliance. Employees fear being fired, demoted, or losing out on future promotions and raises.

In a 2017 research study from the Workplace Bullying Institute, around one-fifth of American workers surveyed reported bullying in the workplace, and 19 percent witnessed the bullying. Additionally, 71 percent of employer reactions were harmful to targets and 60 percent of coworker reactions were harmful to targets.

How is boss bullying resolved? To stop it, 65 percent of targets are fired or they quit, while some transfer to other departments within the same agency.

Is bullying different from harassment? Yes. Under the law, discriminatory harassment of a protected class is based on a person’s race, color, national origin, sex, disability, or religion and it’s a violation of civil rights, which are protected by federal law.

As of 2017, the anti-bullying Healthy Workplace Bill has been introduced in 30 states, but not enacted into law. In 2003, California was the first state to introduce the Healthy Workplace Bill and in 2014, the second to pass a state law related to workplace abusive conduct. In 2014, Tennessee was the first to pass a state law related to workplace abusive conduct. West Virginia re-introduced the Healthy and Safe Workplace Act in 2014.

Ohio and Kentucky have not, as yet, introduced the Healthy Workplace Bill. One function of the Healthy Workplace Bill is to mandate that employers prevent bullying with policies and procedures that apply to all employees. Contact your state representatives about legislation to prevent and stop workplace abusive conduct by bosses and coworkers.

Read the book, The Bully at Work: What You Can Do to Stop the Hurt and Reclaim Your Dignity on the Job, by Drs Gary and Ruth Namie, pioneers of the Campaign Against Workplace Bullying.

Diagnosing and treating targets of workplace bullying is a new area of research and practice for mental health therapists, according to the International Association of Workplace Bullying and Harassment. Because workplace bullying can affect mental, emotional, and physical health, an option is for targets to seek counseling.
Bosses that bully

By Melissa Martin

Contributing columnist

Melissa Martin, Ph.D, is an author, columnist, educator, and therapist. She resides in southern Ohio.

Melissa Martin, Ph.D, is an author, columnist, educator, and therapist. She resides in southern Ohio.