Bullying has gotten a lot of attention recently. Most of the focus has been on children, but we know that children learn from us by observing how we treat each other and how we use power in relationships.
It is urgent that we take bullying in school seriously. It is not a developmental stage or a phase of childhood; it is a lack of better tools, understanding, accountability and developmental capability. It is not something to be ignored until children grow out of it.
Children who are targeted suffer terribly and the trauma can follow them for decades. Some turn their trauma inward, leading to low self-esteem, under-performance and depression. Others channel it outwardly and become bullies themselves.
When childhood bullies grow up without accountability meted out by their peer groups, families or the criminal justice system, they go to work and continue their pattern of abuse.
That is why American workplaces have a bullying problem.
According to a recent poll conducted by the Workplace Bullying Institute, 27 percent of people polled have current or past experience with workplace bullying and 72 percent reported knowledge that workplace it exists. That means one in four people have experienced bullying and three out of four of us have witnessed it.
It is not a surprise, then, that 93 percent of those same people polled would also support legislation that makes it unlawful.
When an adult has been abused so relentlessly that they have severe anxiety and can no longer work, we assume they must have been weak-willed, mentally ill or have a “victim mentality.”
But that is looking in the wrong direction. The distorted thinking and mental illness of people who are emotionally undeveloped, unstable or disordered and who are inflicting abuse on others are the problem. People who lack self-awareness, emotional capability and communication skills resort to blame and scapegoating.
Because there is no law defining it or how to respond, most employers ignore the perpetrator to prevent liability, allowing workplace bullying to continue. It is a failure of will
that we can and must change. Bullying is abuse.
Here is something you can do today to start change here in Washington state. There are two companion bills that were introduced in the Washington State Legislature that need your support.
Senate Bill 6532 and House Bill 2894 would “provide legal recourse for employees who have been harmed, psychologically, physically, or economically, by being deliberately subjected to abusive work environments; and provide legal incentives for employers to prevent and respond to mistreatment of employees at work.”
Please contact your legislators as well as the sponsors of the bills and let them know you appreciate their consideration of these bills because you see the urgency to do something to help employees and employers in Washington state. Find a comprehensive list of legislators here: healthyworkplacebill.org/states/wa/
Let them know you believe this demands our attention now.
We need legislation to protect employees from the worst kinds of bullying and abuse, the kind that ruins lives, and protects the bottom line and liability of employers who do the right thing.
We have to change our belief that abuse is normal and inevitable.
When someone is bullied on the job that is not correcting a problem, it is the problem.
Washington is leading the nation in so many ways. Let’s lead the nation in modeling healthy workplaces. The costs to everyone are too high to ignore it any longer.
Pamela Raphael is a mental health counselor in Seattle specializing in the effects of traumatic workplace and relationship abuse. She is a former board president of Real Change and is currently serving as the Washington State Coordinator for the Healthy Workplace Bill, a national initiative of the Workplace Bullying Institute.