Have you been verbally abused by an administrator or experienced bad behavior by a colleague? Ever been denied professional opportunities because some “higher up” didn’t like you?
If so, you’re not alone. You may be the target of workplace bullying, or at the least, some bad behavior.
Bullying of teachers by administrators is nothing new, says Jamye Merritt, CTA trainer. Increased occurrences of bullying — and more stressed-out educators and classified employees — prompted CTA to respond with trainings to help members protect themselves and improve their work environment.
Two popular CTA workshops are “Bullying! It Doesn’t Just Happen to Students” and “Bullies, Bosses and Bad Behaviors.”
Panic over the need to raise test scores while programs and positions are being cut has put administrators on edge, resulting in a pressure-cooker environment. Merritt believes competition for declining resources influences educators to form cliques or side with administrators to secure favor and keep their jobs.
Dr. Robert Sutton of Stanford University notes, “In business and sports it is assumed that if you are a big winner, you can get away with being a jerk.” This can be tied to pressure for scoring well on standardized tests. Sutton notes bad behavior affects the bottom line through increased turnover, absenteeism, decreased commitment and performance. “The time spent counseling or appeasing these people, consoling victimized employees, reorganizing departments of teams and arranging transfers produce significant hidden costs for a company.” Or a school.
The Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI) defines workplace bullying as "repeated mistreatment: sabotage by others that prevented work from getting done, verbal abuse, threatening conduct, intimidation and humiliation." Also known as psychological harassment or emotional abuse, a Psychology Today article notes bullying involves consciously causing serious harm to another person “not with violence, but with words and actions. Bullying damages the physical, emotional and mental health of the person who is targeted.”
When bullying focuses on race, gender or sexual orientation, it is harassment. Without a focus, it’s just bullying. While there are laws against harassment, no laws exist in California against bullying in the workplace.
Seventy-two percent of bullies are bosses and 55 percent of those bullied are staff. In 77 percent of cases, targets leave or lose their job. Bullying exists in 66 percent of workplaces and most bullies don’t act alone. Bullies experience negative consequences less than 25 percent of the time for their actions.
There are “primary” bullies, and “secondary” bullies who think that by joining in, they may avoid being targets later. And it’s difficult to know how to react when experiencing such bad behavior. “I didn’t know what to do,” is a common phrase of those who witness workplace bullying and fail to act. CTA’s training provides some options.
Bullies may abuse others when nobody is looking and can be nice in public. Many are smart, making valuable contributions to the workplace, and their behavior is overlooked.
Working in a bullying environment takes a toll. Bad behavior causes more than job transfers and resignations. One study showed that workers stressed by bullying performed 50 percent worse on cognitive tests.
Forty-five percent of targets experience stress-related health problems such as anxiety, panic attacks and depression. Swedish researchers found that employees who had managers who were incompetent, inconsiderate, secretive and uncommunicative were 60 percent more likely to suffer a heart attack or other life-threatening cardiac condition.
If you are bullied
- If bullied by an administrator, immediately contact your site rep or association president. Document specific behavior and tactics.
- If possible, confront the bully in a professional manner with assistance from your association. Convey that you will not be treated in this manner.
- Work with your CTA rep. File a grievance, if necessary. Take your concerns higher, if necessary, to human resources, the superintendent and school board members.
- If bullied by co-workers, your site rep may advise you to report the problem to an administrator who is responsible for providing a nontoxic work environment.
- Remember, you are stronger than you think. Most situations are temporary. Find support in family and friends.
- Don’t allow yourself to become isolated. Don’t blame yourself or lose confidence. Do not, under any circumstances, post retaliatory comments on Facebook, Twitter or in e-mails. Exercise, get enough sleep, and consider counseling. Seek medical care if necessary.
What you can do
- Remember the Union Code of Conduct: If a co-worker is being criticized or gossiped about in your presence, ask that it stop. Do not participate in any conversation with an administrator that criticizes or negatively speculates about a union colleague. If you have issues with a colleague, try to work it out with that individual before complaining to higher-ups.
- If a colleague is a target, be a friend. Make time to listen. Don’t judge or discount. Educate yourself about bullying. Knowledge is power.