By Leah P. Hollis, Ed.D.
What happens to bullies when they grow up and get jobs? Civility doesn’t automatically develop in a bully simply because he or she gets older. Bullying is learned behavior; therefore a bully often needs support and coaching to abandon such bullying tactics.
Thirty-seven percent of American workers will experience bullying at work sometime in their lifetime, according to a study by Namie and Namie detailed in The Bully at Work. In the past year, I conducted a study of more than 175 four-year colleges and universities to ask in-depth questions about workplace bullying in American higher education administration. Sixty-two percent of respondents stated they had been bullied or witnessed bullying in American higher education. This is 58 percent higher than the rate reported by the general workforce. Who knew that higher education is a tougher sector than most to find a civil place to work and fulfilling career?
My study confirmed that 16 percent of higher education professionals had left a job because of a bully. When the cost to replace a staff member is 150 percent of his or her salary (i.e. a $50,000 year job costs $75,000 to replace) the cost in turnover alone is staggering to higher education.
The cost to administration and staff loom particularly large in other ways as well. Bullies reportedly lead the university into court or an audit. Universities that allowed for bullying behavior also found themselves to be the defendant in EEOC complaints. Some universities lost $2-3 million just defending this bullying behavior in court.
Those I interviewed confirmed that bullies coerced staff into breaking the NCAA rules or breaking federal Title IV guidelines for student financial aid. Women, people of color and those from the LGBT community were disproportionately the targets of bullying.
Many higher education administrators who were bullying targets sought counseling, disengaged from the work environment, didn’t trust the Human Resources Department to help them and often left higher education altogether. Targets of workplace bullying suffered hair loss, higher levels of stress, more sick days and less focus on the job. While staff members were busy protecting themselves from the terror of a bully, students lost the benefit of a fully engaged staff.
Bullying is an issue that affects all age groups and stretches across all demographics. Just as bullying and aggression at the K-12 level demoralizes the target, such behavior in the adult population continues and yields similar effects.
Leah Hollis is a noted scholar and researcher with a doctorate from Boston University as a Martin Luther King Jr. Fellow. As the president of Patricia Berkly LLC, she is a trainer and speaker who presents workshops and keynote lectures on social justice, gender, access, workplace bullying and other healthy workplace issues. She is the author of Bully in the Ivory Tower. Learn more at diversitytrainingconsultants.com.