Dr. Mildred Peyton, Founder & President, Peyton Consulting, LLC.
Is it possible for staff to experience workplace bullying in schools? Given that our nation’s current school climate is significantly focused on school safety and bullying prevention activities/programs for students, some would mull over this question…it may be considered a paradox, especially when teachers, counselors, or school administrators are the ones who are expected to protect students from bullying. Nonetheless, the resounding answer is, yes. As a workplace bullying survivor and expert, I can confidently tell you that workplace abuse can happen not only in school settings, but in any work environment if the ones who are in charge of the establishment do not consider their employees’ safety and wellbeing their priority (or as a part of their work culture). This notion is congruent with the American Federation for Teachers (AFT), which affirms that: “Sometimes workplace bullying is the result of workplace culture, where behaviors of bullying are entrenched in an organization and have become accepted practice.” Simply put, our perceptions or expectations can influence the nature and culture of work environments in both good and bad ways, be it in schools, corporations or organizations.
Imagining that workplace bullying is happening in some schools is hard enough to digest. Articulating workplace bullying as a concept, and recognizing when it is happening, is perhaps even more difficult. It is also not talked about as often as school bullying among children; therefore, it may appear that workplace bullying is not as prevalent among workers. But in actuality, this problem among employees is just as common a phenomenon as childhood bullying in schools. A 2017 survey by the Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI) concluded that “60.3 million U. S. workers [alone] are affected by workplace bullying” as a witness or a direct target. Also, in 2018, a qualitative research study in the Journal of The Education Forum concluded that teachers (n = 276) felt they were targets of bullying by their school administrators because of their affiliation with the teacher union, their age, and their behaviors. These teachers also asserted that their administrators bullied them out of jealousy, power, having teacher traits, different styles of teaching, and being hired by a previous administrator. What this suggests is that there are countless reasons why an individual could experience workplace bullying. Whatever the perceived reasons are, bullying is wrong, and it is equally bad for those involved. For example, according to experts’ conclusions from the WBI, targets of workplace bullying may develop physical illness and experience psychological effects like anxiety, depression, chest pains, headaches, elevated blood pressure, cardiovascular problems, and other stress-related diseases. It can also force victims to quit their jobs without properly securing a financial cushion – resulting in an economic burden for individuals and families. This financial devastation can also cost employers a hefty amount if faced with legal suits and loss in employee productivity. Based on Business Woman Media, “The Australian Human Rights Commission has estimated that up to $36 billion dollars is lost each year from Australian businesses due to the effects of workplace bullying.”
So, why are we not hearing more about bullying in the workplace in the media or elsewhere (as we are hearing about school bullying)? From my personal and work experiences, one reason is that most adults who are experiencing unfair treatment or harassment at work would rather stay quiet because of shame and fear of retaliation or retribution that could result in losing their jobs.
Even though these are all contributing factors as to why this topic may not make front headlines, the truth is that it’s an international problem. Case in point, a study among teachers in South Africa suggested that workplace bullying is a widespread problem – with 91% of the teachers (n = 999) who participated in the study stating that they’ve experienced workplace bullying of some form. So, no matter where we reside, bullying is unfortunately an unpleasant side of human nature; one for those who especially crave power and control over others.
Workplace bullying is an unhealthy practice in any organization, but even more so in places where adults are expected to model appropriate behaviors to children. As a start to dissolving this issue, here are five (5) simple strategies on how school districts can promote inclusive environments that can help prevent bullying among their staff:
- Leaders must be educated about workplace bullying and held accountable for that knowledge; the key to solving any problem is to become aware. Leaders should participate in mandatory leadership training that provides tools and techniques in healthy management styles/effective leadership, and follow-through in correcting behaviors that are against policies.
- Create a safe space to get to know your staff; know what matters to them (understand their backgrounds and perspectives). This can look like a routine check-in on staff where meetings are held individually or in a group, a “meet-my coworker” social event, or surveys to better understand employees’ current states in their work environment. Taking this approach will not only increase employee engagement, but it’ll also boost morale and increase retention. When employees feel valued and believe their contribution matters, they perform better and stay at their place of work.
- Celebrate staff often: Teachers’ Appreciation Week is great; however, administrators must be intentional and find different ways to celebrate their staff frequently.
- Provide sensitivity training/workshops that include lessons on self/cultural/social awareness: Working with others is a great way to learn about views and understandings that are different from our own and could make excellent contributions to the team.
- Establish and maintain a work culture that’s equitable and fair: Everyone deserves the same opportunity to succeed without biases attached.
Essentially, inclusion must be a key component in any working environment that wants to thrive. When it is applied at workplaces and schools, it means that everyone’s voice can be heard rather than being bullied into silence.
American Federation of Teachers. (n.d.). Workplace bullying. Retrieved from https://www.aft.org/position/workplace-bullying.
Defendi, Daniel. (2018, May). The real cost of workplace bullying. Retrieved from www.businesswomanmedia.com.
Orange, Amy. (2018, September 25). Workplace Bullying in Schools: Teachers’ Perceptions of Why They Were Mistreated. Retrieved from https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/00131725.2018.1461523.
Wet, C De; Jacobs, L. (2013, December). South African teachers’ exposure to workplace bullying. Retrieved from pdfs.semanticscholar.org.
Workplace Bullying Institute-WBI. (2017). 2017 WBI U.S. Workplace Bullying Survey. Retrieved from www.workplacebullying.org.
Dr. Mildred Peyton is an American Expert in school and workplace bullying. She’s also a national children’s author and the researcher of Exploring the Meaning of School Bullying Among Parents of Victimized Children. Dr. Peyton is the Founder and President of Peyton Consulting, LLC- a bullying prevention firm that provides services to schools, individuals, companies, and youth organizations. To learn more about Dr. Peyton please visit her website at www.drmildredpeyton.com.