By Dawn Stranne, President, Dawn Stranne & Associates
Happy Snark Free Day! Today, our group of public relations professionals from every corner of America asks everyone to take some time to think about the power of words and to be snark free, just for a day.
Snark gone bad can cross over the ugly line into bullying at the office. For most of us, we probably experience or dish out a little snark at work now and then. But for those who have been bullied, snark is probably where the bully began the torture.
How is snark different than bullying? Bullying is a pattern that systematically beats down an employee. Make no mistake, morale and productivity can suffer in an atmosphere of bullying or snark.
A 2010 survey by the Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI) found that 35% of the U.S. workforce (an est. 53.5 million Americans) reported being bullied at work and an additional 15% witnessed it.
Surprisingly, there is not a single federal or state anti-bullying law for the workplace in America. Two months ago, California’s Governor Jerry Brown signed Assembly Bill 2053 requiring managers to undergo training on preventing abusive conduct at work. California’s new law is a start, but it is far short of the proposed Healthy Workplace Bill, which has been introduced in many states and defines an abusive work environment, gives employers reason to terminate or sanction offenders, allows the target to sue the bully as an individual, and seeks restoration of lost wages and benefits.
The Healthy Workplace Bill calls for action when mistreatment is so severe that it impairs a worker’s health. No bullying case is trivial when a person suffers cardiovascular disease or some other stress-related health complication that prevents them from being a productive worker.
Some think that Federal Employment Discrimination laws would cover bullying. But, they only cover a hostile work environment if the recipient of the mistreatment is a member of a protected status group based on gender, race, disability, etc.
Others say that workplace abuse is best dealt with by employers. According to the WBI, when employers are told about incidents of bullying, nearly half do nothing, while 18% worsen the situation by retaliating against the individual(s) who reported it.
So, what can we do now?
1) Watch for snark gone bad and speak up for conflict-free work zones.
2) Review corporate statements of vision, mission and values—see if they promote a healthy work environment and are upheld.
3) See if a Healthy Workplace Bill has been introduced in your state.
If you know someone who has been bullied in the workplace, offer your support and suggest they consider professional help. Until there are laws against workplace bullies, they will need to look for a new job. Your words of encouragement can mean the difference between a tragedy and survival to someone who has been bullied.