More and more organizations today are establishing capabilities – whether internal or external – to identify behaviors of concern and assess whether an individual may be on a path to violence. As I regularly discuss in my blogs, doing so requires knowledge and appreciation for a lot of related issues – from termination procedures to domestic violence. One of these is bullying. Since October is Bullying Prevention Awareness Month, I thought I would share some thoughts on this vital topic.

Bullying Prevention: Knowing the Facts

In 2006, PACER’s National Bullying Prevention Center teamed up with a variety of national organizations, including the National Education Association, to make October a time to raise awareness for bullying. The Executive Director of PACER at the time, Paula F. Goldberg, noted that bullying can cause “school violence” and “160,000 children in the United States miss school each day as a result of being bullied.”

PACER encourages both educators and lawmakers to foster programs and policies that will protect children in school. Among other things, PACER’s campaign to stop bullying sought to do the following.

  • Offering information and education about how everyone can prevent bullying
  • Talking with education and public policy leaders about their roles in bullying prevention
  • Promoting dialogue between educators, parents and students on their roles in addressing and preventing bullying
  • Encouraging organizations to share information about their bullying prevention resources
  • Inspiring everyone to unite for kindness, acceptance and inclusion

From the Schoolyard to the Office

The goals and practices we promote in a workplace violence prevention context are not dissimilar from those listed above for PACER. We often encourage employers to communicate with their employees regarding any safety concerns or ongoing issues like a restraining order; educate employees and any security function in how to prevent or mitigate workplace violence; and share information as much as possible between stakeholders.

Much like a child may face retribution in a classroom, many employees may endure repeated slights or adverse actions at work. Harassment or bullying in schools and workplaces has often led to a dangerous environment and caused many acts of targeted violence. As threat assessment professionals, we use the term targeted violence as any incident of violence where a known or knowable attacker selects a particular target prior to their violent attack.

The Link Between Bullying and Workplace Violence

In a landmark study of school shooters conducted by the U.S. Secret Service, 71 percent of attackers “felt persecuted, bullied, threatened, attacked or injured by others prior to the incident.” In one specific case, schoolmates later said that the attacker was a frequent target of “teasing” at school. In fact, they noted that nearly every fellow student had either “thrown the attacker against a locker, tripped him in the hall, held his head under water in the pool, or thrown things at him.”

Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM)’s definition of bullying in the workplace carries similar characteristics as those described above. SHRM defines bullying as “unwelcome behavior that occurs over a period of time and is meant to harm someone who feels powerless.”

The Workplace Bullying Institute’s 2017 National Survey found that 61 percent of Americans are aware of “abusive conduct” in the workplace, with the majority of perpetrators being bosses. In turn, 65 percent of targets described losing their job in some way that corresponded with their being bullied at work.

Like at schools, these incidents have very real and tragic consequences. According to the National Safety Council, 2 million American workers report that they have been a victim of workplace violence every year. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) continues to warn that this violence can occur at any time and no one is immune.

The Warning Signs and What to Do About Them

The conditions highlighted by the Institute’s survey — and the violence that can occur as a result of them — are of great concern to our practice. As in the case of school shooters, repeated and targeted bullying in the workplace may only build resentment among employees and accelerate negative effects like mental illness.

That is why our firm stresses that bullying is a warning sign of behavior that if left unchecked, could potentially escalate into an act of workplace violence with tragic consequences.

Our award-winning workplace violence training emphasizes bullying prevention efforts and a culture of courtesy, respect and safety that has always shown positive outcomes for our clients.

Together our firm and society as a whole can reflect on this issue during October’s Bullying Prevention Awareness Month and re-double our collective efforts to eradicate bullying and ultimately prevent targeted violence.