In her new book, Sticks and Stones, Emily Bazelon explores the world of school bullying. In this excellent reflection on a growing and pervasive social issue, she makes points that translate directly into the issue of workplace bullying. She makes other points that indicate a clear distinction between those two worlds.
What is the Same?
Loose Definitions. In both schools and workplaces, bullying has become loosely defined. People use the word to refer to any social pressure or unpleasant interaction. Bazelon makes the point that an all-inclusive term inhibits developing effective interventions to address school bullying. It has a parallel impact in workplaces. In both settings, the distinct qualities of bullying—repeated mistreatment based on a power differential—identify a specific problem.
A Social Construct. Bullying is too often dismissed as an individual failing. The bully is a bad person, flawed in some manner. Bazelon makes a strong case in her detailed cases for the social context of schools and communities contributing to or perpetuating the problem. With workplace bullying, some organizations lack effective policies. Some organizations articulate policies they fail to enforce. Some organizations have a high tolerance for rude and disrespectful behavior that may be a precursor for bullying. Approaching bullying as a social construct broadens the range of action. In addition to addressing perpetrators, improving the workplace culture becomes a shared responsibility.
What is Different?
Immature Brains. Bazelon puts part of the explanation for school bullying on immaturity. She notes that the frontal cortex continues to develop through the teenage years. Higher order moral thinking has not been fully formed. Issues of reciprocity and respect are forming throughout the teens; higher order principles of morality come into their own in adulthood. The age at which people move through the Kohlberg states varies. Some achieve a stage much later than their peers. Some may never achieve the highest levels of moral development.
Workplace bullying occurs among adults. They know better. The health care professionals with whom I work have maturity in years and training in health. They have much weaker ground to justify their behavior. They need to address the problem vigorously with an effective program, such as CREW.
To Read from The Atlantic