About half of the interviewed women worked in professional roles such as education, health care and management and the other half in non-professional roles in retail, food service and clerical. Over half worked in unionized workplaces. Most were bullied by a person in authority, most often a woman.
In the first stage, "being conciliatory", women try to make peace or avoid the bully, to make excuses and try to accommodate. Some may not have identified that they are being bullied. One woman attributed bullying to "I'm easygoing . . . I'm not aggressive." Some excused bullying by blaming their own problems or their work reputations. Another woman said, "(The bully's) gotta be going through something. She's very unhappy in her job." Eventually, the women see that the bullying is not transitory and question themselves: "Maybe I'm imagining this"; "Am I losing my mind? Is it this menopause thing?"
Women who felt supported by families, friends, or coworkers were more likely to look further and begin to question the bullying behaviour.
Some changed their approaches to work to fit bullies' expectations. "I kept changing me and changing me." Another would leave work at the right time and go back and finish her work.
One woman would close her door, and avoid contact with others, which ultimately compromised her work. Some women deny it to avoid filing harassment charges. When one woman's supervisor asked if she wanted to file a complaint, she replied, "I just want her to stop."
All these excuses and attempts to accommodate have an effect on women's ability to work and on their health.
When they begin to realize the futility of their responses, they begin to name it as bullying, and the transition to Stage Two begins. Women who do not identify what is happening "linger in the first stage, trying the same approaches repeatedly."
Women could recognize bullying earlier and spend less time in Stage 1, being conciliatory, if time and money were invested in educating workforces about what constitutes bullying and how it can be addressed. "There are devastating long-term consequences when women try to access resources that are too little and too late."
If employees who witness bullying felt able to record and report it confidentially, earlier intervention might be possible.
Currently fear of becoming targets themselves limits many bystanders from intervening.
Bravo to Judith MacIntosh, Judith Wuest, Marilyn Merritt Gray and Sarah Aldous for their study, Effects of Workplace Bullying on How Women Work. It is noteworthy that this was nursing research - developing knowledge related to nursing practice - expanding nicely what we think of as nursing.
More new research, from Queen's University, has showed that workplace bullying can be more damaging than racial or gender harassment.
"General workplace harassment is a subtle form of mistreatment that masks underlying motives." It may be especially detrimental because unlike gender and ethnic harassment, it is not illegal and because victims don't have a recourse.
Evidently, employers but also workplace health and safety legislation and commissions need to pay attention to workplace bullying. Prevention is also key. After the fact, there is no totally satisfactory solution.
The bully must get the message: "Don't even think of it." Potential targets must know there is help, bystanders must know how to react, and we must all see this as a social, not just an individual, problem.
Bullying will one day be seen for the costly, devastating and widespread violence that it is.