Okay. Let’s do this. Let’s talk about workplace bullying.
One day in 2013, Jonathan Martin decided he had enough bullying at work and he did the unthinkable. He quit and filed a lawsuit. An investigative report carefully highlighted the abuse he experienced at work from his team and his supervisors. More shocking than the fact that this six foot, five inch tall, 315 pound grown man would quit a job because of bullying, was the fact that he walked out of a job playing professional football in the NFL for the Miami Dolphins.
People on the outside asked: How could anyone bully a man like him? He’s so big and strong!
Jonathan Martin was a promising standout at Stanford in 2012 by all regards. He had played football for a significant part of his formative years. Heavily recruited out of Stanford, he could have played for any number of NFL teams. However, and soon to his obvious dismay, the Miami Dolphins drafted him.
The Dolphins, their football field, locker room, busses, and private jets, Jonathon’s workplace, would soon become places that he loathed going to. He quickly became the sort of person who dreaded going to work and once there, who couldn’t wait to leave work. He reported the problem and that only seemed to make things worse. Ultimately Jonathan realized that no amount of money and fame was worth the cost of his human dignity.
People wanted to know: How can he say he’s bullied by people on his NFL team? Aren’t they all paid to be bullies?
As described in a fascinating NY Times article, “A Classic Case of Bullying,” Jonathan became the frequent target of workplace abuse by a handful of people on the team which included the primary abuser, Richie Incognito, known as the ringleader, three or more football players, trainers, and coaches. At work, Jonathan and others would have to face a culture of workplace bullying by multiple threatening agents of the organization using multiple forms of bullying from physical threats to cyber-bullying.
People would say things like: Why would a man like that quit? He should have just punched those guys in the face if he didn’t like what they said and did to him. He should have just manned up!
Then came the excuses. Then we heard from the enablers of this workplace bullying culture. Then we saw into the contradictions in their rationalizations.
- Our players were just passionate and misunderstood.
- If Jonathan wasn’t tough enough to endure this, maybe he wasn’t tough enough for the NFL.
- We have never tolerated abuse and bullying.
- I’m not sure if what they were doing could be called abusive…it was just a little harmless hazing and rough-housing.
- They were just having fun and Jonathan took it the wrong way.
- The same thing happened to plenty of other players and none of them complained or quit.
- For as much as we pay these players they really shouldn’t have anything to complain about.
- Every sports team does stuff like this and people have made us out to be the bad guys.
- It’s just boys being boys; they work hard and they play hard.
- Nobody got hurt…physically.
- This was all just a part of team-building and getting the team to bond and become closer.
- This kind of stuff happened to me all the time and I survived it and I was successful.
- We need these sorts of things in the game to blow off steam and take the pressure off.
- It’s the NFL and that means it’s the no sissy league. Nobody forced him to join the NFL.
- Our players are all very young and sometimes they do stupid things.
- Is this really what you want to talk about? Don’t we have more important things to focus on?
- One man’s bullying and abuse is just another man’s tough-love.
- This is all Jonathan’s fault.
- We’re really sorry, if we offended anyone.
- Can we all just get back to playing football?
- This is just another symptom of the sissification of America!
Bullying has been front and center in the news and on social media for a long time now. Unfortunately bullying is still out there. We still need to do more and pay added attention to this solvable problem. When you are bullied it feels like you have to deal with your own personal and private war on terror. It’s intense. How do you think Jonathan felt on his daily drive to work? Is his experience unique? Can it be easily dismissed?
My son, a high school student, a junior, and the middle linebacker on his varsity football team, sat in the cafeteria one day and another kid came by and told him to get up and leave. The kid had been harassing my son for a while now related to some girl they were in competition for. I had given my son some pointers on how to deal with the kid if the harassment didn’t stop. My son told the kid to bug-off. The kid called my son the n-word and punched him in the face.
My son, who was a pretty big kid, much bigger than the bully, and who took years of martial arts, actually followed my instructions and stood up and went to the principal’s office to report the incident. Unfortunately I have had to have the what-to-do-if conversation with my son on multiple occasions. Oddly enough my son called me from the principal’s office and stated to me that the principals where not there and his counselor advised him to grow up and handle his own problems.
I said to my son, “Give your counselor your cell phone right now.” With the counselor on the phone I calmly clarified my expectations of the school and the district and that defending yourself from racist bullies was not part of my son’s curriculum. I then said that if the counselor refused to do his job, and my son was then forced to defend himself in school in any way, then the next phone call would be from my attorney.
The principal called me later that evening to apologize for their poor initial handling of the issue. The bully was suspended for two weeks and required to attend behavior modification classes before he could return to the general school population. His parents were required to participate in his rehab also. That bully never bothered my son for the rest of their time at the school.
Playground bullies cause:
- Increased dropout rates
- School fights
- Student gangs
- Student depression
- Student suicides
Because of workplace bullies:
- The risk of workplace violence is higher.
- You won’t get your best ideas from your brightest people.
- Valuable people assets leave to go work on a better team that ensures fairness equally.
- You end up with a team full of people who are either bullies or the bullied.
- You receive a lackluster performance evaluation yourself.
- The whole team ultimately has to work harder to make up for stupid bully moves.
- Team problems go unresolved and actually increase.
- You spend more of your time dealing with problems that have an adverse effect on the actual work that has to be done.
- The product we end up with only satisfies the bully.
- You end up with a work environment where employees (and possibly you) hate to come to work and just can’t wait to leave.
- Employees and team members have increased numbers of absences.
- You could very well end up with incidents of workplace violence.
- You will have more employee complaints, increased corporate liability, potential charges of a hostile work environment, and legal actions.
- You end up with a workplace where only the bullies are happy to work there.
- You end up losing your job because you didn’t do anything about what you saw.
- You go to jail.
Just like high school bullies, workplace bullies bring their own brand of unacceptable and unneeded friction, dirt, and grit to the workplace. Unfortunately, workplace bullying is spreading and becoming its own silent epidemic, robbing American businesses of billions of dollars in lost productivity.
One risk of highlighting such an extreme case like the Richie Incognito/Jonathon Martin bullying case is that some will think this is what workplace bullying looks like and unless it looks like this, then it might not be workplace bullying. Hopefully this example has only opened your mind about the wide range of things that can easily be called workplace bullying.
As we continue this discussion in my next three articles, I hope we will all come to a better understanding of this issue while at the same time absorbing some lessons learned and skills needed to deal with workplace bullying no matter where you work and no matter what it looks like.