Friday, October 21, 2011

(Ventura) Grand jury finds workplace bullying a problem within county government

The Ventura County Grand Jury recently concluded that workplace bullying is a problem in county government offices and encouraged county officials to develop a policy against bullying in the workplace.

"Unfortunately, bullying is not limited to schools," the grand jury stated in a letter released in late May.

The 2010-11 grand jury investigated bullying within county government after getting a complaint about it. As part of this, the grand jury interviewed past and current county employees who were the targets of bullying or witnessed it.

John Nicoll, assistant county executive officer and the director of human resources for the county, said county officials are preparing a response to the grand jury's report.

"We understand the concerns about conduct like that in the workplace," Nicoll said.

Grand jurors found employees "were yelled at by managers in group meetings and in public areas."

Also, employees, including some highly experienced ones, "were excessively monitored by managers to such an extent that they left their positions," the grand jury's report stated.

Some employees went to other agencies, while others accepted "a demotion to receive that transfer."

Others left county government for other jobs or retired earlier than they had planned because of a "manager's bullying behavior," the grand jury found.

Some employees were isolated both "organizationally and physically," the report stated.

The report found the county "has no written policy specifically directed against bullying in the workplace."

It also found that processes to report workplace bullying "are not trusted by employees because the agency with the alleged bullying issue is allowed to investigate complaints using personnel within its own organization."

Nicoll said there are mechanisms now in place for county employees to file a complaint if they believe they have been discriminated against.

As to the allegation by the grand jury that county employees have left their jobs because of workplace bullying, Nicoll said he "would be upset if someone were legitimately fleeing the workplace if they felt they were being mistreated" and felt they had no recourse but to leave.

"We do not tolerate employees being mistreated because they've filed a complaint," Nicoll said. "I'm disappointed if someone left for that reason."

Nicoll said he did not know how widespread a problem workplace bullying is in the county government.

However, he said "the county has gotten very limited number of complaints of inappropriate treatment by their supervisors."

The Workplace Bullying Institute, a nonprofit organization dedicated to eradicating workplace bullying through research and education, commissioned a 2010 study that found 35 percent of workers in the United States have experienced bullying firsthand. Men constitute 62 percent of bullies, while women make up 58 percent of the targets of bullying, according to the study. Female bullies target other women 80 percent of the time, according to the study, done by Zogby International. The study found workplace bullying is a silent epidemic since many workers who are victims of it or witness it fail to report it.

The group, which is based in Washington state, defines workplace bullying as repeated, health-harming abusive conduct committed by bosses and co-workers against others. Workplace bullying is legal in many states across the nation, according to the institute. The institute is working to introduce bills in various state legislatures that would make workplace bullying illegal.

The institute also found that workplace bullying costs companies millions of dollars in employee turnover, lost productivity and lawsuits. The grand jury seemed to agree, stating in its report that workplace bullying costs taxpayers additional money because the county must incur the cost of recruiting and training replacement personnel for those who have left their jobs because of bullying.

To be successful in today's workplace, employees must know how to stand up for themselves, said Barbara Pachter, a Cherry Hill, N.J.-based business etiquette expert and the author of the book "The Power of Positive Confrontation."

"If someone does not speak up for themselves, the bullying is far more likely to continue," Pachter said.

But standing up for oneself in a productive way means a worker must at once be assertive without being offensive, she said. To do so, it helps to use "a lot of "I" statements, she said, as in, "I find that action or statement offensive," rather than "you" statements, as in, "You are rude or abusive."

The grand jury is recommending the Ventura County Board of Supervisors issue a policy against bullying and collect data "to identify the existence and extent of bullying in branches of county government."

Such a policy should include descriptions of bullying behaviors to educate employees on unacceptable workplace behaviors and encourage employees to report this type of workplace abuse, the grand jury said.

On the Net:

Read the grand jury's report at

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