The Bully's Pulpit

In how many workplaces is the safety director being insulted, threatened, or possibly worse just for doing the job?

Show of hands: How many of you have been bullied at work? And a related question: How many of you with a hand raised are HR professionals?

The Society for Human Resource Management recently posted an article about bullying that was written by Pamela Babcock, whom SHRM identified as a freelance writer from the New York City area. Babcock talked with Teresa Daniel, JD, Ph.D., professor and dean of Human Resource Leadership Programs at Sullivan University in Louisville, about Daniel’s survey of 102 HR professionals in Kentucky. She found 31.4 percent reported they had been bullied at work. Daniel's key finding was that 54.1 percent of bullied respondents believed the interference, threats, sabotage, intimidation, etc. were related to their HR role at their workplaces.

Granted, it's a small sample: approximately 17 cases of HR-as-target testimony from just one state. Babcock's article said a 2005 UK study of nearly 1,400 HR professionals agreed, however, with more than half saying they had been bullied and 55 percent of them saying their immediate manager had done it.

No one should be threatened or harassed or intimidated for doing his or her job. I'm not terribly surprised if HR is unpopular with workers who are stressed on the job, perhaps because their wages are flat even as health care and other costs rise. But unpopular with the management? That's harder for me to understand.

HR and safety professionals always stand a rung above the line workers and a rung below senior management. For the most part, they have authority but do not control spending, policy, discipline, or compensation. We've always said safety is a tough but rewarding job. In how many workplaces is the safety director being insulted, threatened, or possibly worse just for doing that job?

Babcock’s article was available in mid-December at http://www.shrm.org/hrdisciplines/safetysecurity/articles/Pages/BullyingHRProfessionals.aspx.

This article originally appeared in the March 2012 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

About the Author

Jerry Laws is Editor of Occupational Health & Safety magazine, which is owned by 1105 Media Inc.

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