School Yard Bullying. Workplace Harassment. What’s the Connection?

Late last year I wrote a blog on the macroeconomics of gay bullying, arguing that not only are individual children harmed by bullying, but our entire country and our economic system suffer as well. When kids are bullied in school, whether LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) or for any other reason, they often react by engaging in destructive behavior including turning to drugs and alcohol, and dropping out of school. This in the long term harms our country within the competitive global marketplace.

And now I am in good company. Earlier this month, I was very pleased to see our nation’s president, Barack Obama even address this as a critical national issue. (Link to newspaper article.) This article states that 13 million children a year are bullied, which puts them at much greater risk of falling behind in school and engaging in destructive behavior. President Obama highlighted the need to “dispel the myth that bullying is just a harmless right of passage or an inevitable part of growing up. It’s not.”

Laura and Kirk Smalley weep in the background while listening to President Obama talk about their family's tragedy. Their 11-year-old son shot himself after being bullied at school.

But let’s take the next step. What happens with the bullies when their bullying is not addressed? They often can grow up and become bullies in corporate America. There is a fancy Human Resources term for this bullying in the extreme – it is called harassment. There are laws as well as corporate policies against harassment. But the bullying can be more subtle and take forms such as employee intimidation and threats of job loss or promotion blocking. This greatly threatens employee productivity as they operate from a sphere of fear instead of freely being able to offer their best to their businesses. Corporations really need to address all forms of employee bullying, blatant and subtle, if they hope to build the highest performing team. A fully inclusive and executed diversity policy that creates a welcoming environment for everyone coupled with “zero tolerance” of any form of workplace harassment, bullying or intimidation will maximize employee job satisfaction, loyalty and productivity.

Thanks to Katie Gailes of SmartMoves International who provided some ideas and inspiration for this blog entry.

The Macroeconomics of Gay Bullying

There has been a lot of media attention the past few months about the tragic suicides of several gay teens as a result of gay bullying. So often these vulnerable teens do not find any support in their schools, churches, communities and even families, and see the ending of their lives as their only recourse.

Damage from Bullying

Gay bullying damages more than we think. - photo courtesey of GLSEN

With this senseless loss of lives being an American tragedy, entertainment leaders such as Chris Colfer of the TV show “Glee” and Ellen Degeneres, as well as many religious leaders from several mainstream denominations have spoken to our country to address this bullying. But what is often missing is our business leaders and political leaders addressing the impact this bullying has on our entire country at the macro level.

Certainly the main focus of this discussion has to be preserving the dignity of every human life. But what we can add to the discussion is the wider impact. Behind the several teens who have ended their lives, there are also thousands of other children who are bullied and as a result participate in destructive behavior. These can include dropping out of school, alcohol and drug abuse, and running away from home. This leads to the downward spiral of ceasing educational and vocational development. We then as a country foster a set of second-class citizens who have dropped out of society and are not encouraged to grow with their skills to become contributing members of our economy. This will eventually develop into a drain on our country’s social services and health programs.

I believe every political voice on both sides of the aisle as well as business, education and community leaders can all unite on this issue to not only save lives, but to also contribute positively to the growth and education of every citizen. To complete in the growing global economy, we need everyone in our country to contribute to their full capabilities. It is good for every person as well as our country for each person to pursue education and vocational development with passion, not having to fear bullying in these same places they attending for this education. Every leader needs to step up to strongly advocate for strong laws as well as in depth education to stop all bullying of all people.

U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis with 27 employees recently posted a video for the “It Gets Better” campaign that underscores how bullying can affect the work force. View her video on YouTube.