She was a groundbreaking crusader against workplace bullying in the United Kingdom. Her exposés brought to light the difficulties facing employees from their unscrupulous employers, difficulties that were widespread and helped to undermine the confidence of a number of members of the British workforce. British broadcaster and journalist Andrea Adams began a movement in England that spread to many other countries and trained the focus of public opinion on a predicament that had plagued employees for some time, workplace bullying.
In her 1993 book Bullying at Work: How to Confront and Overcome It, Andrea Adams compared workplace bullying to having a progressive, malignant illness; it was a continual undermining of self-esteem that often led to genuine physical illness. Adams was a woman determined that this story would be told and that the problem would be brought to light. She wanted these victims of workplace “terrorism” to finally feel vindicated and she resolved to expose the perpetrators of this malignancy. As a journalist and broadcaster she had the perfect forum for bringing these shameful acts to the public.
Adams interviewed a number of employees in the course of her work, both women and men, who had experienced the devastating effects of these verbal strong-arm tactics. This intimidation can occur via individual attacks or as an undermining of groups of employees through offensive comments or vindictive threats. Although there is shaming and harassment involved, it differs from sexual harassment, in that there is generally no physical confrontation involved. However, it can contain a component of sexual harassment if it is directed solely to a particular gender and if it involves remarks of a sexual nature.
One story involved a man who had worked for the same company for 28 years who was finally bullied out of his job. He found himself continually badgered by a fusillade of insults from his boss and totally demoralized by the attacks. Eventually the man was forced to retire due to poor health. The tragedy is that he never really knew what he had done wrong. It was employees like this man who convinced Adams that her attempts to expose this workplace terrorism were justified. She would be a voice for hard-working but defenseless employees.
Workplace Bullying and PTSD
The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry has recognized bullying as a serious health issue. Its effects can be felt long after a particular incident has occurred and can cause avoidance issues and physical symptoms. Some in the psychiatric field have even referred to it as a form of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in a non-combat situation. The practice of bullying in the workplace can often result in chronic stress and anxiety, leading to mental distress and health problems. Those who suffer under this duress and coercion often suffer in secret and feel they have no one they can talk to about their dilemma. It is similar to the traumatic stress caused by domestic abuse or school bullying.
Workplace bullying has been described as “The Silent Epidemic.” The intimidation can go on for months, sometimes years, before the victim either leaves the job by quitting or retiring, or mentally breaks down. The other option is, of course, to keep silent and endure the harassment. This can cause all manner of physical symptoms. An article in Psychology Today has suggested that a number of maladies may be caused by excessive workplace intimidation. Stress and anxiety are typical reactions to bullying, as well as depression, and more serious illnesses.
In a study of British office workers, employees who were not bullied had a 30% lower risk of heart disease. In a 2008 study, researchers found that when bosses treated workers fairly, there was a reduction in sick leave and disability pensions. Another study that counseled victims of violence and overseas combat found that those who experienced bullying in the workplace exhibited symptoms that were similar, including nightmares, pronounced anxiety, and illness.
In a May 24, 1994 speech before members of the British Trade Union MSF (Manufacturing, Science, and Finance), Adams addressed the tactics of the office bully:
- Setting objectives with impossible deadlines
- Removing responsibilities and giving an employee menial tasks
- Taking credit for the ideas of others
- Excluding an individual in conversation or ignoring them in front of others
- Withholding important information
- Spreading malicious rumors
- Undervaluing the employee’s efforts
- Persistent criticism and ridicule
This type of continual derogatory behavior can have the effect of completely undermining an employee’s self-worth and can cause a rise in absenteeism, prolonged illness, job dissatisfaction, and ultimately, a reduction in productivity. Adams recognized that this was a problem that needed to be addressed, and until the end of her life she traveled to speak at conferences, run workshops, and lobby the government to strengthen legislation governing workplace harassment. British Columbia adopted Bill 14 to combat workplace intimidation, and a focus on the problem was also implemented in Quebec, Ontario, and Saskatchewan.
Carrying on the Legacy
The Andrea Adams Trust, an organization established after Adams’ death from cancer in 1995, carried on her fearless work in the field of exposure of workplace bullying. She had always been determined to bring to light these vindictive, cruel actions and abuses by those in power in the workplace. The discrimination against workers through humiliating acts meant to undermine employees has long been problematic, but Adams sought to disclose this behavior through broadcasts on BBC Radio, as well as through publishing the first book of its kind in England dealing with the problem of workplace bullying.
In the interim between the creation of the Andrea Adams Trust and the present, the Trust has passed the torch to other organizations, including the American-based Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI). These organizations credit Adams for her pioneering work into this insidious practice and continue to push for legislation and awareness of this destructive influence on the lives of workers everywhere.