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Friday, March 21, 2014

Does Zero Tolerance For Bullying In Schools Impact the Workplace?

We have an entire generation emerging from schools that had zero tolerance for bullying, and I think we're already seeing the effects. I have some hypotheses on how zero tolerance in schools is changing the American workplace. Here are some of my thoughts. Do you agree with me?

Cocky nerd: With no bullies to suppress nerds, we're seeing the advent of the cocky nerd. Nerds used to be shy and hardly emerge into the light, but now they can be the most popular kids at school. I see a lot of cocky nerds emerging in music, and I think they're showing up everywhere. This is probably a good thing. If smart kids thrive, then everyone benefits when they come up with the cure for cancer, the personal helicopter I've always dreamed of, or a way to colonize Mars.

Lazy smart people: I was talking to my office manager about the disconnect between the younger generation and mine in the workplace. One of the big complaints I hear pretty universally is that the best and brightest grads can be downright lazy. They want to put in their hours, not work too hard, and go home at 5. My theory on this is that bullies in school made my generation's smart kids feel like they had something to prove. They'd become billionaires or cure heart disease and show everyone at the next reunion. Bwahahaha! Fast forward. This generation of smart kids were the cream of the crop in their schools and they were treated like gold. They won student elections, ran the clubs, and even became cheerleaders and captained the football team. They have nothing to prove. They're kinder and gentler, sure, but where's the motivation, the willingness to work late and put in that extra mile? Do bullies serve a purpose in society after all? What other explanation is there for some of the workplace behavior I see reported by frustrated HR people and supervisors? Where's the joy in working hard to accomplish a task exceptionally well?

Culture shock: With bullying alive and well in the workplace, we have a generation that is utterly unprepared to deal with workplace bullies. They think they can tell HR and everything will be taken care of, like dropping the anonymous bullying complaint in the middle school office. Ha! What a rude surprise they're getting. When this generation grabs some power in the workplace and the legislatures, bullying will disappear from the workplace too.

I think the trick here will to be for my generation and Gen X to figure out how to motivate the millennials (without bullying, obviously). I'm not sure what the answer is. These are obviously gross generalizations and purely untested hypotheses, but I think we'll have some unexpected effects when the zero tolerance generation takes over.

Bullies need to be eliminated in workplaces as well as schools. I think it's overall an improvement that this generation is a bully-free zone. Will they figure out how to end wars? Will they shun bullies instead of rewarding them? Or will they bask in the glory days when they were kings and queens of the school and wonder why they are getting poor performance reviews from the mean old boss?

So, do you think I may be right? Any other theories on how anti-bullying laws for schools will impact the workplace? I'd love to hear what you think.


  1. Fascinating thoughts. Although, I have to say, I grew up before zero tolerance for bullying and the smart kids were the leaders as well. But, the culture in which I lived praised academics, so that's probably why. Plus, our sports teams were pathetic, so the athletes weren't exactly the school heroes.

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  3. The problem of children bullying each other is not new. Most of us have encountered a bully at some point in our lives. Usually parents worry about their child becoming the victim to a bully in school. It is often quite a surprise for parents to find out that their child is the one doing the bullying. As upsetting as it is to discover this behavior, you must stay calm. To successfully help your child, you must go about resolving the problem the appropriate way.Luckily, after reading articles online, I found a perfect solution that has been working perfectly for your children and the rest of the family. Check this link: http://safekidzone.com/?a_aid=52f12fafd5de8

  4. You know, this may sound a bit twisted. But as a mom to a 9-month old, as much as it'll kill me at the time, I kind of want my kid to encounter a bully. I think, in general, you have to go through a bit of adversity in life to learn how to deal with it. I work in an urban public school system and I definately see the value in the no-bullying movement. But this constant reliance on the "go tell an adult" mentality doesn't nescessarily serve kids well. After all, what do you do when YOU'RE the adult that has never been taught how to deal with the jerk, the abuser, the racist, the sexist, etc.?

  5. If you think that zero tolerance policies on bullying have actually eliminated the experience of being bullied for an appreciable number of people who are now young adults, you are incredibly mistaken. Bullying as a behavior is quite alive and well, although recognition and intolerance of it has certainly seen an increase.

    I think what we're seeing the effects of now is parent over-protectiveness; a belief that parents can, and thus should, shield their children from all kinds of harm and adversity. We are certainly not the first generation of parents to want things to be better for our children than they were for us. I don't quarrel with the protective instinct. It's the belief that our children are constantly threatened by any number of evil things (bullies, sexual predators, bad grades, etc.) COUPLED WITH a conviction that perpetual parental supervision can prevent any ill from befalling our children that is both completely irrational and completely infantilizing for our kids.

    I'm pretty sure that Suzanne and/or Alison Green have linked to the Free Range Kids (http://www.freerangekids.com) blog that covers this issue and the movement to oppose it very well. They have both told stories of parents who want to (and in some cases, have) attend job or grad school interviews, or call rejecting employers to argue their nominally adult child's case.

    Two critical elements of good anti-bullying work are a) helping those who might be bullied to stand up for themselves and resist bullying in nonviolent ways. That's not always about calling in an adult. b) understanding that bullying is frequently about exploiting physical or social power imbalances by people who are on the losing end of other power imbalances, and solving those root problems. I think these could both bear positive fruit in the future for the workplace as those who've experienced them come of working age.


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