Workplace bullying is continual verbal, mental or even physical mistreatment of a person in the workplace. It can come from a boss or a coworker and can be harmful. It is a problem for employees as well as employers because it often begins in a stressful work environment and will eventually lower morale and productivity. Workplace bullying is an ethical problem that negatively affects people as well as the organization, therefore managers need to be aware of it and how to stop or prevent it.
Bullying is a growing problem in the workplace today. Workplace bullying is defined as “repeated, unreasonable actions of individuals (or a group) directed towards an employee (or a group of employees), which are intended to intimidate, degrade, humiliate, or undermine; or which create a risk to the health or safety of the employee(s)” (Safety & Health Assessment & Research for Prevention, 2011). It can occur over the period of six months or more. It is misusing power and can become abusive towards the person being bullied.
Behavior that is abusive or intimidating but not necessarily aggressive is a common ethical problem for employees. “Bullying is a systematic campaign of interpersonal destruction that jeopardizes your health, your career, the job you once loved. Bullying is a non-physical, non-homicidal form of violence and, because it is violence and abusive, emotional harm frequently results” (Dr. Namie & Dr. Namie, 2013). Bullying is harmful to the victim as well as others within the organization.
Bullying can be compared to harassment because the two are similar. However “bullying is different from harassment, harassment is one type of illegal discrimination and is defined as offensive and unwelcome conduct, serious enough to adversely affect the terms and conditions of a person’s employment, which occurs because of the person’s protected class, and can be imputed to the employer” (Safety & Health Assessment & Research for Prevention, 2011). There is a very line in differentiating bullying, harassment or aggression. It can be difficult to distinguish between aggressive behavior and bullying. However there are ways a person can tell if they are being bullied. Intimidation is a key factor. The bully sets out to intimidate or overpower someone they feel is weaker. An example of a coworker bullying someone is spreading rumors or gossiping about the targeted person. The rumors are lies made up to make the person look bad that obviously creates problems for the victim.
What is so unfortunate about this is that bullying in not necessarily illegal and is not always against company policies. Since bullies like to intimidate the person they may even physically abuse them or threaten to abuse them. This is actually rare but it is something that happens. It can also include excluding someone socially. For example an entire department decides to go out for drinks on a Friday evening but ‘Jane’ is not invited. There are times when coworkers get together after hours but a bully makes it a point to exclude that person whenever possible. In one case study a new staff member thought he had a lot in common with his new coworkers. They began to tell jokes which made him feel accepted however “gradually, these jokes become more personal (e.g. jokes about his sexual preference)” (Baillien, Neyens, De Witte, & De Cuyper, 2009).
This lead the new employee to report to human services that he felt bullied and asked to be transferred to another department. As a personal witness to bullying in the workplace it was observed that a coworker was being bullied and singled out. The employee had engaged in some behavior that was basically unethical. She had begun a personal relationship with a parent of a student. Once the friendship was established the employee began caring for the student after school. This is something that is considered a conflict of interest within the school environment. The employee was asked to fill out several forms, which she did, and asked to speak with a representative from the district. At that point it was determined by the district that the employee was not in any violation within the district policy. So the person continued to care for the student after school and was even driving the student home from school. In spite of the district stating that no violation had occurred the coworker that turned her in and the supervisor began to bully the person.
The person being bullied “Karen” was called names, made fun of, singled out and the coworker that had turned her in began to spread rumors about the Karen and told others that Karen was unethical. This continued for about a month. In one instance Karen was afraid to be left alone with the coworkers that had called her names or had intimidated her. Karen was perceived as a weak person because she was relatively quiet and appeared meek. Over time Karen began to feel humiliated and eventually depressed. Due to the added stress of being bullied at work her absences increased. Even the supervisor intimidated Karen and also engaged in some of the negative talk about the person. Karen was friends with the union representative and got the advice that she should seek help from the union.
Fortunately after the union became involved some of the behaviors stopped. However it had taken a toll on her so eventually she resigned from her job. Although it is unethical, it is possible for bullying to come from a supervisor. The bullying can be through unwarranted criticism, intimidation, yelling at or belittling the person. Sometimes a supervisor may remove areas of responsibilities without cause or establish impossible deadlines in order to set the person up for failure. Or a supervisor may choose to micro-manage the person and monitor everything they do so they can punish them later.
There are instances when the bullying comes directly from a corporation. This occurs when there are unreasonable expectations placed on employees because they will obviously fail to meet the goals. Some of the signs of organizational bullying include high levels of grievances, resignations and requests for transfers.
There are others ways a person can be bullied such as through jokes or emails that are considered offensive by the victim. Intruding on a person’s privacy by tampering with their personal belongings or their work equipment. While these seem like minor offenses, over time they can lead to a person to feel like they are being targeted.
There are several reasons why a person may be targeted. People that become the targets for workplace bullying are often independent thinkers and do not follow the crowd. They may also be more skilled and are perceived as a threat to the bully. Most of the time the person being targeted is an ethical, honest employee and is often the “go-to” person. They may also seem submissive and less likely to confront a bully.
Workplace bullying has long lasting affects on the victim. Some of the physical problems may include loss of sleep or appetite, headaches and stomach pains. There are also mental health problems such as low self-esteem, depression, and increased sense of vulnerability and feelings of helplessness or frustration. “A final aspect of novelty of the proposed model of bullying is that PTSD symptoms are examined as a possible consequence of the phenomenon” (Balducci, Fraccaroli, & Schaufeli, 2011). Although this is something that is highly debated that bullying could cause post-traumatic stress disorder there may be a relationship between the two. When a person has been bullied over a long period of time they may begin to have anxiety about going to work. The victim may feel withdrawn and will most likely complain to family members about the negative work environment. They might not want to go to work every day, which leads to increased absences.
When the victim does go to work they may have low morale or low productivity as a result of the increased stress. This is one of the reasons it is important for organizations to be aware of bullying. There are factors that increase the risk for bullying in the workplace. Some of these can be related to organizational changes such as restructuring or other major changes. There are also risks with worker characteristics such as age, gender or varying levels of skill. However one of the most common factors for workplace bullying is a stressful work environment. Staff shortages, conflicts of interest and personal conflicts are some of the things that create stress in the workplace and can fuel workplace bullying. When there is a high workload tensions run high and employees become frustrated and stressed out. That can lead to venting of negative emotions on a coworker or an employee, which is the basis of workplace bullying. In an organization without a policy in regards to bullying can negatively impact the workplace as well as encourage bullying.
There are many studies that have been conducted regarding workplace bullying. One study revealed that one cause of workplace bulling could be “that negative arousing experiences at work and stress reactions may predispose individuals to involvement in interpersonal conflicts which may then escalate into bullying” (Balducci, Fraccaroli, & Schaufeli, 2011). It will be very difficult to pinpoint specific reasons for workplace bullying but it is certain that there will continue to be research on this ethical problem.
In a survey conducted using friends and colleagues it was obvious that this is a huge problem. Out of twenty-six people surveyed, sixteen have experienced workplace bullying in some way. Eighty percent of those surveyed have witnessed a coworker being bullied. One hundred percent of the people surveyed would do something if they witnessed a coworker being bullied. So then one-question remains, why does the problem continue to increase if people are willing to step in for a coworker that is being bullied? There is a possibility that people just do not know what to do when it comes being a witness to workplace bullying.
The following graph shows the results of the survey.
Having witnessed workplace bullying it does put employees in a difficult position. There is some fear of retaliation for speaking up against bullying. It is important to know what policies there are and it also depends on whom the bullying is coming from but bullying can and should stop. There are things that an employee can do to stop the bullying. Keeping a journal and obtaining evidence such as emails, phone messages is going to be necessary to make it stop. Although witnesses do not always want to get involved having a record of when incidences occurred and who may have witnessed them can be helpful. If possible the bully should be told that their behavior is unacceptable and that it needs to stop. Reporting the behavior is the next step, to the supervisor, human resources or both. Either way a formal complaint sends the message to the bully that what they are doing is not okay.
Ultimately bullying does have a negative effect on the workplace. It also negatively affects the organization as a whole because it creates an unhealthy workplace. When employees are bullied there is often a high rate of turnover, which can be costly because there will be constant training of new employees. There is also a considerably lower moral when staff members are forced to cope with bullying. The decreased motivation impacts morale and productivity. When employees are unhappy with the work environment they provide poor customer service. This eventually reduces the image of the company and the confidence customers may have had in the past. Top management should create and support a healthy working environment. There are things that an organization should do in order to create a zero tolerance policy for bullying. Number one should be to define what bullying is and give examples of what the unacceptable behaviors are, and state the consequences of those behaviors. The organization and managers need to commit to an anti-bullying policy.
By committing to an anti-bullying policy, any bullying that is witnessed or reported should be addressed as soon as it occurs. It should be something that is taken seriously. By having an open door policy, ethical managers may make it easy for people to report incidences. Having an independent contact for employees to report these issues is very important. There should be procedures in place that would investigate complaints with the goal of resolving the problems or issues. The policy should provide support to victims and possibly services to help the bully. There should be prevention training for all employees within the organization to help establish a zero tolerance policy. However unfortunate it is “forty percent (40%) of targets never tell their employers” (Dr. Namie & Dr. Namie, 2013).
In order for something to happen regarding the issue management needs to know there is a problem and given the opportunity to resolve the issue. When management listens to the victim and does something about the problem this lets other employees know that there is a code of ethics that the organization follows. Knowing that bullying is not tolerated can help prevent bullying. This is what creates a positive work environment. Bullying is abusive and intimidating behavior that is harmful to people. When bullying occurs in the workplace it decreases morale, threatens productivity and reduces the quality of customer service. In extreme or prolonged situations it can even lead to post traumatic stress disorder. However there are ways to prevent workplace bullying by making employees aware that bullying exists and that there is a zero tolerance policy within the organization. Workplace bullying is an ethical problem that negatively affects people as well as the organization, therefore managers need to be aware of it and how to stop or prevent it. This is one of the keys to creating a positive productive, ethical work environment.
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