The Scourge of Workplace Bullying

The Scourge of Workplace Bullying

By Peggy Flanigan
 

Workplace bullying destroys individual and organizational value.   It demoralizes teams and erodes precious organizational commitment and productivity.  It undermines peoples’ confidence, derails reputations and careers, not to mention the emotional (and therefore physical) toll on those who are targeted by the bullies.  It shows up as absenteeism, longer-term sick leave, and a revolving door of terminations and transfers.

Research suggests that somewhere around 15% of the working population are, even now, bullied at work, with 2-3% of people being bullied to such an extent that it has occurred for longer than six months, multiple times a week.

These estimates appear to be consistent in North America over twenty years of research.

Repairing the damage to individuals, to teams, and to relationships is very tricky and often fruitless.

With such a negative impact risk to people and organizations, let alone the risk to corporate reputation and of expensive investigation and litigation, it would seem that early intervention would be important.  Would you know if someone on your team was being bullied?  Most of us would be pretty certain that we’d know if a colleague was being bullied.  We know the behaviours:  the yelling, intimidation, teasing, physical abuse, humiliation, and ostracism, just to name a few.  After all, research estimates that 40% of Canadian workers have themselves experienced workplace bullying first hand (as a target, bully or bystander) over their working lives. Research suggests that somewhere around 15% of the working population are, even now, bullied at work, with 2-3% of people being bullied to such an extent that it has occurred for longer than six months, multiple times a week.  These estimates appear to be consistent in North America over twenty years of research.

Workplace bullying destroys individual and organizational value. It demoralizes teams and erodes precious organizational commitment and productivity.

So, why can’t we seem to make a dent in this dysfunctional behaviour?

Perhaps part of the answer lies in intersection of three inconvenient truths.  First, some of the bullying behaviours are extreme versions of behaviours we actually value, such as conviction, winning, persuasion, power and command.  Second,  bullying is a game of escalation, increasing pressure, and many of the discreet bullying behaviours and tactics are rationalized as personality conflicts, performance issues, and interpersonal problems.  Last, the messy backdrop of organizational realities such as politics, role and task confusion, imperfect information, and internal competition complicate the ‘signal to noise’ effect.

Organizations can play a key role in reversing this trend. They need to sensitize employees to bullying behaviours through training and dialogue.

These dynamics cause us to effectively, if unintentionally, assist the bully and further injure the target.

Organizations can play a key role in reversing this trend.  They need to sensitize employees to bullying behaviours through training and dialogue. They need to overtly foster civility and respect in the workplace as a way to fortify the organizational culture against bad behaviour and encourage appropriate intervention while issues are still manageable.  Investing in a respectful culture will yield not only a highly desired place to work, but decreases healthcare costs and improves productivity.”

About the author: Peggy Flanigan is a Doctoral candidate in Business Administration at Athabasca University who is conducting her doctoral research on “Workplace Bullying.”

Copyrighted Material: Title picture is not associated with the original writing and copyright of our sponsor designplex.ca.

The article was originally published on ASQ OTTAWA website in February 19, 2016.

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