Human resources: the complexities surrounding workplace bullying and its elimination
Workplace bullying is emotional abuse that occurs in a relational way through human social interaction
BUllying in the workplace is a universal phenomenon that is well documented worldwide. A recent analysis of prevalence trends on all continents reported in the Handbooks of Workplace bullying, psychological violence and harassment Volume 1, undertaken by Jose-Maria Leon Perez and colleagues, indicates a range of 4.1% to 51.0%. Our survey shows a prevalence rate of over 40% in India. Indeed, noting the extent of the problem, the ILO adopted on June 21, 2019 Convention 190 on violence and harassment at work. Researchers and practitioners focused on the issue predict that the incidence of workplace harassment is expected to increase worldwide with neoliberal capitalism, precarious work and other changes in the world of work linked to the Covid-19 pandemic .
However, the term “being bullied” is used widely by members of the workforce these days to refer to ego struggles, rude comments, negative comments, strict expectations, dissent, conflicts, emotional abuse, etc., so that it loses its meaning. In fact, bullying has become a catch-all word, mistakenly used for all manner of workplace abuse, encompassing both milder and infrequent variations of negative behavior like incivility (rude or rude behavior) and social weakening (attempts to hinder the success of others), situations of exploitation and control as well as physical violence. Indeed, employee performance demands are often mistakenly viewed as bullying, although, as our research proves, there is a noticeable difference between workplace bullying and workplace controls, the performance management and operations. So what is workplace bullying and what can be done about it?
What is workplace bullying?
Workplace bullying is emotional abuse that occurs in a relational way through human social interaction. It is recognized as unethical behavior that goes against universal standards of socially acceptable behavior. Cross-cultural variations notwithstanding, workplace bullying essentially comprises persistent behaviors of aggression and hostility related to the person and to the tasks that cause harm to targets.
Person-related behaviors include offensive and disparaging remarks (including of a personal nature); excessive teasing, sarcasm and ridicule (including labeling and name calling); gossip or rumors; persistent criticism; intimidation and threats; constant allegations and accusations; and exclusion. Task-related behaviors include unreasonable delays or unmanageable workloads; excessive work supervision; retain the necessary information related to the tasks; and insulting, trivial or meaningless tasks or even no tasks. Yet bullying is not just a list of negative acts, but rather a complex and structured constellation of aggressive behaviors interwoven with persistence, power, target orientation, and intention. Its variants include interpersonal bullying (where the target orientation is important, although the intention can be contested), depersonalized bullying (where success at work underlies intention, although the target orientation is missing) and cyberbullying (online bullying that could be interpersonal and / or depersonalized).
Persistence involves repetition / frequency and prolonged duration / length. Repeated and prolonged bullying is closely linked to its escalation and escalation due to the frankness and seriousness that accompanies it over time. Indeed, it is persistence that gives harassment its corrosive and damaging character, distinguishing it from other types of abuse such as incivility or social harm which are sporadic, ephemeral or less severe. Bullying involves the exercise of power over another, resulting in an asymmetry of power between targets and bullies. Even though targets and bullies feel equally powerful at the onset of bullying, targets experience growing and defenseless helplessness over time, especially when their employers, in informal or even formal redress cases, step aside. side with bullies.
Why and how to intervene …
Bullying in the workplace, especially when it is prolonged and severe, traumatizes targets. American communication specialist Sarah Tracy and her colleagues point out how targets capture their experiences through metaphors. Bullying is like a battle, a nightmare, torture with water or dealing with a noxious substance. The bully looks like a narcissistic dictator, a two-faced actor, or a demon. Being a target is akin to being a slave, an animal, or a prisoner. To quote Tracy and her co-authors, “Bullying terrorizes, humiliates, dehumanizes and isolates targets … drawing attention and energy away from task completion and interfering with task completion.”
The impact of workplace bullying extends to businesses as well, with implications for a country’s economy. Evidence from Global North highlights that workplace harassment increases the risk of sick leave, intention to rotate, actual departure, unemployment, early retirement / disability and social benefits. Indeed, it is not the targets but also the passers-by / witnesses as well as the other collaborators who are concerned. Helge Hoel, an expert in the field, estimates that a typical case of bullying costs workplaces $ 5,000, which does not include lost productivity, potential costs to bystanders / witnesses and coworkers and damage to public relations. Australian legal researcher Anne O’Rourke and colleagues have estimated the annual costs of workplace bullying for various economies, highlighting figures in excess of A $ 6 billion for the Australian economy, at least $ 3 billion. euros for Ireland and about $ 300 billion for the United States. It is important to note that interventions aimed at addressing workplace bullying can help workplaces save resources. For example, it is believed that if the NHS in the UK initiate interventions to reduce bullying by as much as 1%, it would save them £ 9million a year.
Clearly, tackling harassment in the workplace is imperative. Primary prevention through respectful interactions in the workplace is obviously the best way forward, consistent with dignity at work and the ILO’s decent work agenda. Yet in the unfortunate case of bullying, senior management’s commitment to fairness and justice is crucial. Studies highlight how the position of senior management influences the outcomes of informal and formal remedies. Data from around the world emphasizes the power play involved – when top management sides with the perpetrators, justice is subverted; where top management approves objectivity, justice follows. In addition, spectators are believed to play a central role in resolving bullying situations. Yet, it is only if workplaces make spectators powerful enough to intervene that they will take such a step. Relevantly, the effects of workplace bullying interventions are seen as going beyond the exclusive fight against the phenomenon to improve the overall psychosocial climate of the workplace, making the effort worth the effort.
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