Workplace bullying: examining the consequences
New research, led by the University of East Anglia (‘UEA’), reveals how being the target of workplace bullying can cause victims to behave badly themselves.
The study has confirmed that “the greater the intensity of bullying and the more the exposure to different types of bullying, the higher the likelihood of engaging in counterproductive workplace behaviour”.
In addition, the results show that “health-related symptoms are not always associated with experiences of bullying” and therefore misbehaviour may result from health problems even where bullying has not occurred.
This highlights that employers should always fully investigate apparent conduct or performance issues in the workplace, as it may be that these are a product of the employee’s health and/or the fact that they are experiencing bullying by colleagues.
Whilst employers sometimes decline to follow a formal disciplinary procedure in relation to employees that have less than two years’ service (as the risk of an unfair dismissal claim is much reduced), there are significant benefits in doing so. Not only does it perpetuate a more positive workplace culture, by ‘doing the right thing’, it could enable employers to uncover the real problem in a situation and also reduce the potential for alternative claims arising, such as disability discrimination.
ACAS (the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service) characterises bullying as “offensive, intimidating, malicious or insulting behaviour, an abuse or misuse of power through means that undermine, humiliate, denigrate or injure the recipient”. This can include seemingly trivial behaviour such as eye rolling and sarcasm, to more serious actions such as ostracism. Unfortunately, it is often the case that employees feel that they are being bullied by a colleague in a more senior position, which can prevent the victim from reporting concerns, for fear of reprisals.
In view of the potentially critical effects that bullying can have on an individual’s own conduct, performance, health and well-being, plus the impact on business from days lost due to absence as a result, it is crucial that employers foster a workplace culture in which any form of bullying is unacceptable and addressed appropriately.