Don’t look to the other side: rise against bullying!

Do you consider bullying an overrated phenomenon? Do you think that abuse and harassment at workplace are just exaggerated stories? Well, Fox & Stallworth (2005) have revealed that nearly 95% of employees have had some exposure to general bullying behaviors in the workplace over a 5‐year period. Now, in this article you will not be told that victims experience negative effects and should be protected (yes, they obviously should!). The very important fact, instead, is that workplace bullying has many organizational outcomes like sick leave, turnovers, reduced productivity among both victims and work groups and costs in relation to potential litigation. What about the costs? Leymann (1990), founder of scientific research around this phenomenon, argues that a case of mobbing may cost the organization around 30,000$ to 100,000$ each year.
Then, let’s try to understand what the word “mobbing” means and why evidence suggests that combating bullying makes good business sense.


How to recognize “mobbing”

While research on workplace bullying has recently surpassed the 20 year mark, Samnani and Singh (2012) have provided an extensive review of the extant literature focusing on the antecedents and consequences of workplace bullying. Thanks their review, we can realize that bullying is a complex and dynamic process, where individual, social and organizational factors may contribute at the same time to determine the actions and reactions of targets or recipients.
What can be considered as mobbing and what’s not? To avoid this issue, researchers commonly use the following definition of workplace bullying: 

“Bullying at work means harrassing, offending, socially excluding someone or negatively affectiong someone’s work tasks. In order for the label of bullying (or mobbing) to be applied to a particular activity, interaction or process it has to occus repeatedly and regularly (e.g. weekly) and over a period of time (e.g. about six months). Bullying is an escalated process in the course of which the person confronted ends up in an inferior position and becomes the target of sistematic negative social acts.” (Einarsen, Hoel, Zapf, & Cooper, 2003, p.15).

Through this definition we can extract four broad features to define mobbing: frequency, persistency, hostility and power imbalance. The last one refers to the disparity in perceived power between the target and the perpetrator, so it’s not only limited to hierarchical power.

Mobbing can occur from a superior, from a subordinate, between co-workers and even from customers or clients!

What kind of organization makes mobbing possible?

While some argue that personality traits and individual characteristics of victims or perpetrators are the principal causes of bullying, others claim that organizational factors play the most important role in this phenomenon.
There is a wide range of different personality tests and personality profiles about both victims and bullies that can be used in phase of employee selection. Nevertheless, one has to tread carefully with respect of these issues, not to be accused of “blaming the victim” nor “witch-hunting”. On the organizational side, Samnani and Singh (2012) found four major antecedents of workplace bullying: leadership and management style, organizational culture and ethical climate, organizational policies and situational factors.
So, what about your organization? If it’s characterized by strong power imbalances can create conditions conducive to workplace bullying. In organizations like that, workplace bullying may be wrongly considered an efficient way of inducing performance, without consideration of indirect costs. In this way mobbing could become accepted and even encouraged by the organization itself. Furthermore, evidences show that autocratic and laissez-faire leadership styles and authoritarian strategies used to resolve conflicts are often associated with the presence of mobbing. Infact, while an authoritarian manager may use bullying to display his authority, on the other hand, a weak leadership can be too passive and less likely to intervene when this phenomenon is occurring between co-workers.
Last but not least, the lack of a clear policy regarding this issue creates significant challenges for employees who would like to rise it against his perpetrator.


Takeaways for your practice

How can you fight this phenomenon and rise against the bully? First of all, ask for a Work and Organizational Psychologist! There are many different psychological scales used to measure mobbing, like the Negative Acts Questionnaire (NAQ) or Workplace Bullying Checklist (WB-C), that can assess if someone in your organization have been bullyied or not.
Secondly, organizations can prevent some level of power imbalances through structure and policies, particularly those regarding discriminations against groups that face additional barriers in the workplace. Evidences show, in fact, that 20% of the targets felt that they were bullyied because of being different from others on a certain characteristic such as age, race or gender.
A good policy against mobbing should make a clear statement about what your organization thinks about it, what is considered as an acceptable behaviour and what will not be tolerated, then should legitimize complaints about bullying, ensuring an independent advice (for example establishing a figure like the Compliance Officer) for those who want to rise against the bully. Finally, monitoring is necessary to assess the effectiveness and the intent of the policy. It needs to be carried out on a long term basis, i.e. annually and continuously.
You could find this and many other best practices in “Bullying and Emotional Abuse in the Workplace” by Einarsen, Hoel, Zapf and Cooper (2003).

So what about you? Are you involved in fighting against mobbing and bullying behaviors in your organization? In your organization are there policies againts mobbing?

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Einarsen, S., Hoel, H., Zapf, D., Cooper, C. L. (2003). Bullying and Emotional Abuse in the Workplace. London & New York: Taylor & Francis.

You can find the book here

Leymann, H. (1990). “Mobbing and psychological terrorism at workplace.” Violence and Victims, 5, 119-126.

You can find the original article here.

Samnani, A.-K., Singh, P. (2012). “20 Years of workplace bullying research: A review of the antecedents and consequences of bullying in the workplace.” Aggression and Violent Behavior, 17, 581-589.

You can find the original article here.

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