Workplace Bullying and the Role of Human Resource Management

By Dr. Lisa M. S. Barrow

For ten years, Monica has excelled in her position as a system analyst for XYZ Limited. Her superiors and colleagues respect Monica as a trusted “go to” person. Monica has received various awards and glowing performance reviews. She prides herself on producing quality work and for her ability to positively interact and influence others.  Her hard work and dedication are paying off; she is currently the primary candidate for a key leadership position.

But lately, Monica has noticed an increase in tension between herself and her supervisor Mike. He is cold and distant; he barely speaks to her and is increasingly rude and demanding. Mike humiliates Monica in front of her colleagues and clients. He privately questions her work, but publicly takes credit for it. Mike moved Monica’s desk to a remote area of the office, isolating her from the team. Mike transferred many of Monica’s responsibilities to less qualified colleagues. Monica is confused as to why Mike is treating her in this manner.

Monica decides to discuss the situation with Mike. During the meeting, Mike aggressively denies treating Monica differently, becoming angry and defensive. He accuses Monica of being too sensitive and paranoid. He suggests that Monica is not ready for a leadership role because she hasn’t developed a thick skin.

Afterwards, Mike’s negative attitude and behaviour towards her intensifies. Monica can no longer avoid Mike’s wrath. Recognizing that she needs assistance, she contacts a human resource representative.

Monica is experiencing workplace bullying. According to the Workplace Bullying Institute (www.workplacebullying.org) 37 per cent of employees experience workplace bullying on a regular basis, declaring it an epidemic. It stifles careers, incapacitates employees and may cause targeted employees to take extreme measures to stop the bullying. Workplace bullying negatively affects an employee’s physical, emotional, and psychological being. It demotivates employees and affects their overall job satisfaction and performance.

Workplace bullying is repetitive, abusive behaviour that devalues and harms other people on the job. It is not usually physically violent but relies instead on the formidable weapons of hostile actions and words. The targeted individual is intimidated and tormented, putting his or her self-esteem and overall health at risk. When experienced over an extended period of time, bullying has a devastating effect.  Bullying will cause targeted employees to breakdown psychologically, emotionally, and physically, preventing them from positively contributing to the organization.

Bullied employees are often publicly humiliated, teased, called derogatory names, become the subject of malicious rumours, have their responsibilities taken away, and are not acknowledged for their work. They may be ostracized and denied promotional opportunities or may experience undue pressure to perform. If bullied employees’ performance suffers, they are labelled incompetent. The bully then takes steps to discipline, demote and terminate the targeted employees for poor job performance.

Unfortunately, the human resource department fails many bullied employees by not taking their concerns seriously. The bullied employees are seen as the problem, not the bullies. Often, steps are taken to terminate the bullied employees rather than address what may be a systemic problem within the organization.

Many bullied employees feel victimized by the bully and the human resource department. They feel helpless, frustrated, devalued, dejected and worried about the security of their jobs. Based on workplace bullying research, bullied employees have reason to be concerned – 44 per cent of them will lose their jobs. Bullied employees often question whether the human resource department has their best interest in mind or are solely concerned about protecting the organization.

Human resource representatives may not realize that they are inadvertently protecting the bully while significantly harming targeted employees. Workplace bullying statistics suggest that bullies are protected; only 1.5 per cent of them lose their jobs.

Some frustrated employees will choose radical, often deadly steps to escape the bullying. Seven per cent of bullied employees consider homicide or suicide. Though invisible to others, the wounds caused by workplace bullies are real. If targeted employees cannot turn to others for help, they may resort to drastic measures.

What can human resources do to address workplace bullying?

  1. Create a zero tolerance policy.
  2.  Implement procedures for investigating and addressing workplace bullying.
  3. Provide regular mandatory workplace bullying training.
  4. Hold bullies accountable for their actions.
  5. Provide support to bullied employees.
  6. Be empathetic and listen.
  7.  Lead by example.
  8. Commit to creating a bully-free organization.
  9.  Raise awareness about workplace bullying through newsletters, blogs, and anti-bullying events.
  10.  Say “No!” to workplace bullying.

Dr. Lisa M. S. Barrow is an Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Business at Brock University and Healthy Workplace Consultant. She is the author of two books, In Darkness Light Dawns: Exposing Workplace Bullying and Hope For A Healthy Workplace. For additional information visit www.bulliednomore.com.

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Category: Workplace Wellness

Comments (2)

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  1. In schoolyard bullying, the bullies are children, whose behaviour is controlled by the leaders, i.e. the school administration. In workplace bullying, however, the bullies are often the leaders themselves, i.e., the managers and supervisors. Therefore, reporting a bully to the HR dept, for example, may expose the target/victim to the risk of even more bullying, slower career advancement, or even termination, on the grounds of being a “troublemaker!”.

    Workplace bullying has severe consequences, including reduced effectiveness and high employee turnover. An employee who suffers any physical or psychiatric injury as a result of workplace bullying can confront the bully, report the bully to the HR department or to the trade union, if any, or bring a claim of negligence and/or a personal injury claim against both the employer and the abusive employee as joint respondents in the claim. If the law does not persuade employers to deal with workplace bullying, the economic reality will persuade them. Training sessions can help when combined with a confidential reporting structure, but it is difficult to alter the basic nature of some individuals, who may need counselling.

    Maxwell Pinto, Business Author

  2. Freddie says:

    How does one put 1 steps 1, 4 and 5 into practice? Are there any real life examples that can help illustrate them?

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