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Why Workplace Bullying Is a Serious Problem: Part Three

TASA Expert, Lawrence J. Fennelly CPOI, CSSM and Marianna Perry CPP, CPOI
Education and training of all workers is critical to elimination or a very substantial reduction of workplace bullying.

Education and training of all workers is critical to elimination or a very substantial reduction of workplace bullying.

Nopphon_1987 via Shutterstock

Preventative Actions

It is recommended that workplace preventative actions be extended to cover both active and passive prevention to prevent bullying and early intervention to modify behaviors, which might lead to bullying. Passive prevention encompasses education and training, public awareness, and documentation. Active prevention includes early intervention by management, a stated policy, and internal responsive structures.

Education and training of all workers is critical to elimination or a very substantial reduction of workplace bullying. It is the responsibility of management, unions, and professional and other representative bodies to provide such training both in the workplace and ad part of general vocational and professional training. Management training should include awareness, the codes of practice, and recommended approaches to deal with allegations of workplace bullying. All members within the organization have a responsibility to raise awareness of both the issue and its unacceptability in the workplace.

The group report found that many alleged victims of workplace bullying never achieve closure. The report recommends focusing on early resolution actions, making Employment Appeals Tribunal/Labour Court decisions binding and enforceable, and placing emphasis on timeliness at each stage of the process. It is important to note that these recommendations are qualified as follows:

  • The further into the process the parties proceed, the more adversarial it becomes, and an adversarial approach might succeed in apportioning blame but rarely succeeds in restoring a harmonious workplace. As such, a polarization of positions might divide the workplace and make it even more difficult for the alleged victim to return to normal working;
  • Creative and inventive approaches are best implemented at the early stages;
  • Alleged victims of bullying are often in a traumatized state. They may be medically incapable of participating in the process without timescales, so it is essential that the process is implemented in a timely yet efficient manner.

It is believed that appropriate organizational changes in concert with legislation will:

  • Give clarity of process to resolution for victims;
  • Give transparency to the process;
  • Offer timeliness;
  • Allow a higher proportion of cases to be resolved non-adversarial;
  • Give higher levels of early closure;
  • Offer less trauma for victims; and
  • Give clear and actionable data on trends and patterns in workplace bullying.

Workplace Stress

There is an overwhelming body of evidence that convincingly demonstrates a direct association between stress and ill-health outcomes. In the context of stress theory, bullying is a severe form of social stress at work and brings about a high level of escalation of unresolved emotion and often an imbalance of power/loss of power. Most studies in mental health effects and stress behaviors of victims of bullying report that victims could become:

  • hostile to their surroundings
  • suspicious and nervous of others
  • sensitive about injustices generally and specifically
  • unable to experience joy
  • at risk of being abused
  • alienated
  • suicidal

An Irish study (O’Moore, Seigne, McGuire & Smith, 1998) found 80 percent of those bullied had symptoms such as irritability, angry thoughts, crying, depression, and feelings of paranoia. Victims of bullying could develop increased negative views of themselves, others, and the world. Stress-related effects of bullying are both cognitive and emotional—how they feel, how they think, and therefore, how they work. The report identified bullying as a hazard, which can cause stress-related maladies. Stress is in itself, not an illness, and both the individual and the organization are responsible for preventing it from becoming an illness. Not addressing stress levels may result in stress-related illness, either physical, psychological, psychiatric, or an amalgam of all three.

Recommendations

Training of managers and supervisors in proper communication style, effective feedback and correction, and motivational leadership should be encouraged. Training in dealing with bullying issues and complaints should also be a priority. Internal investigations should always be impartial, independent, timely, and conform to the organization’s anti-bullying policy. 

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