Are employers still failing to take allegations of workplace bullying seriously?
Based on an article in the latest issue of Journal of Management & Organization
Despite global recommendations and a plethora of academic research suggesting that companies should take workplace bullying seriously, the education sector in New Zealand are failing to take responsibility for the welfare of their employees and mentors, a new study has shown.
The research, conducted by Dr Alison Thirlwall of the University of Wollongong in Dubai, focuses on the opinions and experiences of 40 different members of New Zealand’s Institute of Technology and Polytechnic community who had either experienced workplace bullying or worked in HR in the sector.
The term ‘workplace bullying’ covers a range of acts, although it is generally described as being associated with behaviours that are repeated, hostile acts which are harmful to the recipient. Harm may be either psychological or physical.
The study outlines a range of responses that those who were the targets of the bullying said they received when they sought help or raised concerns, and HR workers’ descriptions of their own responses to such complaints and concerns.
The results suggest that managers, HR workers and union representatives prolonged bullying by making the problem seem trivial, treating the complaint as a private matter or personal issue, denying the claim, providing coping mechanisms rather than resolving the issue or pushing the target away when they requested help. Overall, the organisations did little to rectify workplace bullying and no examples of satisfactory, permanent solutions being implemented by organisations were supplied.
Crucially, Dr Thirlwall has used her findings to develop a set of terms for identifying the unhelpful approaches that may be adopted by organisations when dealing with workplace bullying.
“Organisational unwillingness to address the causes of bullying can add insult to the injuries or harm that the target has already experienced, and provides an environment where bullying is permitted to thrive. Providing names for elements of the bullying process can help people to see a pattern where they didn’t see anything before,” Dr Thirlwall explained.
“It is my hope that by giving these unacceptable behaviours a label, we will be able to develop approaches to remedy a global issue. Those with responsibility for providing a motivated and engaged workforce could use these terms to consider how they can reduce their negative impact on this phenomenon through policy creation, arranging training programs to help managers and employers understand about workplace bullying and providing a fair and decisive environment where bullying has less chance to thrive.”