Sunday, June 27, 2010

A Little About Gender and Workplace Bullying

At the International Association for Workplace Bullying & Harassment I had the honor of hearing Denise Salin, one of the foremost researchers of workplace bullying, speak on the topic of gender as it relates to bullying at work. So here’s a few tidbits, as told to me, and 250 other attendees, by Denise Salin.

• Women are more likely to self-label as a target of bullying than men

• Women are more likely to label their past experiences as bullying when discussing them with others

• Women more often define bullying as emotional abuse and professional discrediting

• Men more often define bullying as manipulation of work

• Men emphasize victim characteristics more than women

• Women are more likely to conceptualize bullying as an organizational problem, with organizational antecedents and consequences

• Both men and women experience negative health as a result of being bullied, although the effects seem to be more poignant for women

• Women are more likely to seek social support and avoid the bully, while men are more assertive

• Male HR managers are more likely to refrain from taking action

• Gender of the target, perpetrator and witness all effect whether the witness labels what they observe as bullying (I didn’t catch exactly which gender labels what)

• Witnesses do not think men suffer health consequences

• Targets who exhibit gender-incongruent behavior are more likely to be bullied

• Research does not yet show whether gender matters in terms of job satisfaction, commitment, intention to stay, absenteeism, etc, as they relate to workplace bullying

• Gender is relevant for experience of bullying and for intervention purposes

The Role of Bystanders in Workplace Bullying

Bystanders play an important role in the process of workplace bullying because they have the power to help end it by standing up to the bully or reporting it to management. Sadly, often this does not happen and bullying is allowed to persist, many times for as long as five years (although targets usually quit after about two).

In addition, research definitely supports the fact that bystanders are troubled by the bullying they witness at work, and that their job satisfaction, loyalty to the company, production, and work quality all decline while their anxiety and fear increase. (Just one more reason managers should be focused on building a positive workplace, as if they didn’t already have enough.)

After returning from making my own presentations at the International Association for Workplace Bullying & Harassment, I thought I’d provide some insight into some of the things I learned there about bystanders.

Becky Byrn-Schmid presented her research on motivational factors for intervening or not intervening, and found the top reason people intervene is affiliation. She surmises that “administrators believe developing and maintaining cooperative teams is important enough to intervene”. Bystanders might also intervene because they believe it is their role and important to getting the job done. On the other hand, bystanders might not intervene because they see no evidence that bullying is occurring, have no support from management to assist in ending the bullying, do not have enough confidence in themselves to intervene, or are concerned it will create more conflict.

The winners of best paper, Sabrina Salamon and Sally Maitlis, delivered a presentation from research conducted by observing the lifespan of a group of undergraduates who met every week over the course of two school semesters. For eight months, they watched the class interact from behind a one-way mirror, and observed a gradual process of victimization that was institutionalized by the group and ultimately turned into what we would normally classify as “mobbing”. Mobbing is defined as a group of people targeting one person, such as in the case of Phoebe Prince; different than workplace bullying where one person is targeting one or more people. In either case, the mob or bully seek to ultimately eliminate the target from the group through employment termination or forcing him or her to quit. The researchers here, however, noticed that in this case the target became a scapegoat for the group – and therefore they did not want him to leave. When things went wrong, they had someone to blame.

One of the main causes of the aggression in this case was a lack of structure in the course, in that the course had no syllabus, no assignments, and no tests; students were left to create their own course and thus learn about group dynamics by ultimately reflecting on the dynamics of this group. The conclusion that lack of structure may have caused the aggression to occur further supports what researchers have already concluded: ambiguity is often correlated with aggression at work. Here, the scapegoat recommended that the class develop structure for themselves and ultimately was attacked for it, despite his classmate’s recognition that this was indeed a good idea.

The researchers also noticed that scapegoating brought the rest of the group together. Despite all the ambiguity, coming together to pick on one person provided a steady commonality to cling to.

Based on her research on bystanders, Maryam Omari and colleague offered insight into how to help bystanders come to a point where they might intervene and save not only the target but their own sanity and the workplace. They recommend that bystander education have three objectives: describing how to recognize bullying behaviors, enlightening bystanders that silence essentially legitimizes the bullying, and providing information on the role bystanders play and how to help stand up to bullies while protecting themselves.

Ultimately, I always advocate for training for everyone in the organization, along with many other action items that would allow a healthy workplace to flourish. Training should never be solely about workplace bullying and how to stop it – it should always involve information about recognizing, demonstrating and rewarding positive behaviors. A focus on the problem will only serve as a band-aid. Managers must focus on the well-being of the entire organization in order for any proposed solutions to actually work.

Friday, June 25, 2010

How to Manage an Office Bully - from INC Magazine Online

By Raven Hill

The news that former eBay CEO Meg Whitman settled a lawsuit with an employee whom she allegedly shoved has shined a spotlight on office bullying. Here's what you need to know if you have a bully in your workplace

Although bullying in schools has received glaring media coverage with laws enacted to address the problem, workplace bullying has not received as much attention or legal redress. Until, that is, the New York Times and other media outlets reported that California Republican gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman had settled a lawsuit for "around $200,000" with an employee who alleged that Whitman had shoved her.

(“Yes, we had an unfortunate incident, but we resolved it in a way that speaks well for her and for eBay,” the employee told the Times.)

The revelation raised the issue of workplace bullying on the national stage, perhaps for the very first time. The reasons behind office bullying are varied, experts say. Many people tend to look at bullying as a "playground problem" – bad behavior, but not harmful. And in most cases, bullying is not illegal, which leaves managers with little recourse. But it is real, experts insist, and deserves serious attention.

Bullying is repeated mistreatment – verbal abuse; threatening, humiliating or intimidating behavior or conduct; or sabotage – that prevents work from getting done and jeopardizes the target's health, according to the Workplace Bullying Institute in Bellingham, Washington. It can be a form of racial or gender discrimination although not necessarily. The bully may be a supervisor, peer colleague or lower-level staffer.

According to a Workplace Bullying Institute study, 72 percent of bullies are bosses and 49 percent of employees report being affected by bullying at work. This guide will help you to rein in an office bully to boost morale and avoid getting caught in a bully's bull's eye.

How to Manage an Office Bully: Are You a Bully?

Denise Dawson, who runs the blog, describes her first boss as "the worst bully," a cursing and screaming type who preferred to rule by fear. "We felt like prisoners more than employees," she says. "Morale was awful. Attrition was atrocious."

Continue reading the article here.

A Strong Ethical Culture Is Key to Cutting Misconduct on the Job

ERC study shows that employees take cues from top management, pressure from peers to do the right thing

Organizations with strong ethical values – from top executives to middle managers to workers – experience less misconduct, more frequent reporting of misbehavior and less retaliation on the job, a newly released study by the Ethics Resource Center shows.

The study – “The Importance of Ethical Culture: Increasing Trust and Driving Down Risks” – indicates that strong ethical culture in a company has a “profound” impact on the kinds of workplace behavior that can put a business in jeopardy.

According to the study, organizations with stronger cultures find far fewer employees (4 percent) feel pressure to commit misconduct than in weaker cultures (15 percent). Likewise, the rate at which employees observe misconduct by co-workers is nearly twice as high in weaker cultures (76 percent) as in stronger cultures (39 percent).

The report also finds that actions by top managers (and the way they are perceived) have a significant impact on outcomes and that co-worker culture – peer pressure – is particularly powerful in cutting the amount of financial misconduct witnessed by employees.

“The work of the ERC is exemplary,” said Roy Snell, CEO of the Society of Corporate Compliance and Ethics (SCCE) and the Health Care Compliance Association (HCCA), which sponsored the study. “They have many years of experience and tremendous data. The ethical culture is one of the most reliable measurements of compliance and ethics program effectiveness, particularly when you have such a broad set of comparison data.” This information should help many compliance and ethics officers in their effort to build awareness and understanding of their leadership.”

“The Importance of Ethical Culture” is based on results from ERC’s 2009 National Business Ethics Survey of 2,852 respondents. The survey findings had a sampling error of +/- 1.8 at the 95 percent confidence level. For more information on methodology, go to The NBES survey is conducted every two years and is widely used by chief ethics and compliance officers in business and government and by academicians.

“The NBES data consistently tell us that a strong ethical culture offers the best protection against risky workplace behavior, which can easily land a company on the front page in a very damaging way,” said Patricia J. Harned, Ph.D., president of the Ethics Resource Center. “Rules and a code of conduct are always necessary, but it’s good leadership and peer pressure to do the right thing that often saves the day.”

To view the study, go to

Read the original posting here.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Workplace bullying contributes to medical malpractice

Here's a really great article on workplace bullying and medical malpractice. The most important paragraph in the article is this one:

According to the Joint Commission (JACHO), an organization which accredits hospitals throughout the U.S., of roughly 5,000 sentinel events (events which resulted in patient deaths or severe injury as a result of malpractice) 70 percent were caused by poor communication between staff members and a leading cause of poor communication is workplace bullying. In an ISMP Survey 49 percent of health care professionals said that intimidation had altered the way they handled order clarification or questions about medication orders.

Thanks Kristin for talking about this very important issue!

Click here to read the article.