Bullying is not new. According to researchers Gina Vega and Debra Comer, bullying is no new phenomena, rather it is old as time itself and should therefore, be considered part and parcel of the human condition (Vega & Comer, 2005). As many recent news reports would indicate and support, bullying is increasing in relevance and incidence within our society. Across the globe, news reports abound of tales of young people who commit suicide in the aftermath of horrifying episodes of bullying. Consequently, as a result of these reported instances of bullying, we tend to assume that bullying and harassment typically take place within an academic setting. Indeed, when the word bullying is used the image which likely comes to mind is that of a schoolyard bully or else-where within academia, irrespective of grade level.
However, the schoolyard is not the only environment rife with this kind of harmful behavior. Increasingly social scientists are discovering the many ways in which bullying is effectuated in the workplace and the concomitant harms it engenders. According to researcher, Clive Boddy, workplace bullying is widespread, inherently unfair to its victims and presents a key ethical problem in modern workplaces (Boddy, 2011). Naturally, this raises questions in terms of how should bullying and harassment be addressed in organizational settings?
Discussion and Analysis
Although workplace bullying and harassment may not garner as much press and sympathy, workplace bullying is equally as pervasive, relevant and damaging. Bullying in today’s marketplace is a serious problem; the great majority of workers have either been bullied or else they know someone who has been the victim of bullying (LaVan & Martin, 2008). It can lead to a virtual plethora of dysfunctional and negative outcomes both for the individual and also for the organization (Boddy, 2011). Some examples of bullying in the workplace include: An employee is constantly criticized, ridiculed and excluded from work related activities, but is also fearful of reporting the bullying out of fear or the manager who views bullying as an effective managerial style (LaVan & Martin, 2008).
The inherent and perhaps, ultimate, goal of bullying according to Boddy is to undertaken to main the power and control of the person doing the bullying (Boddy, 2011). Many people are of the opinion that bullying is something that can be brushed off, but within the workplace, the impact of bullying can be quite harmful, both to the victim and also to the organization. As Vega and Comer (2005) note “the demoralization victims suffer can create toxic working environments and impair organizational productivity”. However, before we can consider the ways in which workplace bullying and harassment can be effectively managed, we need to understand, exactly what constitutes bullying and harassment within the workplace. Unlike schoolyard bullying, workplace bullying is typically carried out adults and these adults are usually aware that their behavior is harmful and destructive (Vega & Comer, 2005).
One of the inherent harms of workplace bullying is that, historically, it has been accepted within organizations. In fact, Vega and Comer suggest that workplace bullying is “often tacitly accepted by the organizational leadership” and “can create an environment that diminishes corporate productivity and inhibits individual and group commitment” (Vega & Comer, 2005). In view of the harmful effects of workplace bullying and the concomitant ethical concerns addressing it faces, a key question is how can human resources managers effectively address and manage workplace bullying and harassment?
As indicated earlier, workplace bullying can, has and will continue to raise key ethical concerns relative to managing the same. As researchers LaVan and Martin (2008) note, “the inadequacies of legal protections for bullying within the U.S. workplace further compound the problems associated with workplace bullying”. Given the potential harms bullying in the workplace can engender for both the organization and the worker, it is important that human resources managers address these issues properly.
One course of action human resources managers could implement is to develop a strong policy which addresses workplace bullying and concomitant harassment. Any such policy should be updated frequently and employees should be consulted in the development of the same. The policy should contain clearly delineated procedures which define what is considered bullying in their workplace and the procedures relevant to reporting incidents, investigating such incidents and also resolving such incidents. This is key, given the fact that researchers seem to agree that organizations and/or organizational leaders appear to tacitly accept bullying in the workplace (Vega & Comer, 2005). While this may not be true, when organizations and leaders ignore or willful refuse to investigate reported incidences, their actions can give rise to a presumption that the organization simply does not care.
Moreover, given the panoply of actions, as outlined in part, above, which may constitute workplace bullying, it is imperative that policies designed to ameloriate or even eliminate such behavior clearly define what is and what is not harassment or bullying. As indicated earlier, one example of workplace bullying can be found within a manager’s style. What one person may consider bullying, another may consider an effective management style. A clear, consistent policy would eliminate any confusion and ultimately provide confidence and relief to the employees.
The effective management of bullying and harassment is extremely relevant to today’s modern workplace, where we have to balance shifting gender roles, shifting sexual orientations, the inclusion of minorities and other issues which may give rise to bullying and harassment. It is in any organization’s best interest to address bullying and harassment before it becomes a major issue, as it can cost the company in terms of productivity, morale and in the event a victim sues, the pecuniary costs can be prohibitive and the bad press could, in theory, destroy a given organization.
As all the researchers included in this analysis have acknowledged, bullying is not new, irrespective of the environment in which it is practiced. It is clear that bullying will never be completely eradicated; therefore, the only reasonable solution thereto is to manage these environments to ameliorate the admittedly deleterious effects of workplace bullying and harassment. Wise human resources would acknowledge this reality and move to implement measures designed to address workplace bullying before it gets out of hand, before it impacts an organization’s effectiveness and productivity. While there are many tools a human resources manager could use, one of the more effective tools is through a strong policy which not only outlines and specifically defines what constitutes bullying and harassment, but one that also outlines the process for reporting and resolving workplace bullying and harassment.
- Boddy, C. (2011). Corporate psychopaths, bullying and unfair supervision in the workplace. Journal Of Business Ethics, 100(3), 367–379.
- Cummings, L., & Rowe, M. (2010). Concerns about Bullying at Work as Heard by Organizational Ombudsmen. Perspectives On Work, 14(12), 15-18. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/41810182
- LaVan, H., & Martin, W. (2008). Bullying in the US workplace: Normative and process-oriented ethical approaches. Journal Of Business Ethics, 83(2), 147–165.
- Liefooghe, A., & Davey, K. (2010). The language and organization of bullying at work. Administrative Theory & Praxis, 32(1), 71–95.
- Vega, G., & Comer, D. (2005). Sticks and stones may break your bones, but words can break your spirit: Bullying in the workplace. Journal Of Business Ethics, 58(1-3), 101–109.