Does your employer support victims of workplace bullying?

Samuel Farley from the University of Sheffield on how you can identify whether an employer has a toxic culture and the factors that limit the impact of workplace bullying on people’s wellbeing.

Man bullying a woman sitting at a desk


When people speak out about poor treatment at work, it should be taken seriously. This has been happening a lot in the UK recently.

The Baroness Casey Review into the Metropolitan Police reported widespread bullying and harassment. Business lobby group the Confederation of British Industry has also announced a major overhaul after employees blew the whistle on its toxic culture, following multiple reports of sexual misconduct.

And deputy prime minister Dominic Raab resigned after being investigated over reports of bullying behaviour towards civil servants.

While attitudes to workplace behaviour have changed over the years, making sure employees feel well treated is important. Research has shown that workplace bullying has an incredibly damaging impact on people’s mental and physical health, causing high levels of distress and even post-traumatic stress disorder among some victims.

My colleagues and I wanted to determine the factors that limit the impact of workplace bullying on people’s wellbeing to establish how to help these victims. We reviewed existing research across 56 studies that looked at such factors as the personality traits of targets of bullying, the amount of social support they receive, and the “climate” or culture of their organisations.

It is often assumed that certain personality traits such as resilience or coping strategies like avoidance and confrontation can protect people from the ill effects of workplace bullying. But we found that the most helpful factors for victims are social support from colleagues and a workplace that prioritises employee wellbeing over job performance.

Other research shows that organisations with such priorities tend to do three things to limit workplace bullying. Most simply, they make it clear through policies, training, and communications that bullying is not accepted within the organisation.

They also design jobs to reduce factors linked to conflict such as role conflict and role ambiguity. And they have clear policies and procedures in place to ensure that any conflicts are handled fairly and do not escalate into bullying.

Organisations that are serious about addressing bullying should therefore have a “no tolerance” approach, create fair procedures for conflict resolution, and reduce unhealthy job characteristics such as role conflict or lack of employee control over their daily working lives. As well as helping those targeted by bullying, there is evidence to show that these kinds of policies can prevent new bullying cases from developing.

Searching for signs of a toxic workplace

Whether you’re thinking about taking a new job or want to make sure your company’s culture is up to scratch, this information could help you make a decision about your job.

To identify whether an organisation has a healthy working climate, think about whether it would prioritise your health over your performance. You can do this by looking at, for example, expectations around responding to work messages outside of working hours.

You could also find information on how the organisation responds – or plans to respond – to bullying complaints. Look for clues that a complaint will be taken seriously by reading the bullying and harassment policy, which is often online.

How will a bullying complaint will be managed? For example, is there a reasonable – or any – timeline set for handling such complaints?

Finally, look for evidence that senior leaders in the organisation take matters relating to employee wellbeing seriously and that they actively communicate this to staff. Unfortunately, organisations are unlikely to volunteer such details in an impartial way, but talking to current or former employees may provide a more objective picture, if not simply a different side to the story.

You may find that instances of unfair working practices have been called out in the news or on social media. Look at how the organisation handled this at the time and ask them – and other employees – about how the responses or resulting initiatives have been sustained over time.

If a company’s toxic work culture has been outed already, it must now make an effort to turn things around. These high-profile cases may also persuade other organisations of the importance of preventing bullying before it occurs – and of supporting those who raise concerns about workplace culture.The Conversation

*Samuel Farley is Senior Lecturer in Work Psychology at the University of Sheffield. This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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