The Need to Prevent Supervisory Workplace Bullying

The workplace is one setting that provides people with many experiences. As such, employees’ success or failures depend much on the particular situations that the office environment offers. Given a motivating surrounding, employees are expected to perform well and to deliver the things expected of them. Similarly, workers who are subjected to any form of work-related irritations, whether inflicted by their colleagues or superiors, are likely to manifest inefficiency and dissatisfaction at work.

One particular kind of job-related nuisance which has significantly gained concern is workplace bullying. The workplace is an area that is least expected to provide employees with harmful or damaging feelings and thoughts. This is because it is in such environment where employees can supposedly have the opportunity to do their tasks and show their potentials hence the need for the workplace and its employees to be free from any manifestation of bullying.

Bullying is, at present, alarmingly manifested in various workplaces. To make matters worse, workplace bullying is not limited among employees themselves. Bullying has escalated to a level that has involved no less than supervisors and higher management of companies. Supervisor or manager bullies use their authorities or positions to inflict harm to their subordinates.

Purpose of the Project

The purpose of this paper is to discuss, in particular, workplace bullying perpetuated by the immediate superiors of employees – or supervisory workplace bullying. In doing so, this paper seeks to present and analyze the essential details surrounding supervisory workplace bullying as an issue: its nature and characteristics, what causes the superiors to engage in it, its effects on the victimized employees, its overall cost to the company, and the things needed for its prevention.

Problem Statement

Supervisory workplace bullying has turned out to have a damaging impact on the employees and ultimately on the entire organization.  It triggers consequences that bring more harm, as compared to the bullying that employees can do amongst themselves.  Needless to say, efficient mechanisms for detecting and preventing supervisory workplace bullying have to be determined and put in place.

Problem Background

It is unfortunate to note that the workplace is the primary setting where employees are intimidated or bullied in today’s modern world.  Bullying is no longer a common happening in recreational areas with children as the involved parties.  The occurrence of bullying – especially supervisory bullying – in workplaces has become a serious concern that authorities both in the public and private sectors of society ought to address.  Otherwise, its casualties would continue to increase day by day and its growing total adverse effects would remain unchecked.

Scope of Problem Analysis

In order to have a better and clearer understanding of supervisory workplace bullying, it is necessary to present its nature and characteristics.  A detailed account of the dire consequences of supervisory workplace bullying and its quantified harm would help emphasize the urgency of preventing it from ever taking place.  Then to advocate measures against the prevalence of supervisory workplace bullying, specific ways to deal with it are included in this paper.

Description of the Proposed Project

There will have to be ways for properly dealing with supervisory workplace bullying.  Solving the problems it gives rise to will require adequate information on it – its causes and origin – and on how such problems arise from it.

Research Questions

Which supervisors are likely to bully their subordinates?
Which subordinates are likely to fall prey to the bullying of their bosses?
Which organizations are likely to have bullying supervisors?
What can be done to prevent supervisory workplace bullying?
Hypotheses

Hypotheses have been drawn for confirmation through research on printed reports and materials about workplace bullying as a whole, and through the use of survey results as reliable data to base conclusions on.

A set of hypotheses are focused on why supervisory workplace bullying has to happen.  One states that supervisors who are likely to bully their subordinates are those who are not equipped with sufficient professional expertise or know-how.  Thus, these supervisors try to cover or make up for their incompetence by bullying selected subordinates – in particular, those who are yet in probationary status and at the same time fearful of losing their jobs.

Another hypothesis states that organizations with well-oiled and transparent working systems do not provide settings where supervisory workplace bullying will thrive; these organizations, in fact, deplore supervisory workplace bullying of any form and degree.

The third hypothesis affirms that active involvement of management in the bid against supervisory workplace bullying and adequate information dissemination about it as something that is not tolerated within organizations would successfully ward it off.  This would then form part of compliance to the enacted laws that require employers to see to the health and safety of all their employees.

These questions and hypotheses serve as basis for doing a comprehensive research on the subject.  This project aims to emphasize the need to undo the damages of workplace bullying and to establish that mechanisms that will address the prevalence of bullying in the workplace are not complicated or difficult to accomplish.  This will encourage an anti-bully culture to prevail in the workplaces, which should eventually wipe out bullying as a common threat to the emotional wellbeing, the productivity level and the general welfare of organizations.

Results

Origin of the Concept

Workplace bullying phenomenon traces its root from the trauma resulting from continued psychological fear of employees in the work environment. Heinz Leyman, the founder of a three-decade-old international anti-bullying association, has cited in her documentations that Namie (2003) used the term “mobbing” to describe such harmful act. The term “workplace bullying” was later used by Andrea Adams in the early part of 1990s to refer to the same form of intimidation when the victims happened to be employees doing their work in their respective workplaces.  Thereafter, the concept of workplace bullying was introduced to the United States organizational setting by Namie in 1998 while an associate formally presented to the criminal justice system the legal issues emanating from it.  (Namie, 2003)

Nature and Characteristics of Workplace Bullying

Different sorts of threats and intimidation coming from supervisors and managers cannot be ignored.  They are bound to cause stress, anxiety, discomfort and disappointment or even to inflict pain on the victimized employees. The workplace, then, becomes a hostile place.  There is no doubt that the presence of the bullying bosses doing their bullying tactics does not create a healthy culture.  In general, supervisory workplace bullying damages the organization.

Workplace bullying is generally characterized by the fact that it is unwanted, intentional, frequent and intense inappropriate behaviors which are enough to inflict harm and trauma-related manifestation to employees’ physical, psychological and emotional conditions (Namie, 2003). Hence, bullying in a work setting is a manifestation of either the supervisor or co-workers’ terrorizing, insulting, demeaning and embarrassing attitudes committed against employee-victim. The workplace bully wants power over his co-workers; the supervisory workplace bully wants control over his subordinates.   Namie further said that workplace bullying is often caused by issues pertaining to gender, race, economic or financial status and positions of employees in an organization (Namie, 2003).

Workplace bullying can be accomplished in various ways.  The Trades Union Congress, by defining the term, names the factors that can lead to it:

Workplace bullying can be defined as offensive, intimidating, malicious,                         insulting or humiliating behavior, abuse of power or authority which attempts                 to undermine an individual or group of employees and which may cause them                to suffer stress (TUC website).

Samples of Bullying Acts of Supervisors

The Workplace Bullying Institute has described that supervisory workplace bullies generally inflict verbal or spoken abuse against subordinate employees, create work distractions such as sabotage that hampers workers’ tasks from being completed and manifest insulting behaviors with a purpose to threaten, humiliate and intimidate the victims (Workplace Bullying Institute, 2008). Specifically, supervisor and manager bullies can manifest several intimidating conducts which vary from physical or spoken offenses and from subtle and blatant manners. Some of the evident workplace intimidations done by superiors towards their subordinates include demeaning opinion or regular criticisms; shouting or use of offensive language; belittling or unreasonable statements or jokes about an employee’s physical looks, way of living and background. Additionally, the conducts include insulting acts; segregating employees from regular job interaction and development-related opportunities; excessive workload; unimportant pressure; illogical deadlines; meddling with personal and work belongings; aggressive conducts; intentional withholding of needed details, access, assistance and resources; fabricating the idea of uselessness; uncalled work alterations; unmerited jobs; not providing due recognition; exaggerated performance checking, and illogical disciplinary actions (“Workplace Bullying and Intimidation,” 2008).

 

 

Prevalence of Bullying in the Workplace and Its Cost

Bullying has become so common an occurrence in the working place.  This statement is confirmed by documented surveys.  Among them are the following:

Date of
bullying survey
Survey origin
Ratio of employees bullied
% of workforce
Number of employees bullied
Bullied over the period…
Nov 1996
IPD
1 in 8
12
3.5m
5 years
Oct 1998
TUC
1 in 6
18
4.5m
1 year
Feb 2000
UMIST
1 in 4
25
7m
5 years
Oct 2003
CHI
1 in 3
37
10.4m
1 year
Apr 2002
Lyn Quine
1 in 3
37
10.5m
1 year
Jan 1999
Lyn Quine
1 in 3
38
10.5m
1 year
Jun 1994
SUBS
1 in 2
53
14m
working life
Source:  UK National Workplace Bullying Advice Line webpage

With the frequency of bullying incidents in workplaces, the total productivity of workforces of various organizations has been greatly affected.  Needless to say, lowered productivity is tantamount to wastage of time and a general failure to maximize the resources – especially the human resources – that would have been available for the organizations and their respective pursuits.

A noted psychologist, Michael Harrison, Ph.D., has cited the results of a survey involving 9,000 federal employees.  The entire exercise has led to the significant findings:  that 42 percent of the female and 15 percent of the male employees all experienced harassment of any form within two years from the conduct of survey in 2002.  In monetary terms, such incidents of harassment have accumulated costs pertaining to lost time and productivity amounting to over US$180 million.  (Farrell, 2002).

Source:  Working to Halt Online Abuse, 2000

 

Also according to surveys, the male gender composes the majority of the harassers while the female gender composes the majority of the harassed parties.

 

Source:  Working to Halt Online Abuse, 2000

 

Causes of Supervisory Workplace Bullying

Given the fact that workplace bullying is not only contained among employees themselves but is more apparent between superiors and subordinates in current work settings, it is empirical to determine and analyze the causes of the problem. This leads to the identification of the reasons behind the inappropriate and unreasonable bullying acts committed by supervisors or managers with their subordinates as victims and the motivating factors that make them engage in such untoward acts.  Throughout these procedures, theories related to supervisory workplace bullying will be analyzed as to relevance and applicability.

In an analysis of 148 organizational ethnographies, Hodson, Roscigno and Lopez (2006) learned that the relative and organizational bases of workplace bullying are established by three main theories. The first supporting hypothesis stated that powerlessness is related with the vulnerability of subordinates against the bullying of their superiors. Subordinates who are not yet secured with their employment such as casual and probationary employees, members of minority groups and workers engaged in low-end services fall prey to workplace bullying by their supervisors and managers.

Secondly, the hypothesis about the context or culture of an organization – the bureaucracy therein and involvement of the company management people in general – also fail to stop workplace bullying and to support initiatives that would help the organization to rationally in dealing the issue. This led to the third hypothesis which explained that common path to workplace bullying is organization chaos. This means that workplace bullying is likely to be committed by supervisors and manager against their subordinates when there is chaos in the organizational set-up or where relational powerlessness adds to the lack of transparency, liability and competence of the superiors or within the organization in general (Hodson, Roscigno & Lopez, 2006).

Effects of Supervisory Workplace Bullying

Namie further reported that the prevalence of workplace bullying in the country was based on a ballpark figure derived from a random survey of Michigan workers that was conducted in 2000.  The study indicated that the lives of a significant number of employees were severely affected because of existence of workplace bullying in their respective companies (Namie, 2003).

The issue of workplace bullying has gained significance because of the apparent implications that it has inflicted on the lives of the victims. In particular, Parker-Pope (2008) has noted that supervisory workplace bullying has taken its toll on the emotions of subordinate employees. In fact, its seriousness and the gravity of its negative effects have surpassed another sensitive work-related offense which is sexual harassment. Parker-Pope added that in the current corporate setting, supervisors and managers tend to be insensitive to its damaging implications and even regard bullying as one of the harsh management styles (Parker-Pope, 2008).

Workplace bullying is generally bad for any industry. This is due to the fact that bullied subordinates are inclined not to report for work and this scenario, coupled with increased turnover of employees, eventually affects the organization. Aside from emotional impact, workplace bullying results to serious health concerns where bullied subordinates suffer tension, misery, nervousness and even signs of post-traumatic strain illness (Parker-Pope, 2008). This finding is relevant in order to have an increased awareness on the harmful effects of workplace bullying. Aside from these apparent effects, the harm inflicted to bullied employees such as financial problem, reduced self-respect and phobias as well as other physical problems are alarming signs of the issue that need to be addressed.

Prevention of Supervisory Workplace Bullying

Citing previous studies which proved the negative implications of workplace bullying to the victims, Namie noted that it has definitely spurred an escalated lack of civility in workplaces. Hence, there is indeed a need to regard it in the same way as the other serious work-related offenses such racial discrimination and sexual harassment. In doing so, there will be a clear identification of the bullies and establishment of guidelines. Additionally, an increased awareness will pave the way for companies to create punishments as well as for the lawmakers to enact laws addressing workplace bullying and for the criminal justice system or law enforcement to implement the penalties (Namie, 2003).

Supervisory workplace bullying can be prevented if the victims will have the conviction to work on putting such harmful treatment to a stop and if the company management is committed to address the concern.  It is only through the collected efforts, therefore, of both the victims and management that workplace bullying can be totally eliminated from the organization.  With this kind of cooperation in place, the problem of workplace bullying would be efficiently dealt with.  More importantly, the bullies would hence be restricted from taking in more victims.

The initial move to prevent, if not stop, workplace bullying is to accept its existence (Union Safe, 2005). When the problem is recognized as an issue that needs to be addressed, it is essential for the company, through its management, to formulate guidelines that will punish bully supervisors and managers as well as precautionary measures or steps that will protect the subordinate victims and punish. For the part of the company, the employers need to present a clear statement among all employees that such act is inadmissible and not tolerated.

Another move to prevent economic losses that can stem from bullying acts within organizations is to arrange for training programs to be cascaded from managerial to staff levels and to impose anti-harassment policies that will brook no exceptions.  Such policies should cover any act of bullying as something that will not be tolerated by management. (Farrell, 2002)

A four-step process for recognizing and removing the risks of workplace bullying has been outlined to specifically guide management in handing the bullies right.  Step 1 involves identifying the bullies as hazards; step 2 begins the assessment of the risks of having such bullies around; step 3 brings in effective measures to control such risks identified and assessed; and, step 4 requires the evaluation and review of how the bullies were accordingly dealt with.  (Preventing Workplace Bullying:  A Practical Guide for Employers)  The following is an illustration of these four steps:

 

Source:  Preventing Workplace Bullying:  A Practical Guide for Employers

Preventing any form of bullying from occurring within an organization is not simply a move that top management would want to make for the sake of avoiding the huge costs and non-quantifiable but equally dire consequences that arise from its prevalence.  Instead, such prevention is a specifically required by law – specifically, by the Section 5a of the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration.  This law defines the safe and healthy workplace that all employers ought to provide employees; such workplace should, then, be free of threats and other hazards caused by the presence of an individual bully therein.  (Farrell, 2002)

Putting in concrete writing the campaign of the organization against workplace bullying and its serious policies against all forms of it should come a long way in discouraging everyone from ever bullying fellow members of the organization.  A sample written company rule against workplace bullying is as follows:

Source:  Safety & Health Assessment Research by Prevention

Conclusion

The support and participation of everyone – the management and the victims themselves – are significant in achieving a good fight against workplace bullying. Subordinates should be able to stop it even at its initial stage by being confident and firm in telling the bully supervisor or manager that the action is a serious offense. The union, in turn, needs to ensure in the first place that the workplace is free from any form of intimidation as well as assist and give essential service to the victim. In doing so, a victim is assured that he or she is not alone in the fight against bullying while the bully superiors are warned as well that resorting to bullying will expose them to moral and legal liabilities.

Workplace bullying is a serious and dangerous issue that should not be taken for granted. With heightened consciousness about workplace bullying in general, the bulling supervisors and the bullied subordinates will know their places in the organization and the rights of everyone therein.  The management and staff of companies all ought to be properly apprised as to the specifics of workplace bullying – in particular, its characteristics, signs and manifestations, causes, theoretical basis, effects, and precautionary measures against it.

Through the collected efforts of the employers, management, employees and the union, the subordinate victims are saved from the ill effects of being bullied while the needed help is provided to the bully supervisors or managers. Indeed, bullying bosses would have to come to terms with issues that they have to face within themselves.  They should realize that their bullying actions are manifestations of psychological disorders that would have to be treated for their own good.

The significance of supervisory workplace bullying is emphasized by the above discussion on the specific bullies’ actions which threaten the victims. It is important to recognize what causes the bully superiors to intimidate their subordinates in order to identify the appropriate actions to be taken. The extent of the adverse effect of supervisory workplace bullying is more than enough to spur action aimed towards preventing it at all cost.

The materials gathered from related literature confirm the hypotheses on which this research has been based.  Such materials on workplace bullying indeed confirm that bullying and intimidation are done by the very people who, as supervisors and managers, should have been first to see to the generally healthy working environment that their subordinates are entitled to.  The workplace bullies have turned out to be mostly superiors who delight in abusing the authority and power that go with their positions in the company by causing the people at the bottom of the organization chart all sorts of despair and anxiety.  They are sick people needing psychological therapy and, unless treated, they ought to never have been designated to occupy supervisory or managerial positions.

The alarming increase in the frequency of reported workplace bullying has thankfully triggered higher levels of awareness and resolve on the part of management people to be vigilant in detecting slightest signs of bullying in their respective turfs and to decisively put an end to it all.  This should mean that the bullying bosses will cease to make victims of their subordinates and that the non-bullying ones will not anymore hesitate to stop colleagues from engaging in their bullying ways.  Increased consciousness should generally limit the opportunities of bullies to do any bullying.

It has also been an acknowledged truth, as seen by the rising prevalence of workplace bullying, that management has not been proactively battling it as something that can harm the organization, in terms of both the individual circumstances of its members and the overall effectiveness of the group.  Websites of various government welfare agencies and all kinds of published materials have been decrying workplace bullying as a menace to the entire organization, citing specific reasons to substantiate the harm that it is purported to cause.  This rising consciousness will equip employees with sufficient ammunition against being victimized by a bullying boss, who is most likely to get away with his bullying when dealing with an intimidated and uninformed subordinate.

Thus, bullying now becomes associated with bad bosses who are harboring some insecurities, tendencies toward racial discrimination, imbalanced value systems, or psychological disorders.  Gone are the days when victims silently suffer from the ill treatment that they get from bullying bosses.  These days, workers now know their rights as provided by enacted laws.  Articles have been written to repeatedly emphasize that bullying is a threat against the overall safety and welfare of employees, which are protected by laws as vital to all organizations.

In organizations that are inadequately set up, there is bound to be chaos and lack of transparency in different matters that ought to be well-established and systematized.  Indeed, bullies would not thrive in an organization where everything is in order.  Among the things to be clearly made known to everybody in an organization is how each of them is supposed to epitomize the vision, mission and objectives of their organization.  These ideals would encourage virtues and good traits such as honesty, willingness to work hard, treating people right, and concern for other people’s well-being.  Needless to say, these ideals go against the motives that lead people to bully other people.

Improvement of corporate governance, therefore, is a step toward prevention of bullying in the workplace.  Healthy organizations have efficient, skilled, well-trained and confident people, both officers and staff.  In such organizations, bullying will not at all be tolerated.

In general, competent superiors would never feel the slightest inclination toward bullying as a management tactic or as a way to get their needed confidence-boosting.  Good managers deliver what is expected of them and get people to do their own share of work without at all having recourse to bullying.  In fact, it is the absence of malpractices like bullying that bolster the integrity and authority of management people.  Bullying managers do not at all win the respect and admiration of their subordinates – they get only fear, and even this fear is not known to last simply because bullying either will cease once detected or once the victim has decided to leave the company for good.

Workplace bullying brings in unnecessary costs and losses.  In totality, it triggers all sorts of dire consequences and not a bit of beneficial result.  The development in the area of proactive fight against workplace bullying has undoubtedly improved the lot of the victims thereof.  But a lot remains to yet be accomplished in this line of endeavor.

Annotated Bibliography

Namie, G. (2003). Workplace bullying: escalated incivility. Ivey Business Journal. Retrieved August 19, 2008 from Entrepreneur database.

A comprehensive online paper dealing with supervisory workplace bullying from the perspective of entrepreneurs. A sensible report on how the problem gave rise to the rudeness nature of office bullying.

Hodson, R., Roscigno, V. J., Lopez, S. H. (2006). Chaos and the Abuse of Power: Workplace Bullying in Organizational and Interactional Context. Work and Occupations, 33, 4, 382-416.

A journal article which presented a study of the theories of workplace bullying. The tested hypotheses supported that the problem is caused by organizational chaos and abuse of power by supervisors and manager.

Parker-Pope, T. (2008). When the Bully Sits in the Next Cubicle. The New York Times. Retrieved August 19, 2008 from The New York Times database.

A newspaper article which discussed what the bully superiors do and the nature of their bullying actions as well as their harmful effects to the subordinate victims.

Union Safe. (2005). Bullying and Harassment in the Workplace. Retrieved August 19, 2008, from http://unionsafe.labor.net.au/hazards/10717236108849.html

An online paper detailing the things which need to be done by a union in order to prevent workplace bullying as well as other services that the victims can get.

“Workplace Bullying and Intimidation.” (2008). Equal Opportunity. Retrieved August 19, 2008 from James Cook University database.

An article which specifically defined and listed the characteristics of workplace bullying, the harmful implications and responsibilities of the management in addressing the issue.

Workplace Bullying Institute. (2008, July 28). The Workplace Bullying Institute’s Definition of the Phenomenon. Retrieved August 19, 2008, from http://bullyinginstitute.org/education/bbstudies/def.html

An organization report which provided an overview of workplace bullying as well as other relevant information and assistance for the benefit of the victims.

UK National Workplace Bullying Advice Line.  (2008).  Bullying:  Surveys, Facts, Figures       and Costs.  Retrieved December 15, 2008, from http://www.bullyonline.org/   workbully/costs.htm#Facts.

A web site that documents UK facts and figures on bullying, its cost to industry, taxpayers, employers, and to the proponents of the society – individual and family.

Farrell, Liz Urbanski.  (2002).  Workplace bullying’s high cost:  $180M in lost time,      productivity.  Orlando Business Journal.  Retrieved December 15, 2008 from             http://orlando.bizjournals.com/orlando/stories/2002/03/18/focus1.html.

An article that discusses the causes and implications of workplace bullying by zeroing in on the fact that the presence of bullies in the workplace gives rise to considerable costs.

Trades Union Congress (2008).  Bullying.  Retrieved December 15, 2008 from             http://www.tuc.org.uk/h_and_s/index.cfm?mins=30.

This website covers the various concerns of the Trades Union Congress of UK, which include the health and safety of the employees in their workplaces.  It also covers the work rights, the events and the progress of issues of the various labor unions of the country.

Maxwell, Angela.  (2002).  Cyberstalking.  Retrieved on December 15, 2008 from             http://www.netsafe.org.nz/Doc_Library/cyberstalking.pdf.

The paper is written about bullying done in cyberspace as a specific manner of doing it for the same purposes of victimizing selected groups of people.  It discusses cyberstalking as having a similar nature and frequency of occurrence as bullying in the workplace.

Safety & Health Assessment & Research by Prevention.  (2008). Workplace Bullying:  What     Everyone Needs to Know.   Retrieved on December 15, 2008 from     www.lni.             wa.gov/Safety/Research/Files/Bullying.pdf.

Government of South Australia.  (2008).  Preventing Workplace Bullying:  A Practical Guide    for Employer.  Retrieved on December 15, 2008 from http://stopbullyingsa.com.au          /documents/bullying_employers.pdf.

These publications detail who workplace bullying should be dealt with and the reasons why it has to be not tolerated.  It gives concrete things that everybody in an organization – both management and staff – can actively do to detect all forms of bullying and to prevent them from thriving in the workplace.