A number of research projects have highlighted the prevalence of bullying in workplaces across Britain and the detrimental effect it can have on those who experience it. A recent study, published in the Journal of Social Psychology, has found that the impact of bullying isn’t restricted to the direct victim and their families, but can also be felt by the victim’s colleagues.
Study into bullying
Researchers at the University of New Hampshire conducted a survey to find out how wide ranging the impact of bullying at work could be.
They questioned survey respondents about their experiences of supervisory abuse, vicarious supervisory abuse, job frustration, perceived organisational support, and co-worker abuse.
According to the researchers, abusive supervision is considered a dysfunctional type of leadership and includes a sustained display of hostile verbal and nonverbal behaviours toward subordinates.
“Although the effects of abusive supervision may not be as physically harmful as other types of dysfunctional behavior, such as workplace violence or aggression, the actions are likely to leave longer-lasting wounds,” said Paul Harvey, associate professor of organisational behaviour at UNH, “in part, because abusive supervision can continue for a long time.”
Vicarious supervisory abuse
Vicarious supervisory abuse takes place when abusive bosses negatively impact the work environment for the co-workers of employees that they are bullying. These co-workers suffer from “second-hand” or vicarious abusive supervision, by observing or being aware of a supervisor abusing a co-worker.
This can happen in a number of different ways, including:
- an employee hearing rumours of abusive behaviour from co-workers,
- reading about such behaviours in an email,
- or actually witnessing the abuse of a co-worker.
The researchers found that first-hand supervisory abuse and second-hand vicarious supervisory abuse can result in similar negative effects, such as:
- greater job frustration,
- a tendency to abuse other co-workers, and
- a lack of perceived organisational support.
Unsurprisingly, these effects were found to be intensified if the co-worker was a victim of both kinds of supervisory abuse.
Bullying and harassment in the UK
Bullying and harassment are a relatively common occurrence in Britain’s workplaces. A recent study by Canada Life Group Insurance found that around a quarter of employees have experienced bullying at work. Ten percent of employees reported taking time off as sick leave to avoid bullying, and 11% said they have done so because they say have been treated unfairly by a line manager.
It is important that employers act quickly to resolve any incidences of bullying or harassment in the workplace. Failure to do so could result in stress for the affected employees, higher rates of sickness absence, and ultimately the possibility of an employment tribunal claim.
The latest estimates from the Labour Force Survey show that the total number of cases of stress in 2011/12 was 428,000 (40%) out of a total of 1,073,000 for all work-related illnesses.
The figures also show that the main causes of work related stress were work pressure, lack of managerial support and work-related violence and bullying.