Proof that Bullying and Harassment is Prevalent in the Workplace

In my last blog post, I shared various types of bosses that I have had in my years growing up and why I remember them.
The blog post also provided a chart full of positive behaviours and relationship-building traits that can serve as a guide in how we all should act in the workplace (and in life in general).
However, also clear in our memories are the negative behaviours of those bosses who create a quite different workplace experience.
In fact, the prevalence of these types of bosses is confirmed by numerous studies (not just by the experiences that you and I have had personally).
A 2007 Zogby study of nearly eight thousand adults in North America found that, of those abused by workplace bullies (37% of respondents), 72% were bullied by their supervisors!
Furthermore, stories about the damage done by bosses who bully and harass their employees are also bolstered by systematic research.
University of Florida researchers (led by Wayne Hochwarter) found that with employees having abusive bosses:

  • 30 percent slowed down or purposely made errors, compared with 6 percent of those not reporting abuse.
  • 27 percent purposely hid from the boss, compared with 4 percent of those not abused.
  • 33 percent confessed to not putting in maximum effort, compared with 9 percent of those not abused.
  • 29 percent took sick time off even when not ill, compared with 4 percent of those not abused.
  • 25 percent took more or longer breaks, compared with 7 percent of those not abused

Conversely, Employees who didn’t have a belligerent boss were three times more likely to proactively fix problems and approach their supervisors with ideas to help the company.
Abusive supervisors also tend to drive out employees; over 20 million North Americans have left their jobs to flee workplace bullies, most of whom were the people in charge of the organization.
Do you recognize yourself in these statistics?
I certainly saw myself.
And remember that bullying and harassment comes in many forms. Employees also say that abuse from bosses includes put-downs in front of others, ignored e-mails and other correspondence, and being berated.
In another survey done in 2006, Hochwarter and his colleagues polled about 700 people in a variety of professions about supervisor mistreatment, finding:

  • 31 percent reported their supervisor gave them the “silent treatment” in the past year.
  • 37 percent reported their supervisor failed to give credit when due.
  • 39 percent noted their supervisor failed to keep promises.
  • 27 percent noted their supervisor made negative comments about them to other employees or managers.
  • 24 percent reported their supervisor invaded their privacy.
  • 23 percent indicated their supervisor blamed others to cover up mistakes or to minimize embarrassment.

Both studies bring to the forefront the damaging interactions between employees and managers that can get played out daily.
So now that we know about the horrors of bullying and harassment in the workplace, how do we try and work toward a more positive environment?
Well, it could be as easy as basic civility, including a commitment to active communication, to resolve many workplace problems.
After all, if organizations simply spent more time addressing issues relating to trust and communication, then a lot of these concerns would never occur in the first place!
Perhaps it’s naïve, but from my experience of living amongst other human beings on this planet for almost 58 years, I feel the best thing we can do as supervisors, managers, and leaders is to spend time listening, sharing, and talking to those who are supposed to look up to us.
But unfortunately, cultures of bullying and harassment are created by the exact opposite values and the aforementioned cited research studies are not the only ones to prove that. Our exercise conducted within the SONAR Leadership program also serves as evidence of mistreatment. We ask workshop participants a simple question:
What sort of behaviours did your WORST manager/leader demonstrate?
Here are their answers:

I think it’s safe to say that we read this list hoping we didn’t see any characteristics of ourselves. So, let’s try and keep our workplaces out of these negative statistics and ensure they stay in positive territory.


About the Author:

Phil Eastwood is a former London Bobby who brings a thirty-five year career in policing to his role as Senior Partner of Fiore Group Training, a recognized leader in training top North American organizations. Phil is lead author of workplace training courses in respectful workplace training, workplace violence employee training, and leadership training seminars.

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