An Analysis of Workplace Harassment and Bullying in Today’s Society Introduction Workplace harassment and bullying occurs when an employee subjects another employee to degrading behaviour, whether verbal abuse and threats or actual physical violence. It is an inappropriate expression of power that affects workers and their productivity in an unfavourable way (Spry, 1998). Management, and other types of employees, who occupy high-status roles sometimes believe that harassing their subordinates is within their rights and make demands of the lower-status employees (Langton, Robbins, Judge, 2010, p. 313).
Harassment is often a result of stress, power, differences of opinion, undefined expectations of management, absent policies, and tasks not being clearly defined. It may occur when management ignores, or is not aware of, conflict. It is important that management is attentive to this growing topic of concern among organizations so they are able to identify and intervene early in order to prevent harassment. Harassment is considered to have taken place if the perpetrator knew, or ought to have known, that the behaviour was unwelcome. Management and employees need to realize that what is not offensive to one employee may be offensive to another.
While harassment is usually based on an ongoing pattern of abuse, in some instances a single incident can be sufficiently serious to constitute harassment. Harassment is not confined to a manager-employee setting. It can also take form through co-workers; subordinates; customers, suppliers and consultants of the organization; and members of the general public. The effects of any type of harassment are the same (O’Leary-Kelly, Bowes-Sperry, Bates, ; Lean, 2009). Although there are all these other ways employees can be harassed, co-worker harassment is the most common form.
Although co-workers do not hold a position of power, they have influence and can exploit it to harass others (Langton et al. , p. 313). People who engage in harassment in the workplace are typically abusing their power position. The manager-employee relationship best characterizes an unequal power relationship, where position power gives the manager the capacity to reward and coerce its subordinates (Langton et al. , 2010, p. 314). Types of Harassment Bullying Today’s workforce is aware of the physical and emotional grief that can be caused by bullying.
Most individuals only perceive bullying as an issue related to youth; however, the reality is that bullying has moved from the playgrounds of childhood to the offices and boardrooms of the corporate world. A study by Celeste Brotheridge, a professor in Montreal, found that approximately 40 percent of people had experienced moderate bullying in the past six months and another ten percent reported more severe bullying (Langton et al. , 2010, p. 314). Bullying involves repeated acts, either deliberate or unknown, that cause humiliation and distress to the victim.
The acts interfere with job performance by causing an unpleasant work environment. The goal of a bully is to weaken others in order to boost his or her self-esteem. This is accomplished through threats, intimidation, verbal and physical abuse, demeaning and condescending interactions with other employees, or any other form of degrading behaviour. A workplace bully often uses legitimate power over individuals lower in the organizational hierarchy to enhance his or her own feelings of power, competence, and value (Harvey, Hearnes, Richey & Leonard, 2006).
Power is a key concept in relation to bullying, which is not only applicable to individual employees but also to team and group settings. When a bully is the leader of a group, he or she wants to not only achieve goals but to obtain the power and control that leadership brings. The unfortunate fact is that bullies use the privilege of leadership for their own psychological gain, and abuse the position they hold by over-exerting their power over others (Glendinning, 2001).
Every instance of bullying is different, but there is a common factor of the bully abusing their power to threaten or intimidate their subordinates or fellow employees. Psychological Harassment Psychological harassment related to the workplace is defined by Blaikie (2005) as “vexatious behaviour in the form of repeated conduct or verbal comments affecting an employee’s dignity or psychological or physical health, thus creating a harmful working environment for the employee”.
Psychological harassment is intimidating, humiliating, or abusive behavior that is often hard to detect because it leaves no evidence other than the victim’s report or complaints. It can be caused by verbal comments, engineered episodes of intimidation, repeated gestures or aggressive actions. Hammond (2011) presents a Canadian case in which Pierre Lebrun was being psychologically harassed because of a speech stutter. Lebrun was fired when he retaliated and slapped his harasser in the face.
The company faced a wrongful dismissal case and had to rehire Lebrun. The harassment continued until Lebrun quit in 1999. Later that year, Lebrun wrote down names of people who had harassed him. He then entered the workplace with a gun, killing four people and wounding two others before turning the gun on himself. This is an extreme case, but it demonstrates that if psychological harassment in the workplace is not recognized and stopped, negative outcomes will result for both employees and employers. Sexual Harassment
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission regulatory guidelines state that: Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favours, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitute sexual harassment when submission to requests for sexual favours is made explicitly or implicitly a term or condition of employment; submission to or rejection of such requests is used as a basis for employment decisions; or such conduct unreasonably interferes with work performance or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment. (Johns & Saks, 2008, p. 35) It has typically been thought of as a type of harassment that only women experience in the workplace; however, men can be victims of sexual harassment as well. Sexual harassment demeans its victims, whether female or male. A victim of sexual harassment can be anyone within an organization, although some individuals are more prone to victimization. For example, women within an organization who are highly educated, young, and seeking to move up within the ranks of the organization can be perceived by men as a threat and so are targeted (Mueller, De Coster, & Estes, 2001).
The corporate culture in which individuals work can also influence who becomes a victim of sexual harassment. Women who work in male-dominated occupations or work-groups are more likely to be harassed than women who work in female-dominated or gender integrated occupations or work-groups (Mueller et al. , 2001). Corporate cultures that are more open about sexual matters may become too lenient regarding this topic which can potentially lead to increased sexual harassment cases. It has been found that even a mild incidence of sexual harassment can result in lower job performance for its victims (O’Leary-Kelly et al. , 2009).
Bystanders of sexual harassment within an organization also suffer from negative work outcomes. By being indirectly exposed to sexual harassment, observers experience similar consequences that victims of sexual harassment experience due to the toxic work environment. Sexual harassment may become more upsetting to a victim when there are observers witnessing the event due to the humiliation associated with victimization. Sexual harassment can also be perpetrated by a client of the organization. The effects of this type of harassment are the same as co-worker harassment (O’Leary-Kelly, Bowes-Sperry, Bates, & Lean, 2009).
A highly publicized case of sexual harassment progressing to a fatal case was with Theresa Vince, Human Resources Training Administrator at a Sears Canada Inc. store in Chatham, Ontario. She was killed by the store manager Russell Davis. Vince had reported prior sexual harassment by Davis earlier in the year but the company agreed to not pursue it at Davis’ request (Schell & Lanteigne, 1998). Scott elaborate? Internet Harassment Communications technology is not only changing the way business is conducted externally, but also the way in which employees communicate internally.
In recent years corporations have become aware of the negative impact that the use of the internet has had on harassment. The internet provides a platform where employees are able to easily interact in a different context with one another (Lucy, 2006). The ease of this form of communication gives employees an increased opportunity to harass others. Internet harassment has an overall negative impact on the corporate culture in which it takes place. Whether it is intentional or unintentional, companies need to implement internal controls to reduce the possibility of it occurring (Lucy, 2006).
Every organization’s corporate culture should be embedded with guidelines on proper email etiquette and internet use (Beyer, Jennifer, Carr, Houston H, 1998). A good example of sufficient repercussions for internet harassment is the firing of 14 staff members and disciplinary actions against another 101 employees who were involved in emailing pornographic material while employed at the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (Lucy, 2006). Scott elaborate Stalking Just like sexual harassment, it is a common misconception that stalking only affects women.
However, this inaccurate perception is evidence that many individuals do not understand the true nature of stalking. Stalking is an obsessive and often impulsive close following of an individual that can escalate from psychological to physical violence. Stalking is often thought of as breaking and entering into someone’s home. Physical violence is often shown in the media but there are less severe forms that need to be watched for in the workplace (Schell & Lanteigne, 1998). Corporate stalking can occur from inside or outside the organization.
Due to media’s portrayal, some individuals become obsessed with following and taking action against deceitful corporate executives. Stalking is sometimes hard to identify and should be dealt with immediately to avoid serious consequences. Stalking is widely underreported due to most victims’ feelings of embarrassment and fear of ridicule. Most corporations fear the publication of stalking and various harassment cases due to the impact it has on the company. This leads them to wait and ignore the warning signs which can lead to more severe situations (Schell & Lanteigne, 1998). Implications Implications for the Employer
When harassment exists in the workplace, there can be sudden declines in productivity, increased turnover in personnel, increased conflict, absenteeism, and social isolation among employees. If the harassment the employee is tormented with becomes sufficiently severe, he or she may leave the organization through resignation or a leave of absence. This is both costly to the employee and employer. Employee productivity is an important factor in making an organization profitable. If harassment exists in the workplace, an employee’s productivity can decline and lead the organization to be less profitable.
Efficiency is essential to a company. The more productive a company is the more output is generated in a shorter time frame. If a company’s employees cannot focus due to distractions such as harassment, this can lead to many problems within the organization, such as deadlines not being met, work not prepared at its highest potential of quality or rework. If a company’s environment has become toxic enough that employees cannot stand to work within it, there is a high potential for them to quit. Turnover refers to employees resigning from an organization and can e very expensive. The costs associated with turnover include the price of hiring, training and developing an individual to replace the past employee. This does not include the intangible costs to the organization such as losing special skills the resigning employee developed from working at the company and the knowledge the former employee acquired on the job. Turnover becomes more costly the higher the position needing to be filled is in the organization as the level of expertise and experience required is more difficult to obtain (Johns & Saks, 2008, p. 135).
Harassment can lead to affective conflict, which is a dysfunctional type of conflict that is not supportive in the workplace. This type of conflict is disruptive and does not support the objectives of the organization. It takes away efforts that would be better allocated to fulfilling the goals set by the organization (Langton, Robbins, & Judge, 2010, p. 336). In some organizations, conflict is handled in a collaborative way that keeps antagonistic behaviour, name calling, sabotage or even physical aggression, to a minimum while in others conflict is hidden or suppressed and not very noticeable (Johns & Saks, 2008, p. 45). Based on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, in order for an individual to progress any further up the hierarchy he or she must have their basic needs, physiological and safety, substantially satisfied. When an employee is being harassed, he or she will not have that sense of security in the workplace required for him or her to satisfy the need for safety, which includes security and protection from physical and emotional harm. Due to this, the employee will not be able to progress any further up the hierarchy.
The employee will not move up to belongingness needs and will feel isolated. The employee will not be affected by the motivation techniques used by an organization. An organization will assume that the basic needs of physiological and safety are met and will use motivational techniques to satisfy the three higher-order needs – social, esteem and self-actualization. This will impact the organization negatively as they will not be using the appropriate motivation methods to motivate the employee. Unmotivated employees’ goals are not aligned with the organization’s goals.
Unmotivated employees are at risk of resigning, delivering poor quality work, and sometimes make it difficult for other employees to do their jobs efficiently (Langton et al. , 2010, p. 131 – 132). When an employee does not feel comfortable at work and comes to dread simple interactions with employees at work, it can lead to absenteeism. In Canada, an estimate approximates the annual cost of absenteeism as $10 billion. Such costs are related to “sick pay”, lost productivity and chronic overstaffing to compensate for absentees.
Not all of this cost is attributable to employees being absent from work to avoid harassment, but the figure is none the less high and taxing on Canadian organizations (Johns & Saks, 2008, p. 135). Social isolation can occur in the workplace when one is being harassed. Social isolation is when the quality of relationships breaks down and social interactions among employees stop so that other employees do not become the target of such harassment. The employee will have a sense of feeling lonely in the workplace and will not have the confidence to stand up against their harasser (Wright, 2006).
Social isolation – Jessie to complete (with a journal) Implications for the Employee Victims of harassment experience negative occupation outcomes within the workplace. They experience an increase in job stress, decreased job satisfaction, a decrease in the satisfaction of interpersonal work relationships, distractions during the workday and lower organizational commitment. They may have intentions to leave the organization, leading them to put forth a decrease of effort towards their job (O’Leary-Kelly et al. , 2009).
Furthermore, victims may develop mental and physical health problems. A recent study concluded that between one-third and one-half of all stress-related illnesses were directly attributable to harassment in the workplace (Harvey et al. , 2006). Another study found that employees who were targets of harassment suffered, among other problems, higher levels of job-induced stress, depression, and anxiety (Glendinning, 2001). Stress is simply defined as an individual’s reaction in a situation known as a stressor that causes psychological distress.
Supervisors’ personality attributes may be conceptualized as latent factors that trigger negative behaviour when associated with perceived specific situational stressors (Mathisen, Einarsen, & Mykletun, 2010). It can also be noted that when irrational, introverted, non-agreeable or low-conscientiousness supervisors perceive stress at work they may be more likely to transform their frustration into negative behaviour. This may trigger a greater amount of negative behaviour among subordinates that might escalate into harassment.
Increased job stress can also stem from the fear associated with the workplace harassment. In sexual harassment cases there is a fear of the victim’s that they may lose their job if they do not do what the harasser wants. Job satisfaction is an individual’s attitude towards his or her job. An employer should aim to provide an environment where employees can achieve high job satisfaction. A highly satisfied employee has the potential to become an organizational citizen. This type of employee does tasks beyond their job description even if these tasks are unnoticed and not rewarded.
An employee with low job satisfaction may resort to harassing other employees to get the satisfaction they are not receiving from his or her job. An employee who is harassed will likely experience low job satisfaction as well (Langton et al. , p. 100). This type of work environment has the potential to create a domino effect where the harassed become the harassers. If an employee of an organization is being harassed, his or her interpersonal work relationships can suffer. A victim may feel that they cannot reach out or inform a fellow co-worker about their situation due to fear of reappraisal by their harasser.
A victim then may shut out or isolate themselves from other co-workers in order to keep their situation to him or herself. Lower organizational commitment – Anna Costs The costs of informing, training, and maintaining a harassment policy will be considerably less than the costs due to harassment in the workplace. If training is done effectively, organizations may avoid the additional financial and non-financial costs associated with harassment. Protective Legislation Organizations have a legal and moral responsibility to protect all of their employees against any type of workplace harassment and bullying.
As more provinces are making changes to their labour laws and regulations regarding harassment, it is essential that management stays well informed about their roles and responsibilities. Through the development of anti-harassment policies and the training of employees concerning protective legislation, the company is in a much better position to eliminate harassment from their workplace. The government is implementing stricter labour laws regarding harassment in order to better protect employees.
As of February 2011, four Canadian provinces – Quebec, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Ontario – have developed new employment standards for harassment. Section 32. 0. 1 (1) of the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) (1990) states that: “an employer shall, (a) prepare a policy with respect to workplace violence; (b) prepare a policy with respect to workplace harassment; and (c) review the policies as often as is necessary, but at least annually”. In 2009, Bill 168 was implemented to amend the Act by adding additional requirements regarding training and education of their harassment policies.
By ensuring that employees are trained, employers can be confident that all members of the organization will be able to recognize and report any harassment that occurs, and that the culture of the company will reflect the discouragement of this type of behaviour. The Ontario Human Rights Code (1990), sections 5-7, discuss the protected groups – which include race, ancestry, place of origin, colour, ethnic origin, citizenship, creed, sex, sexual orientation, age, record of offences, marital status, family status or disability.
Based on these grounds, no employee may be discriminated against or harassed in any way, by anyone in the workplace. All employees, by law, are required to be treated fairly and equally, and have the right to be protected from any prejudice behaviour or comments. Other legislation in Canada that protects workers with regards to discrimination including the Employment Standards Act (2000), the Labour Relations Act (1995), and the Pay Equity Act (1990). Preventive Techniques
Developing a solution to this complex social issue of workplace harassment and bullying in the organizational setting is a difficult task. Management must ensure that there are clear rules and regulations established in order to mitigate the risk of harassment. Unfortunately, organizations often look upon the problem of harassment as a liability to shift to the employee at fault. While this is a step forward, it is still an avoidance of solving the main issue (Lucy, 2006). Organizations view allegations of harassment as having a negative effect on their public image.
This causes many corporate cultures to adopt an unspoken policy of ignoring these behaviours and passing them off as “irritating actions” (Schell & Lanteigne, 1998). This attitude will have its repercussions. When a harasser, or potentially a bystander witnessing harassment, sees that there are no consequences to harassing fellow employees, it is more likely to have repeat offenders. As well, victims will see that harassers get away with this offense and may feel that their organization does not value them.
Harassment is not a subject to be taken lightly. Punishment should be severe enough to deter this type of behaviour while promoting an acceptable alternative behaviour. The corporate mentality that harassment training is solely a legal requirement to be addressed in a staff meeting, while not put into practice, creates a negative culture. Companies need to be held responsible for the adequate training, prevention and punishment of harassment (Beyer & Carr, 1998).
Several remedies can be addressed to reduce or prevent workplace harassment and bullying. Organizations should seek to reduce conflict between individuals or groups, continuously monitor and improve policies and procedures, and follow up on suspicious activities or complaints from employees. Mueller et al. ’s (2001) research suggests that an organization, through processes of social integration, structural differentiation, decentralization in decision making and formalization and legitimacy, can reduce harassment in the workplace.
Organizations should review their policies regarding workplace harassment to make sure that it addresses issues such as specific definitions of harassment, the protocol of reporting complaints, and the importance of the matter. The policies should stand alone, and be able to answer almost all questions regarding the issue. There is also the matter of reporting complaints to management. All employees should feel and know that they are responsible to report any suspicious activity that may lead to or prevent workplace harassment.
Through social integration, a strong organizational culture in which social relationships extend beyond the workplace is created. This in turn creates an environment where employees feel compelled to protect one another from harassment. Structural differentiation is where employees can get promoted within the organization to a higher position. Incidents of harassment may hinder the offender’s possibility for promotion. When a potential harasser knows that they are up for a promotion, it may act as a deterrent if the potential harasser is seeking a promotion. Decentralization in decision aking results in employees having a greater feeling of autonomy within the company and a perception of being a stakeholder in running the company. Through formalization and legitimacy, rules and procedures protect employee rights and order is maintained within the organization. Both these processes can reduce harassment as employees feel empowered within the organization. This empowerment leads to employees feeling more confident about their ability to protect themselves or other coworkers from harassment, and reduces the need for power in offenders. References Beyer, J.
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