If you think workplace bullying is a bigger issue than managers often suspect, you’re right. Research supports that workplace bullying simply often goes unreported but it’s still happening. In their Employee Rights and Employee Policy Journal article, Researchers Loraleigh Keashly and Joel H. Neuman said a study of the VA healthcare system, the VA Project, showed a gap between those who experienced workplace bullying and those who reported it their experience to a supervisor. “Of the people identified as being exposed to bullying behavior (36 percent of the total sample), 53 reported their experience to a supervisor. An even smaller proportion (15 percent) filed a formal grievance.”
Possible reasons for not reporting bulling behavior at work:
So if workplace bullying is likely more prevalent in your workplace than data supports, what can your management team do? Keashly and Neuman point to a five-step plan that’s been proven to work:
Keashly and Neuman go back to the VA Project as an example of changing a work culture to reduce the number of workplace bullying incidents. The organization first gathered a group of employees — employees, leaders, union officials, and researchers — to inquire about the focal issues of stress and aggression. (They did not use expert consultants or programs.) This group used an “action-research cycle” in which they addressed actions as they occurred to understand context rather than evaluate after the fact.
This phase required two crucial elements:
At each facility, management created joint management-labor groups, comprised of those who demonstrated leaderships skills, had credibility with employees, those who acted on ideas, and those who committed to learning — from various levels of the organizational hierarchy. These groups created their own action items.
Made up of academic partners and organizational personnel (management, union leadership, and employees), a core project team guided the overall project. This team gathered data on processes and practices, performance measures, and changes in these variables over time through employee surveys and HR data. The project team then trained the action teams on how to collect and interpret data. Action teams implemented a Workplace Aggression Research Questionnaire. The goal: to track aggressive behaviors and determine their root causes — all in a timely manner.
Action teams shared both organizational-wide and facility-specific data with employees to analyze root cause. Then they tested root cause hypotheses through additional data collection. The result: action items to fix root cause, with zero guidance from the core project team.
When it comes to changing thoughts and behaviors to create a culture of fair treatment, respect, and valuing employees, the process is as important as the result. “Within the VA project, the ‘fix’ that we were looking for turned out to be the process that we were using to find the fix,” said Keashly and Neuman. In other words, the implementation phase helped move the culture to one of support, encouragement, action, and reflection.
Within the VA project, the “fix” that we were looking for turned out to be the process that we were using to find the fix.
During the process, team members asked their fellow team members to back up assumptions with data. Specifically, team members:
Data from surveying supported that the culture improved:
Researchers concluded that reducing workplace bullying involves a Collaborative Social Space (CSS) — a safe space for engaging in open and honest inquiry that fosters trust, security, and quality interaction. Higher trust means less conflict and aggression. Ultimately, the atmosphere becomes one where trust and fair treatment are the norm, and bullying is inappropriate.
Reducing workplace bullying involves a Collaborative Social Space (CSS) — a safe space for engaging in open and honest inquiry that fosters trust, security, and quality interaction.
Keashly and Neuman look to organizational justice theory to explain how to sustain a CSS:
“We believe that the VA Project is an example of an innovative, data-driven, and collaborative approach for reducing aggression at work,” said Keashly and Neuman.
Take Your Dignity Back
If you feel like you’re stuck in a big rut that’s destroying your life, learn how to reverse the damage.
Right now, you wish you could just tell your bully at work to knock it off, report the problem to management, and show the bully how childish he or she’s behaving. At best, the bully’s sidetracking the goals of the organization. At worst, the bully’s threatening or maybe even destroying your life by abusing you: your health, your family, your career, your finances, and your happiness.
You know it’s not a personality conflict. You’re not too sensitive. You’re not thin-skinned. It’s downright abuse. You expected your work environment to support you to do the work you were hired to do. You expected to be treated with dignity and respect.
The organization doesn’t care. They think it’s in their best interest to ignore the problem — meaning you — and make you go away. When you speak up, you’re the problem. You’re treasonous. If you fight them, they’ll fight harder.
Meanwhile, you’re stressed out and angry, and it gets worse the longer the bullying goes on, making you an easier target for the bully. Your physical and mental health are depleted. You consider or take stress leave.
Find out what workplace bullying is, why it happens, what's worked — and what hasn't worked — for hundreds of other workplace bullying targets, and how to start the path to healing in this comprehensive online course drawing from the greatest minds in workplace bullying.
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