Punish them!

Researcher advocates stronger sanctions for workplace bullies

With a recent survey showing that more than half of private sector employees are exposed to at least two acts of bullying on a weekly basis, one researcher is proposing “harsh sanctions” as one counter measure.

Senior Lecturer in Management Studies at the University of the West Indies Dr Dwayne Devonish said managers must be proactive in dealing with the problem of workplace bullying by taking practical steps by way of policy.

Workplace bullying, often referred to as workplace harassment, has been defined as hostile or unethical communication that occurs on a frequent basis and over a long period of time at the workplace.

The empirical study carried out by Devonish, among a sample of about 300 private sector employees, examined three forms of workplace bullying: work-related bullying, which includes actions such as destructive criticism and giving a person unreasonable tasks and duties; person-related bullying, which consists of slander and social isolation; and physically intimidating behaviours, which comprise threats and physical violence.

The survey was designed to examine the effects of different forms of workplace bullying on physical exhaustion, work-related depression and counterproductive work behaviours in private sector organizations here.

It found that 54 per cent of those surveyed reported being exposed to at least two acts of bullying every week, over the last six months.

“The most frequently experienced bullying action included: having your opinions or views ignored (31 per cent), persistent criticism or your work (30 per cent), and being ignored or facing hostile reaction at work (28 per cent),” said Devonish.

“Employees who had greater exposure to person-related bullying and work-related bullying exhibited higher levels of work-related depression. Employees with higher exposure to physically intimidating bullying behaviours and work-related bullying were more likely to engage in counterproductive behaviours at work,” he continued, adding that employees who were strongly exposed to all forms of workplace bullying combined, generally reported poorer overall health and well-being.

Devonish recommended a zero-tolerance approach which should be communicated throughout the organization and evidenced by clear and explicit organizational policies with harsh sanctions against these acts.

In addition, he said, it would be of “good practical value” for organizations to establish health and safety committees to be responsible for liaising with workers on health and safety hazards related to workplace bullying and other psychosocial stressors, developing anti-bullying policies and strategies, and monitoring and evaluating the efficacy of those strategies.

“Such committees, if given sufficient autonomy, would reduce the burden on traditional management to locate and respond to these hazards on a regular basis,” he said.

Another recommendation coming out of the study was the establishment of a formal complaint resolution system, to help employees who have been victims of bullying voice their concerns “and expect timely and fair resolution from management”.

Devonish also proposed counselling sessions and other employee assistance programmes, as well as training managers and employees in the areas of social and interpersonal skills and emotional intelligence, as a means of creating a culture and work environment “in which individuals are socially aware, interpersonally competent and emotionally intelligent in their interactions with each other in the workplace”.

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