The Ethics of Workplace Bullying
Does incivility lead to bullying? According to a survey commissioned by the Workplace Bullying Institute and carried out by Zogby International, the workplace is increasingly characterized by incidents of incivility and bullying, and this may be part of a general societal trend, exacerbated by tough economic times.
A startling 37% of American workers--roughly 54 million people--have been bullied at work according to the a 2007 survey. The consequences of such bullying have spread to families, and other institutions and cost organizations reduced creativity, low morale and increased turnover. According to the Institute, 40% of the targets of bulling never told their employers, and of those that did, 62% reported that they were ignored.
The survey also indicates that almost 50% of the U.S. workers report they have experience or witnessed some kind of bullying--verbal abuse, insults, threats, screaming, sarcasm or ostracism. One study by John Medina showed that workers stressed by bullying performed 50% worse on cognitive tests. Other studies estimate the financial costs of bullying at more than $200 billion per year.
And bullying is not restricted to male bosses. Cheryl Dolan and Faith Oliver, writing in the Harvard Business Review, report that because women now comprise 50% of the workforce, woman-on-woman bullying is being reported.
The question still remains: Why Now? Why is Bullying occurring at dizzying speeds today? What is Being Done to Protect the Innocent from the Aggressors?
The recent economic downturn, with layoffs and financial pressures on managers to perform may have exacerbated the bullying problem. Research conducted by Wayne Hochwarter and Samantha Englehardt at Florida State University concluded that "employer-employee relations are at one of the lowest points in history," with a significant decline in basic civility.
Is bullying a reflection of a general decline in civility? In poll after poll, Americans have voiced concern over the erosion of civility. According to a poll by Weber Shandwick, 65% of Americans say the lack of civility is a major problem in the country and feel the negative tenor has worsened during the financial crisis and recession.
I believe bullying is just a “natural” extension” of the breakdown of civility in society. I have blogged about this problem before. To be a civil person requires treating others with respect. It harkens back to The Golden Rule that we should treat others the way we would want to be treated. No one wants to be bullied and experience the indignities that go along with such behavior toward another person.
I also believe bullying is on the rise in society because of the decline in ethics in our society. I’ve blogged about this problem many times in the past. Ethical people treat others with respect, caring, empathy, and fairness. Civility and ethics go hand in hand. Those who violate accepted standards of behavior typically are oblivious as to why bullying is wrong in the first place. They may have been bullied at home or in school and have come to believe it is accepted practice. Some in the workplace who bully others believe it is a way to get what they want. The bullied will stay out of that person's way to avoid a confrontation which can not be won.
If you have a problem with bullying in your organization, I recommend a training program to discuss the problem and the protocols in the company to report bullying. Workers must feel comfortable reporting such behavior in a non-judgmental manner. Here is the link to a video posted on You Tube that depicts, in a comedic way,
workplace bullying that makes it ideal for a workplace discussion.
If you are being bullied in the workplace and want advice, you can submit a question that will be handled anonymously by me and I will respond within one day.
Blog posted by Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, on October 21, 2011