Witnesses to workplace bullying often have a stronger urge to leave the workplace than the actual victims – and this can impact a company’s bottom line new research has found.
It is common to assume that the people who are bullied bear the full brunt of the behaviour – but this study found people across an organisation experience a moral indignation when others are bullied which can make them want to leave in protest, said study co-author Sandra Robinson, who is a professor at the University of British Columbia’s Sauder School of Business.
These findings indicate that the corrosive effects of bullying in the workplace may be more dramatic and costly than previously thought, she said. “All of the research respondents who experienced bullying, either directly or indirectly, reported a greater desire to quit their jobs than those who did not, and yet the people who experienced it as bystanders, or with less frequency, reported wanting to quit in even greater numbers, Robinson said.
Even if such employees did not leave their workplace, an organisation's productivity could suffer severely if staff members had an unrealised desire to leave, warned Robinson. Managers need to be aware that the behaviour is pervasive and it can have a mushrooming effect that goes well beyond the victims. Ultimately bullies can hurt the bottom line and need to be dealt with quickly and publicly so that justice is restored to the workplace.
In Canada and the US the publication of the research has provoked renewed debate on the issue of workplace bullying. Most commentators agree the problem is getting worse but, while some claim anti-bullying policies are not the solution, others insist they are the only way to deal with the problem.
In Australia, the recent announcement of a Federal Government review into workplace bullying is likely to result in increased scrutiny on the role of workplace culture in preventing and responding to bullying.
According to one employment law firm, undertaking regular ‘audits’ to highlight behavioural issues and risks is a place to start. “The Federal Government’s increased focus on workplace culture means the pressure is now on employers to elevate the importance of regular culture audits to ensure the values and virtues outlined in mission statements are a reality,” Joydeep Hor from People and Culture Strategies (PCS) said. Hor added that while culture audits are not yet common practice, they are essential to raising red flags that may expose potential workplace issues. “In many cases, the values and mission statement have become merely paper-policies, which are not being lived and breathed throughout the organisation,” he said.
To effectively manage a workplace culture, employers first need to be attuned to signals of a problem or gap in the culture. Hor added that an increase in staff turnover, grievances and absenteeism are key indicators that there may be an issue with the workplace culture. “Developing and maintaining the right culture in a workplace is important for many reasons. Firstly, positive workplace culture can ensure the health and wellbeing of the organisation’s employees and secondly, it can reduce an employer’s risk profile in terms of its exposure to bullying, discrimination and harassment-type claims,” Hor said.
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