'Upwards bullying' on the rise

by HCA08 Jul 2009

Office gossip, withholding information, and intentionally missing deadlines are among tactics used to bully one in four Australian bosses, according to a new study.
The study into staff who target and harass their managers - a behaviour coined 'upwards bullying' - found other common bullying tactics included spreading workplace rumours, skipping meetings, and ignoring the views and opinions of managers.

The study involved 162 (105 male, 57 female) participants from both public and private organisations across a range of industries across Australia. Participants came from a range of managerial levels including senior, middle and supervisory positions.

"Upwards bullying, like other forms of workplace bullying, is often more subtle and less obvious to other staff," said Dr Sara Branch, psychologist and study author from Griffith University. "However, it can also include more aggressive behaviours such as yelling, verbal threats, and confrontational phone conversations."
Dr Branch found that many managers felt uncomfortable about reporting the bullying for fear of not being taken seriously or being expected to deal with the situation on their own.
"Workplaces need to understand that bullying can occur at any level in an organisation. Although managers clearly have formal authority, they can also be victims of bullying and need just as much support as other staff," she said.
Dr Branch, who presented her findings at the Australian Psychological Society's (APS) 8th Industrial & Organisational Psychology (IOP) Conference in June, noted that one of the main triggers for upwards bullying is organisational change.
"If an employee is disgruntled by change, such as new working conditions, management, or processes, they may blame their manager and respond by bullying them," she said.
Dr Branch said upwards bullying has the potential to damage a manager's mental health and wellbeing.  

"We know that bullying can cause psychological stress, anxiety, and in some extreme cases, even depression. Managers may also lose confidence in their abilities and feel less satisfied in their jobs.
"Upwards bullying has the potential to impact the bottom line, with loss in productivity, increased absenteeism and higher staff turnover, as well as the cost of intervention programs. Organisations must take all forms of bullying seriously, as it is destructive and can have devastating affects on people's careers."
Dr Branch recommended that workplaces should adopt grievance management processes that employees can trust and to encourage managers to report the bullying and bring employees together to discussing the issues openly.


  • by Lyn 9/07/2009 2:30:32 PM

    I think that the definition of what consitutes 'bullying' really needs to be examined, both up and down, If soneone is very anxious or sensitive, they can experience assertiver or even business like communication as 'bullying' becasue it is communicating something that they don't want to hear / be responsible for,

  • by Bernie 9/07/2009 3:24:51 PM

    Up, down and across and every which way that someone can think of. People are under a lot of pressure but that doesn't give them an excuse not to treat others (even their manager or supervisor) with respect and dignity. It applies both ways and as Lyn indicates, the definition of what is and what isn't bullying (particularly when tied to reasonable management) needs to be put into a context that might vary from workplace to workplace. It doesn't matter what it is called, there is simply no room for behaviour or communication towards others that is offensive, humilating, threatening, intimidating or involves any abuse of power. We might not like others in the workplace, but the least we can do is treat them with respect and dignity, and maintain standards that reflect those principles. Even the best intentioned managers can be accused of being a bully simply by asking "What do you have on next week?"

  • by Pete 10/07/2009 10:07:35 AM

    How soft are our managers getting? If everyone just came to work and did their job, we wouldn't need managers at all. Managing "upwards bullying" is just another part of the job. If you don't like it, go back to being a team member and stop pretending to be a manager!

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