Women 'work harder' after being bullied

by Iain Hopkins21 Mar 2013

New research has found women experience more rude and disrespectful behaviour in the workplace than their male counterparts – but they tolerate it by working harder.

According to a joint research project from Edith Cowan University (ECU) and the University of New England, in contrast, men who are treated rudely tended to react by taking longer breaks away from work and taking faux sick days.

The findings are from a study of 317 Australian white collar workers that examined workplace ‘incivility’ – namely, refusing to acknowledge co-workers, general gossip, rolling one’s eyes at co-workers’ suggestions, texting or emailing during meetings, making derogatory comments or insulting colleagues, making sexist remarks or giving unwanted sexual attention. According to ECU School of Psychology and Social Science Senior Lecturer Dr Jennifer Loh, while so-called ‘workplace incivility’ is considered a step down from bullying, the study shows it still has a significant impact on the office environment and productivity.

One possible reason for women’s reaction to incivility in the workplace was the importance women tended to place on a good personal and social relationship with colleagues, Dr Loh said. “Therefore, when they are faced with incivility in the workplace – and this would generally be over work issues – women are more likely to attempt to work harder with the aim to improve their work relationships,” she said.

The study confirmed that women are more likely to be targeted in workplace incivility, and this is partly due to gender inequality in the workplace, evident in the gender pay gap, and a lesser likelihood of advancing to a senior position.

Dr Poh also found that women tend to use more ‘passive’ coping strategies to deal with workplace incivility. Rather than pursuing punishment for their harasser, they were typically more interested in putting a stop to the undesirable behaviour itself. By contrast, men experiencing similar behaviour tend to either ignore their aggressor or retaliate by withdrawing from work.

Key HR takeaways

It is important for HR and leaders to acknowledge the existence of workplace incivility and put a stop to it before it escalates.

How can you recognise a withdrawal from work? The behaviour includes:

  • Completing work assignments late
  • Frequent/long coffee or lunch breaks
  • Making excuses to get out of the office
  • Arriving late for work; and
  • Neglecting tasks not effecting evaluation or pay rises


  • by Anonymous 21/03/2013 4:18:28 PM

    What happens when the bullying is from the most senior HR director in the region? Passively aggressively bullying all females in the team, who don't report to him, but he ensures they realise if they talk about it, they will be managed out. It's a tough one. Report him to the senior leader you report to, and be ostracised even worse so that you will leave, or continue to try to manage his Jekyll and Hyde personality while all the time avoiding the office when he is in, avoiding any communication unless absolutely necessary and smiling through tears of frustration when he belittles you in front of the team. A very unpleasant work environment where turn over in the HR team is high.

  • by Anon 21/03/2013 5:11:28 PM

    To the comment above, if you aren't comfortable talking to him about it, something needs to be said (perhaps to his peer to express how you are feeling and for advice?) That sort of behaviour from someone who should know better is disgraceful. I think all too often bullies in leadership roles build a culture of fear which makes it difficult for people to speak up. I hope this sitaution sorts it self out for you.
    "Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen"
    Winston Churchill

  • by AnonymousToo 21/03/2013 5:14:16 PM

    I have been in this position within a HR team where the HR Director was the bully. The team had the highest turnover rate in the organisation and when I finally decided enough was enough and resigned, four of us resigned in a 3 day period. Guess what? Even this followed by an exit interview with his superior didn't produce any results, it was just covered up.

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