Six questions and answers about bullying at work

How many people are bullied at work?

‘2.4 per cent of Belgian employees. This means that they are experiencing bullying behavior that could be related to them as a person as well as to their performance at work. 15 percent sometimes have to deal with bullying behaviour. 36 percent reported having limited exposure to negative work-related behavior, so they rarely experience anything. And 46 percent never experience negative behaviors, neither personal nor work-related. This means that more than half of the 11,000 respondents have actually experienced something negative at work.

Who are the bullies at work?

“We don’t know anything about it, and the simple reason is that we can’t identify these people. We can’t hold them accountable to their parents as we do to young people. And when we ask questions about whether they do something like that, you see that they don’t readily admit it. No We can only guess. Other people’s barking or scolding may be a coping strategy for the abuser to deal with stress, a coping strategy that can of course have serious consequences.

What are the consequences of bullying at work?

In the first place, of course, stress, and for some it leads to an anxiety disorder or depression. Associated with suicidal thoughts. Other research shows an association with back pain and joint pain. But it can also cause people to lose motivation, become less engaged and want to work elsewhere. People also begin to isolate themselves when they notice that they are being excluded, for example. Several studies have also found strong associations between workplace bullying and health complaints, both mental and physical. The amount of the stress hormone cortisol in bullying is identical to the amount in people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or chronic fatigue, although a causal relationship has not yet been established.

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In all of these examples, you are dealing with psychological damage that is too great to be taken lightly. If 2.4 percent of employees are bullied, just count how many places you might need mental health care. I don’t think there are many places available at the moment. I don’t think enough people see luxury as a priority yet. It is now productivity for luxury’s sake. This should be the other way around.

Are there consequences also for onlookers, in this case colleagues?

It was always assumed that they would be as nervous as the victims, but we were able to disprove that. Bystanders notice that they work in an environment where bullying behavior is tolerated. This may have a strong effect on their motivation. There are also consequences for the organization. Bullies display counterproductive behavior.

What can colleagues do?

Colleagues can play a key role if they work actively and constructively. If it does not occur, it can have a negative effect. Don’t stand aside and definitely don’t join the offender. Victims often view failure to respond as a tacit agreement with the perpetrator. If colleagues actively intervene, you see that victims become more committed to their work and feel supported again.

What can employers do about bullying?

Isolation measures do not help, an integrated approach is needed. The business owner must know the situation in the organization and the people who need help. Creating psychological safety in the workplace is very important. In the workplace, being different from others should be normal and acceptable. And everything could be different. That might be some weird red glasses. But this can also be a different sexual orientation. Or people who have a silly hobby, at least according to others. Therefore, deviations from the group. People should be more tolerant of that.

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If the employee is not very productive and then less attentive, he should not be judged based on this. There must be room for mistakes. Research shows that psychologically safe work environments promote creativity and innovation. It can build a barrier against bullying. The manager must adopt a leadership style that connects people, inspires the team, and pays attention to both the team as a whole and the individual. The leader must take responsibility but also give† And don’t look away from disputes, but try to resolve them. Employees will feel at home in the workplace, can develop to their fullest potential and be more motivated. They must feel that the organization cares about them. And of course it should also be possible to talk about bullying behaviour.

Guy Notellers is Professor of Organizational and Work Psychology at the Faculty of Psychology at the University of Bergen, Norway. He mainly specializes in work bullying and statistics.

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