Workplace bullying and workplace harassment are ugly members of the same family. They thrive in the workplace, wreaking havoc in the lives of innocent employees.
While on the job harassment and bullying in the workplace are closely related, they have some striking differences. For those of you who have been a target of bullying at work, you need to know the real damage.
Here are some differences:
- On the job harassment has a strong intrusive component including physical contact such as invading physical space, including personal possessions and damage to possessions.
Bullying in the workplace is almost always psychological.
- Workplace harassment is usually linked to sex, race, prejudice or discrimination.
Bullying is frequently linked to a staged attack on competent and popular individuals.
- Everyone can recognize workplace harassment because of its overt nature.
Few can see bullying in the workplace because it is usually perpetrated behind closed doors.
- A target of workplace harassment knows he or she is being harassed immediately.
A target of this type of abuse may not realize it for weeks or months, until great damage is done.
- Job harassment is usually accompanied by offensive aggressive vocabulary.
Bullying in the workplace shows its face through trivial untrue criticisms of under-performance.
Sandy Hershcovis of University of Manitoba and Julian Barling of Queens University studied the relationship between one form of harassment – namely (sexual) harassment and workplace bullying. They found that those bullied were more stressed, angry and anxious, and were less committed and more likely to quit their jobs, than were victims of (sexual) harassment. Targets also had a lower over-all sense of well-being.
Workplace bullying is repeated, deliberate, disrespectful behavior with the intent of hurting someone else.
Harassment is defined as “unwanted conduct that violates people's dignity or creates an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment”.
There are reasons why bullying in the workplace is more injurious than (sexual) harassment:
- (Sexual) harassment is illegal. Workplace bullying is not. Targets of bullying and (sexual) harassment both sustain significant psychological injury. Victims of (sexual) harassment however can appeal to the powers that be for justice; while targets of workplace bullying cannot, unless company policies are implemented. Without enforced company policies, those being bullied experience a greater sense of powerlessness.
- Bullies can be very subtle in their aggression. Thus this noxious behavior is harder to detect. The survival instinct of the target causes him or her to go into denial as the crazy-making behavior continues. Significant damage can be done to the target before they are even aware of what is happening to them. While (sexual) harassment can also be subtle, it is easier to detect. The same can be said for physical and racial harassment. Becoming aware is the first step to curbing powerlessness.
Dr. Heinz Lymann, a Swedish researcher, worked with victims of workplace mobbing. He found that the chances of healing were reduced if the perpetrator went unpunished, and the target was not properly supported. He further discovered that the chances of healing were reduced if the target felt that his or her safety was in question.
Employers need to sit up and take notice. If they want to have a healthy, committed work force they need to actively promote workplace harmony. Employers need to enforce strict rules prohibiting bullying at work while governments need to pass solid legislation providing protection for targets.
In Canada, Quebec and Saskatchewan have passed legislation making workplace bullying illegal. In 2004 Quebec amended its Labor Standards Act to include workplace bullying. In 2007 Saskatchewan amended its Occupational Health and Safety Act for the same reason. This is progress. This is hope.
Many places are facing a labor crunch and employers are competing for the best talent. Eventually, good employees will not tolerate workplace bullying of any form. Targets of workplace bullying, just as victims of sexual harassment, deserve the protection of their employers and their governments. Nothing less will suffice.
The REAL damage is that, without effective workplace bullying policies and proper workplace bullying legislation, the problem of bullying in the workplace becomes a company culture issue, a societal issue, and a moral issue. Stopping workplace bullying is everyone's responsibility.