Victims of workplace bullying may be driven to aggression — or worse
- People targeted by frequent workplace bullying can develop health problems as a result — and may even end up bullies themselves — according to new research on nursing professionals by a group of international academics led by the University of East Anglia (UEA) in Norwich, England.
- Workplace aggression is a significant problem in healthcare, where nurses can be bullied by colleagues and patients and patients' families, according to a UEA press release. Academics asked 855 nurses about their experiences with aggression and resulting health symptoms, including the nurses' own counter-productive behaviors, like insulting colleagues and modifying patients' prescriptions without physicians' consent. Researchers concluded that the anger and fear associated with being the target of workplace aggression could trigger misconduct in nurses, causing them to disregard codes of professional and ethical conduct.
- Researchers also investigated the role of "moral disengagement," whereby moral standards are temporarily suppressed so that individuals feel freed up to engage in conduct they normally would avoid. Researchers suggested that employers design training programs that aim, in part, to educate about the dangers of various emotional responses to aggression at work.
The study's results should raise a red flag for all employers — not just those in healthcare. Bullying and other forms of misconduct can negatively affect an entire organization, including the bystanders who witness it. For evidence, employers need look no further than the #TimesUp and #MeToo movements. With HR departments considered absent or eerily silent during the high-profile allegations of sexual misconduct surfaced last year, the industry is now feeling the pressure to investigate claims, enforce zero-tolerance policies, comply with federal law and provide staff training in all cases of misconduct.
Complicating this initiative is the fact that misconduct can be hard to detect without the cooperation (or unavailability) of third-party witnesses. Strategists who previously spoke with HR Dive recommend professionals encourage targeted employees and witnesses, up to and including whistleblowers, to come forward with complaints.
Mistreatment is not even in its effects, either. Minority employees, disproportionately passed over for promotions and targeted by structural racism, are a notable example. Women of color may even carry an "emotional tax" affecting their personal health, a study from Catalyst argues. Employers who are committed to diversity and inclusion may want to investigate and work to reverse this trend.
Well-being programs focused on restoring employees' emotional health and helping them manage stress may improve their ability to cope with inappropriate behavior. But employers also must address misconduct, adopting policies and enforcing them consistently.
- Frontiers in Psychology ‘First, Do No Harm’: The Role of Negative Emotions and Moral Disengagement in Understanding the Relationship Between Workplace Aggression and Misbehavior
- University of East Anglia Aggression at work can lead to ‘vicious circle’ of misconduct
- HR Dive Researchers: Workplace bullying impact reaches beyond the victims