In these rapidly changing times at the workplace, with increased usage of technology and a glut of temporary and part-time workers entering the workforce, it can be difficult to monitor the actions of employees. This can prove particularly devastating when it comes to combating workplace bullying. Workplace bullying is a global problem with no simple solution, but in the interest of ensuring the well-being of their employees, it is necessary for employers to strive to put a stop to any bullying or harassment that occurs at work. Workplace bullying damages its victims’ emotional health and organizations’ environments. Employers have an ethical obligation to intervene and resolve workplace aggression in order to eliminate bullying and uphold positive work environments. In this paper I will address employers’ ethical obligation as it relates to eliminating bullying by discussing what constitutes workplace bullying, who are the likely perpetrators and targets of such behavior, the negative impact that bullying has at the workplace, and how employers can be better equipped to put a stop to the problem.
a. There are legal protections in place to put a stop to sexual and racial harassment, but not to protect against bullying, since any bullying incidents are more likely to be dealt with internally (Query & Hanley, 2010). Although human resources departments can address bullying, due to the nature of workplace bullying reporting such incidents to HR carries a chance that the beleaguered employee may be bullied further as a sort of punishment.
b. Cyberbullying is increasingly a problem at work, not only because it affects an employee’s on-the-job performance, but also due to the way the negative effects of such bullying can bleed into an employee’s non-work life. It can be much more difficult to monitor than face-to-face confrontations. Male-dominated workplaces tend to have a greater problem with combating cyberbullying, particularly incidents involving social media and email privacy (Privitera & Campbell, 2009).
c. Bullying in the workplace also leads to higher medical and workmen’s compensation costs (Yamada, 2008). Unhappy workers are unhealthy ones, and a glut of unhealthy workers creates a more negative workplace environment.
a. Studies show that there are a variety of “bullying predictors” that employers can watch for in order to spot potential bullies, such as neuroticism and a disregard for unethical behavior (Hauge et al., 2009; Xu et al., 2011).
b. Female employees are more heavily targeted by bullies than male employees, especially assertive women working in male-dominated environments (Gilbert et al., 2013). This trend may be the result of male employees feeling threatened by female ones, which helps to explain why assertive women rather than timid ones are the targets of bullies more often.
c. Ethically responsible employees are often targeted as well. Bullies persist in tormenting others for reporting unethical behavior (Walter, 2009). If an employee is performing admirably, it creates unrest amongst less productive employees, which makes them want to lash out, especially if they already show signs of becoming a workplace bully as previously discussed.
a. Stress, anxiety, and depression can all result from bullying, and these negative feelings can manifest themselves throughout the workplace if bullying is allowed to go on for long enough (Promislo & Giacalone, 2013). As previously discussed, unhealthy employees are unproductive ones, so the medical trouble caused by workplace bullying should not be taken lightly.
b. Workplace bullying increases job insecurity and interpersonal strain amongst employees (De Cuyper et al., 2009). If bullying is allowed to go on for too long unchecked, it can cause the workplace to become more divided. Workers who are unhappy with the way their colleagues are being treated, for example, may become less motivated at work to do a good job themselves for fear that they’ll be ridiculed for their success or may find themselves acting more rashly due to anger at the actions of others. Bullying begets bullying.
c. Many bullying complaints are directed at bosses, which shows that poor leadership and tolerance of unethical behavior can trickle down and actually promote future unethical behavior on behalf of the employees (Query & Hanley, 2010; Wiedmer, 2011). If a boss does not act to stop workplace unrest, then their own ability to effectively lead gets called into question not only by their subordinates, but by their supervisors as well, potentially leading to a more negative office culture where nobody likes the way things are run but also doesn’t take any steps to stop it.
a. Employers should begin by making sure that both they and their employees have an understanding of the differences between subjective and objective violence (Rhodes et al., 2010). In this case, violence doesn’t necessarily refer to physical attacks, but to actions and situations that affect workers on a daily basis. Objective violence is applicable to occupational hazards, like dealing with an irate customer or performing tasks that are time-consuming and seemingly menial even though they are essential to the company’s function. Subjective violence, which stems from actions perpetrated by others, is much more easily controlled, as those responsible can be held accountable and reprimanded for their actions.
b. Employers must ensure that they are not fostering an environment where bullying and harassment are the norms. Unethical behavior should be addressed as soon as possible to show that it’s not tolerated (Rhodes et al., 2010).
c. Managers and supervisors who show poor leadership skills can make decisions that inadvertently lead to unethical behavior. Promoting ethics in the workplace from leadership downward will help soften the impact bullying has (Langlais, 2012). If leaders at work are being held accountable, then it increases the likelihood of two things. First, managers and supervisors will experience improved employee performance, since they will be acting more in line with how the company perceives they need to act in order to be the most effective leader possible. In turn, they will garner greater respect from their subordinates, who may also see the actions of their leaders as motivational and something to strive towards. This rising tide of good feelings will spread throughout the whole company, creating a better environment for productivity to happen in.
d. If bullying is noticed as a consistent problem in the workplace, employers must act to stop it, since it’s their responsibility to promote a productive and safe work environment. They have a variety of options at their disposal, such as the creation and enforcement of Codes of Conduct (Query & Hanley, 2010). If employers don’t take action to prevent workplace bullying from becoming a lingering problem, then they will be forced to contend with a bevy of consequences including decreased employee productivity, an increase in workplace confrontations, a more tense workspace, and potential legal action should the bully’s tormenting grow to become too prevalent of a force around the office. It is of utmost importance that employers who stumble upon a workplace bullying situation act quickly to quash it before it taints the company.
Workplace bullying must be dealt with in a timely manner when it is discovered by an employer to be occurring within their company. It is the obligation of an employer to make sure their employees are happy, healthy, and productive, and workplace bullying directly causes employees to be none of those things. Therefore, it is essential that employers can fully grasp why workplace bullying can be such a detriment to the work environment, along with forming plans to squash it should it crop up at their company. When armed with an understanding of both why workplace bullying is problematic for both individuals and the work environment, and what types of employees are more susceptible to either becoming a bully or a target, employers can become better equipped to fulfill their ethical obligations to tackling the problem effectively and promoting a healthy, happy, positive workplace.
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