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Blow the Whistle on Bullying & Harassment

Blow the Whistle on Bullying and HarassmentIt's Pink Shirt Day - Blow The Whistle on Bullying & Harassment

- Reposted from February 25, 2015

The purpose of the #pinkshirtday campaign is to bring awareness to bullying and harassment in our schools and community, and to work together to pay kindness forward to each other. Bullying and harassment doesn't start and end in schools. It happens in the workplace too.

One particular type of bullying that doesn't get much attention is ostracism. Perhaps because it doesn't take much effort, physically or verbally to participate in. Typically the type of bullying that makes headlines is verbal and physical abuse, as well as ever increasing cyber bullying. But just because nothing is being done or said, doesn't make the silence of ostracism any easier.

Ostracism is a silent bully. But is negative attention better than no attention?

In the past decade, research has established bullying as a prevalent problem among working North Americans. A survey by the Workplace Bullying Institute at the beginning of 2014 found that more than a quarter of adults have suffered from some form of harassment at the office, most of it from superiors. The effects this had on employees was severe, including anxiety, depression, and, in extreme cases, post-traumatic stress.

27% of Americans suffered abuse at work, 21% witnessed the abuse, 72% are aware that workplace bullying happens - survey findings

However, as damaging as an office bullies' unwanted attention is, a group of researchers believe that they have found something even more harmful than that unwanted attention in the workplace: no attention at all.

A recent study out of the University of British Columbia’s Sauder School of Business, in Organization Science, found that the consequences of workplace ostracism, compared to workplace bullying has much worse affects on an employee.

A professor involved in the study, stated that "when someone is being bullied, they are at least receiving attention and have a social role to play. But if someone is ostracized in the workplace, the signal is you're not even worthy of negative attention, you're not worth someone's energy to react to you."

"We've been taught if you don't have something nice to say, don't say anything at all. But ostracism actually leads people to feel more helpless, like they're not worthy of any attention at all."

This study also reported that of the people who indicated being ostracized, they were more likely to quit their jobs, compared to those who received attention in the form of bullying.

The researchers say that the response is quite striking because ostracism is seen as far more socially acceptable than bullying, and they found that workers consider ignoring their colleagues more appropriate than harassing them.

Employees need to know they can blow the whistle on workplace harassment and bullying

Ostracism in the workplace need not be intentional to be harmful. In some cases, busy or very unsociable co-workers may have no idea they're being cruel by neglecting one of their colleagues.

The affects of bullying and harassment can be quite harmful to an organization - just like any other misconduct including fraud, substance abuse, and theft:

  • Increased absenteeism
  • Increased turnover
  • Increased stress
  • Increased costs for employee assistance programs, recruitment, etc
  • Increased risk for accidents / incidents
  • Decreased productivity and motivation
  • Decreased morale
  • Reduced corporate image and customer confidence
  • Poor customer service

So here's our challenge to you. Do you have a speak-up culture where your employees feel safe to report on bullying and harassment?

If 72% of employees know that there's workplace bullying happening, do they feel safe to come forward to report on it?

Do they have a safe place where they can report?

Don't wait for something bad to hit the headlines - because more bad stuff makes the news than good.

It starts with small steps in the detection and prevention of bullying and harassment. Eventually prevention tactics catch on and a negative issue subsides.

Have you provided your employees with the tools they need?

Contact us and let's have a chat!

photo Amanda Nieweler
About the Author
Amanda writes for WhistleBlower Security about ethics, compliance, workplace culture, and whistleblower hotlines. Amanda brings her nearly two decades of risk and compliance experience to the WBS blog where she is dedicated to helping people and companies promote speak-up cultures.