Targets of Workplace Bullying Repeat Bad Advice to Other Victims

Stressed woman leaning against railingVictims of workplace bullying often receive advice that is ineffective or makes things worse, according to a study published in the Journal of Applied Communication Research. However, they are likely to offer that same advice to other bullying victims. The study suggests this might be because bullying victims may not have insight into effective strategies for managing or combating bullying in the workplace.

According to a 2014 survey by the Workplace Bullying Institute, 27% of workers have experienced some form of workplace abuse.

Bad Advice Workplace Bullying Victims Receive

The study involved interviews with 48 people who had experienced workplace bullying. Participants held a range of occupations. Researchers asked them to share the advice they received to deal with the bullying. The five most prevalent responses were:

  • Quit the job or otherwise exit the situation (27%)
  • Ignore or dismiss the bullying (23%)
  • Fight back or otherwise stand up to the bully (17%)
  • Remain calm (10%)
  • Report the misconduct (10%)

Some victims also reported being instructed to “punch the bully.” Others said they were accused of manufacturing the bullying.

Participants said they found this advice unhelpful. Many cited fears of retaliation or further harassment if they reported a bully. Most did little to address the abuse because they did not know what their best options were. Workers who were told to calm down or not show emotion in response to the bullying found these admonitions especially upsetting. Some shut down and stopped talking about their abuse, but they did not stop experiencing harm.

The Workplace Bullying Advice Paradox

Although participants said the advice they received made no difference or would have made things worse, they frequently reported offering the same advice to other bullying victims. The study’s authors say this points to the need to educate bullying victims about alternative and effective approaches to bullying.

They also point to the struggles management, friends, family, and colleagues may experience when trying to assist bullying victims. Canned advice to “ignore it” or “calm down” may feel better than saying nothing, but the study’s authors say this advice is unhelpful, minimizes the victim’s experience, and ignores the complexities of bullying.

According to the study’s authors, managers and other people who witness workplace bullying can start to mitigate the effects by considering the following strategies:

  • Give the bullying victim a safe space to talk about their experience.
  • Have example stories of how bullying victims have successfully managed their situations.
  • Listen to the bullying victim without judgement, and help them talk through possible solutions.

References:

  1. 2014 WBI U.S. Workplace Bullying Survey February 2014. (2014, February). Retrieved from http://www.workplacebullying.org/wbiresearch/wbi-2014-us-survey/
  2. After receiving bad advice, bullying victims say they would give same bad advice to others. (2017, May 16). Retrieved from https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2017-05/isu-arb051617.php
  3. Tye-Williams, S., & Krone, K. J. (2017). Identifying and re-imagining the paradox of workplace bullying advice. Journal of Applied Communication Research, 45(2), 218-235. doi:10.1080/00909882.2017.1288291

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  • Georgia

    Georgia

    May 27th, 2017 at 7:33 AM

    Heck no, being bullied at work just makes me want to stand my ground and stay even more. I am stronger than what they believe that I am!

  • Maris

    Maris

    May 27th, 2017 at 4:44 PM

    I experienced an adult work bully and it was quite unreal experience to be honest. I think what was worse were the other co-workers who viewed and participated (at times) and did nothing to stand up for what was very obviously going on. The idiot Exec. Director only listened to the bully and her primates so I knew I could not go to her for anything. To experience such juvenile nonsense really reflected more on them than it did me; however, there were days that I wanted to run them all over with my car. I decided to let God get them. Not easy to do — however, it really works out better that way!

  • chloe

    chloe

    May 28th, 2017 at 1:01 PM

    I am sure that there have been numerous work situations where someone is feeling bullied and afraid and yet they don’t think that they have someone safe that they can report to. I mean, if this is an environment where this is the norm then it can be terribly hard to know who you can trust and who might can help you make some real and positive changes. We all wish that we were brave and could stand up to those who are determined to hurt us, but that in and of itself can be a challenge for many of us who just want to come to work and do our jobs, not to have to haggle with the workplace bully.

  • Jane

    Jane

    May 29th, 2017 at 4:09 AM

    In the university where I work, there is a culture of bullying that no one that myself or others know of, has resulted in a successful change on behalf of the person bullied. HR supports the managers who bully amongst the academic staff. Without any knowledge or examples of people successfully dealing with it, what hope is there for giving useful ‘advice’ to others?

  • Glory

    Glory

    May 29th, 2017 at 3:12 PM

    It’s true that most people don’t know how to give good advice to people who are being bullied at work. This is especially true when the bully’s behavior is subtle. I became so concerned about the negative effects of bullying on the targeted people — I wrote a book to help them. “Not All Bullies Yell & Throw Things: How to Survive a Subtle Workplace Bully”

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