Victims 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.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.
- 2014 WBI U.S. Workplace Bullying Survey February 2014. (2014, February). Retrieved from http://www.workplacebullying.org/wbiresearch/wbi-2014-us-survey/
- 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
- 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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