Workplace bullying has become a silent epidemic in North America, one that has huge hidden costs in terms of employee well-being and productivity. Bullying, also known as psychological harassment or emotional abuse, involves the conscious repeated effort to wound another person, not with violence, but with words and actions. It damages the physical, emotional and mental health of the person who is targeted.
In Eye of the Storm: How Mindful Leaders Can Transform Chaotic Workplaces, I describe in detail the many organizations with toxic workplaces. That chaos is linked to bosses who are often the perpetrators of bullying, or if not personally responsible, do nothing about those who do.
A recent by study England’s University of East Anglia, published in Anxiety, Stress & Coping: An International Journal, reveals a spiral of abuse in which the victims of bullying become anxious, leaving them less able to stand up for themselves and more vulnerable to further harassment. The research suggests employers should not only crack down on workplace bullies, but also help victims gain the skills to cope with difficult situations.
“This study shows that the relationship between workplace bullying and the psychological impact on victims is much more complex than expected,” said Ana Sanz Vergel, from University of East Anglia’s Norwich Business School.
Examples of bullying at work include harassing, offending, or socially excluding someone repeatedly over a period of about six months.
The research team, which included colleagues from the Complutense University and Autonomous University of Madrid in Spain, tested their theory on 348 Spanish employees. Participants were interviewed about their experiences of bullying and assessed for anxiety and vigor. “We found that being exposed to workplace bullying leads to deteriorated mental health and decreased well-being. At the same time, showing anxious behaviour puts the victim in a weak position and makes them an easy target — leading to a spiral of abuse,” Vergel said.