Article: Bullying and harassment at workplace

Life @ Work

Bullying and harassment at workplace

Workplace bullying is a sensitive issue and cannot be merely checked by providing staff members information about the anti-harassment policy or relying on disciplinary action.
Bullying and harassment at workplace

Under occupational health and safety laws around the world, workplace harassment and workplace bullying are identified as being core psychosocial hazards. Recently, matters of workplace harassment have gained interest among practitioners and researchers as it is becoming one of the most sensitive areas of effective workplace management.

"Mobbing", "workplace bullying", "workplace mistreatment", "workplace aggression", and "workplace abuse" are all either synonymous or belong to the category of workplace harassment. Workplace harassment includes different types of discrimination and acts of violation that are not confined to one specific group. All of these form of workplace harassment target various groups, including women, racial minorities, homosexuals, and immigrants. The vastly different harassments imposed on the victims can be categorized into three different types, physical abuse, emotional abuse and financial abuse.

Physical abuse: Physical harassment in the workplace takes many forms like sexual comments, unwanted physical touching, and pressure for dates. Sexual assault is one form of widely known physical harassment. There are two main perpetrators for workplace violence: criminals who approached as clients and co-workers. The SHRM study that interviewed 1,016 human resource professionals, "22% reported incidents of pushing or shoving, 13% reported fist fights, and 1% reported sexual assault." Much of the physical violence on workers is preceded by physiological aggression, hinting that emotional harassment may be the cause for workplace violence. Other form of workplace harassment is direct harassment from the public after disclosing one's sexuality.

Emotional abuse: Emotional harassment is manipulation of people's actions through social behaviors. Workplace bullying "is a long lasting, escalated conflict with frequent harassing actions systematically aimed at a target person." Specific actions of workplace bullying include the following: false accusations of mistakes and errors, hostile glares and other intimidating non-verbal behaviors, yelling, etc. The 2014 Workplace Bullying Institute/Zogby national survey shows that 27% have experienced workplace bullying in the past, and 7% of employees currently suffer workplace bullying. Harassment can be by a fellow worker, boss or, a client. Harassment can take place at work or on a training course, on a work trip, at a work social event or any other occasion connected with job.

Financial abuse: This harassment may be overt or subtle. The acts constituting it may range from visual signals or gestures to verbal or physical contact. Financial harassment is not a new issue, but has until recently been a hidden silent one. Its definition always has one key element - the behaviour is uninvited, unwanted and unwelcome. It is offensive financial behaviour by persons in authority towards subordinates. Therefore, it is primarily an issue of abuse of power, not money. A few cases like, where a few employers in small businesses held one or another employee's paycheck an extra week or left town on payday for two weeks without paying an employee. Or a boss paying his employees when he felt like it in a small office and the two women who were employed went 3-4 weeks without pay and finally quit.

Workplace harassment causes increased feelings of stress and tension in the body which can lead to clinical indications of: anxiety, weight gain, headaches, backaches, nausea, ulcers, suicidal ideation, irritable bowel syndrome, high blood pressure, depression, low self-confidence, insomnia, nightmares, etc. A total of at least 44% of all Americans have reported that they have experienced abuse in the workplace as of 2012. This figure was reported from a study completed by the Employment Law Alliance. It is a shocking fact that nearly half of all American workers report that they have been abused at work. Rather, 80% of the bullied walk away and find another job. At the same time, many sources expect 80% of US employers to have a written policy against bullying sometime in the decade of the 2010s. As of 2013, a little progress has been made.

The HuffPost/YouGov poll was conducted Aug. 19-20 among 1,000 adults using a sample selected from YouGov's opt-in online panel to match the demographics and other characteristics of the adult U.S. population. Thirteen percent of respondents to a recent HuffPost/YouGov poll reported having been sexually harassed by a boss or another superior, and 19 percent have been harassed by a co-worker other than a boss or superior. Of those who said they’d experienced sexual harassment, a full 70 percent said they never reported it. And about 60% of workplace bullies are men, who tend to bully male and female employees equally says New York Times. Most employers are anxious when faced with discrimination and harassment complaints. Such complaints can lead to workplace tension, government investigations, and even costly legal battles. If the complaint is mishandled, even unintentionally, an employer may unwittingly put itself out of business. Now here, HR and Employers can play a pivotal role by:

Keep an open mind: Many employers have a hard time believing that discrimination or harassment could be happening right under their noses. It is important to investigate every complaint received and not to frame any conclusions until investigation is complete.

Respect the complainer: Employees often find it extremely difficult to complain about discrimination or harassment. They feel vulnerable and can have an impact on the quality of their work. When an employee comes with concerns about discrimination or harassment there should be an empathetic listening.

Don't retaliate: It is against the law to punish someone for complaining about discrimination or harassment or to terminate, demote, pay cuts, or threats to do any of these things. More subtle forms of retaliation may include changing the shift hours or work area of the accuser or changing the accuser's job responsibilities 

Follow established procedures: An employee handbook or other documented policies relating to discrimination and harassment must be followed. Some research on the law of discrimination and harassment: what it is, how it is proven in court, may be helpful.

Interview the people involved: Start by talking to the person who complained. Find out exactly what the employee's concerns are. Get details: what was said or done, when, and who else was there. Take notes of interviews. Be sure to interview any witnesses who may have seen or heard any problematic conduct. 

Look for corroboration or contradiction: Discrimination and harassment complaints often offer the classic example of "he said/she said." Often, the accuser and accused offer different versions of incidents. Other sources for clues; for example, schedules, time cards, co-workers, vendors and other attendance records (for trainings, meetings, and so on) may help determine whether each party was where he or she claimed to be. 

Keep it confidential: A discrimination complaint can polarize a workplace. Workers will likely side with either the complaining employee or the accused employee, and the rumor mill will start working overtime. Avoid these problems by insisting on confidentiality.

Make a note: Keeping a journal of investigation is really crucial. Document any action taken against the accused or the reasons for deciding not to take action. 

Cooperate with government agencies or an experienced investigator: If the employee makes a complaint with a government agency that agency may investigate. It will probably ask to provide certain documents, the other side of the story, and explain any efforts made to deal with the complaint. Be cautious, but cooperative. Many law firms and private consulting agencies will investigate workplace complaints for a fee. One might consider bringing in outside help if more than one employee complains of harassment; the accused is a high-ranking official in your business (like the president or CEO) or the accuser has publicized the complaint.

Take appropriate action against the wrongdoer(s): The last step is to sit down and decide what has really happened. If the conclusion is that some form of discrimination or harassment has occurred, figure out how to discipline the wrongdoer(s) appropriately. After deciding upon an appropriate action, take it quickly, document it, and notify the accused.

Workplace bullying is a sensitive issue. It cannot be checked merely providing staff members information about the anti-harassment policy or relying on disciplinary action. The organization must play proactive role, provide behavioral support and discuss this aspect as a part of the work routine. The staff must nurture an inclusive, supportive, and respectful environment in the office in order to build a congenial working atmosphere.

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Topics: Life @ Work, #Culture

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