We all hoped bullying would be left behind in the playground – something children did before they learned that actions have consequences. But whether it’s relentless criticism or abuse, unfair and unrealistic pressure, spreading lies or just setting someone up to fail, the kind of behaviour we might recognise from being a teen is still happening in workplaces up and down the country.
For victims of workplace bullying, the ramifications can be serious and long-lasting. One Canadian study suggested the impact was greater than being sexually harassed at work. But new research suggests that as well as suffering personally, victims of bullying can go on to adopt negative behaviours towards others, including colleagues and customers. The ramifications of bullying may ripple throughout the work environment in a way we hadn’t fully understood before.
Two research studies (1) by the University of East Anglia showed that victims of bullying were more likely to engage in negative behaviours within the workplace. This could mean not committing to tasks, self-medicating with alcohol or ‘moral disengagement’, where the victim stops caring about the consequences of their own behaviour. Clearly, bullying extends far beyond the original bully-victim relationship.
A frightening percentage of people in the UK say they’ve been the victim of bullying at work. A TUC study in 2015 put the figures at 34% of women and 23% of men. And while organisations are increasingly aware of the impact on individual victims – there are signs that many workplaces are taking it seriously – they may not yet be thinking about how negative behaviours can spread through the workforce.