ECONOMY

Study on economic impact of bullying in workplace

A very interesting research project focusing on «bullying» in Greek business is about to be started by the Postgraduate Program of Studies in Human Resource Management of the Athens University of Economics and Business (AUEB). This is about behavior types who undermine not only the quality of working life, but also the competitiveness or survival of companies themselves, if its corrosive effectiveness is left unanswered. «The phenomenon of abusing employees is certainly very old. But bullying is a problem that tends to expand into workplaces where all other conditions (salaries, working hours, environment, etc) are satisfactory. It can even emerge at enterprises and corporations whose management indeed has tried to maintain an acceptable working environment,» says Professor Nancy Papalexandri, the deputy rector for academic affairs and staff at the AUEB. She points to the research of US experts, who brand the phenomenon «an epidemic that is spreading, undermining efficiency, professional development and often the health of employees.» Papalexandri explains that bullying is «the repeated malicious soul-destroying behavior against an employee by one or more employees. This may be psychological violence, or a combination of verbal and other actions which render the work of the victim harder.» «This often begins with a one-on-one attack. Sometimes, however, it evolves into a generalized campaign against the target. If this abuse is not dealt with in time by the managers, it usually escalates and then the workplace can turn into a hostile, poisoned environment,» says Papalexandri, adding that «this abuse is not easy to address by law – although there are such examples – as it is extremely difficult and time-consuming for victims to eventually prove the damage they have suffered.» Worse still, «the bully persuades the others that his abilities are irreplaceable, terrorizes those under him so that they do not protest, and often gets promoted,» she tells Kathimerini. Yet abuse may also come from inferiors who are «protected» by their permanency. Papalexandri notes that in Greece no research has been conducted on the issue even though bad relations at workplaces are cited as the main reason for departure from a job in the private sector. «The phenomenon ought to be studied, particularly in areas where the mobility of employees is low, as in the public sector. When the cost of departure is very high, employees do not have the luxury to leave, so they quietly suffer any abuse and its consequences,» she explains. She goes on to point out the very important part played by the attitude of the company in dealing with the phenomenon. In an environment of open communication and cooperation, bullying behavior will be tackled quickly and «if the management is informed, it will force him to either change behavior or change jobs.» A recent court decision in the UK has paved the way for a law against bullying. In the USA, the law holds responsible not just the bully but also the employer. It was not until the late 1990s that business administration scientists started studying the issue. The anatomy of this phenomenon will fortunately soon begin to be dissected by the AUEB. Usual practices Bullies use certain tactics against their employee/targets. They include unfair accusations of non-existent mistakes; irrational demands at work; criticism of the abilities of the employee on other, non-related issues; threats of sacking; abuse, screaming and demeaning comments; negation or downgrading an employee’s achievements; exclusion or «freezing out» the victim or deprivation of systematic information and means for work to progress smoothly. Work bullies can be classified into three categories: The first is the «chronic despot,» insecure people with high levels of narcissism and an inherent dislike for those around them. In competitive environments, such people tend to be rewarded and even promoted. The second category is the «occasional despot,» who shows their bad self when this seems useful to climb the hierarchy or to neutralize a rival. They can be clever people with great social skills who even behave extremely well if it is to their own benefit. This is the largest category and also the hardest to handle. Finally, there is the «casual despot» – the smallest category. They are ham-fisted people without social skills who hurt those around them for lack of sensitivity, often without realizing the damage they inflict. According to a recent survey in the USA, bullying hurts one in every six employees. Some 81 percent of bullies are superiors and 50 percent of them are women. Interestingly, 77 percent of women’s targets are also women. The health problems cited by the victims are stress (94 percent), headaches, depression and panic attacks.