Men and women react differently to workplace bullying, with women being more likely to take sick leave while men are more prone to quit their job, according to a study out of Denmark.
Men are less likely to report harassment, while women take double the sick leave of non-bullied workers and are more likely to use antidepressant medication, found the study Long-term Consequences of Workplace Bullying on Sickness Absence, drawing data from a 2006 study of 3,100 Danish workers, as well as the country’s registry database.
“I was surprised,” said Tine Eriksen, co-author of the study and assistant professor at the department of economics and business at Aarhus University. “I actually thought men and women would react in the same way to bullying, especially when you think of bullying having a negative effect on health. I think these results indicate that health is actually negatively affected by being subject to bullying.”
“Whether people then go on to claim sickness absence benefits or not depends on the scheme that they’re under. But the negative health consequences will still be there and that could very possibly affect both labour force participation later on, or productivity as their health has deteriorated.”
On top of the mental health issues that result from workplace harassment, the time Denmark workers spend annually on sick leave costs the national GDP 0.8 per cent, confirming the problem is costly and there are economic gains to be had by eradicating bullying from the work environment, she said.
But Lisa Barrow, a workplace bullying consultant and professor at the Lawrence Kinlin School of Business at Fanshawe College in London, Ont., has found women tend to quit their jobs more often than men.
“They may not leave right away. They tend to stay in the bullying situation a bit longer than men,” she said.
Women tend to be more relationship-oriented as opposed to men who are more focused on performance, said Barrow, noting bullying often occurs subtly through avenues such as isolation.
“What happens with isolation is the individual begins to feel hopeless, helpless or as if they’re not wanted. They might not even understand that they’re being socially isolated, so this can lead to anxiety issues.”
Men often bully other men physically, or cause public humiliation in the form of assault or name-calling, which may result in victim silence or response-in-kind, she said, noting male bullies typically harass men and women equally, while female bullies tend to bully other women.
Still, the Denmark study is important because it provides people with an opportunity to look at workplace bullying from a different perspective, she said.
“However, there has been quite a bit of research regarding workplace bullying and gender over the last 15 to 20 years,” said Barrow.
“The efforts to address it are constantly evolving, because so many people experience it and more and more people are becoming aware of it.”
“Oftentimes, individuals in the workplace are not even aware of the characteristics of workplace bullying. They may be confused, thinking that if their boss tells them they have to perform at a certain level and holds them accountable, that’s workplace bullying. But it’s not. Workplace bullying has to do with public humiliation, isolation and behaviour that seeks to devalue others.”
Men may not admit to, or realize, they’re actually being bullied, said Eriksen.
“This could especially be important from an HR perspective. How do you detect these problems? Should you wait for people to come by themselves?”
A lingering culture of male
machismo sees men less willing to admit feelings of harassment in the workplace. In general, men do not want to appear weak, said Barrow.
As a result, HR professionals may need to work harder to extract information from their male colleagues as opposed to females, she said. Additionally, HR may need to proactively approach male employees rather than vice-versa, and ask questions in order to address the issue in a more effective way.
“Human resources professionals may need to dig a little deeper in order to get the full story from the male target,” said Barrow.
“A manager or representative should talk to that person, pull that person aside. I would bring the person into the HR area and have a discussion, rather than in the employee’s area of work. For men, that could create a situation in which the target is feeling as if others are seeing him as being less, or weak.”
Company policies need to be shaped in such a way that all employees understand what bullying behaviours are, which will not be tolerated, and what consequences will result, she said.
“If a male target is working in a predominantly male workplace, then the message must be ‘Everyone will be treated and respected equally. Bullying behaviour will not be tolerated, whether it’s employee-to-employee, boss-to-employee or employee-to-boss,’” said Barrow.
“It starts at the top. So if the leaders of the organization are bullying the employees, then they’re not going to be able to rectify the situation because they are demonstrating the behaviour that they’re telling the employees not to be involved in.”
While Ontario law now ensures companies are implementing anti-bullying policies, organizations need to work harder to remove this behaviour from the workplace altogether, said Jacqueline Power, assistant professor with expertise in workplace bullying and violence at the Odette School of Business at the University of Windsor, Ont.
Recruits should be screened for personality characteristics linked to bullying such as psychopathy, Machiavellianism and social dominance orientation (SDO), she said.
“It’s actually quite easy,” said Power, noting much can be achieved through simple personality questionnaires.
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