WORKPLACE BULLYING LEADING TO BATTERED WORKER SYNDROME
Rarely is workplace bullying a one-time thing. Instead, workers that are bullied by their manager, by coworkers, or by customers are bullied over a period of months or even years. It is not uncommon to find targets of workplace bullying (not to be mistaken with "victims") living and working in a constant state of fear...fear of saying the wrong thing, fear of making a mistake, and even the fear of being fired. The mistreatment experienced can be so prolonged that the bullied worker that may have once been a confident, self-assured performer regularly and continuously second guesses everything they now do, which invites further bullying.
The sad part is that many targets of workplace bullying start out loving their chosen profession. They start out solid, reliable performers that are engaged and repeatedly demonstrate they have a lot to offer their employer. But as time goes on and the workplace bullying escalates, the resiliency of these targets wears thin and their ability to thrive and perform in their position and the work environment as a whole erodes.
What ultimately results is a relatively new phenomena that is being recognized in the workplace. It has been categorized as Battered Worker Syndrome by Fairfield University Professor, Dr. Dorothea Braginsky. Dr. Braginsky is currently working on a study illustrating how employees that have been repeatedly bullied in their workplace will exhibit similar behaviours to those exhibited by battered spouses. The fundamental theory upon which this study is built is that the constant harassment and stress experienced by a target of workplace bullying is perceived in a similar way psychologically as the harassment and stress experienced by a battered spouse.
While we, at The 2% Factor, aren't doctors or psychologist, we can most certainly comment from experience that this makes a great deal of sense. When a person is subjected to constant harassment, to the point where it becomes obsessive, it is not difficult to understand how this can be interpreted as Battered Worker Syndrome.
The unfortunate thing is that many companies have, and continue to, turn a blind eye to what is happening. Many managers take the position that since others have been able to cope with what is going on, why can’t the employee being bullied? What they fail to understand is that all employees work at different levels and therefore all have different degrees of tolerance when it comes to stress.
However, as an employer, it is the company's responsibility to protect all of its employees from violence and harassment in the workplace. While this fact is law in many jurisdictions, many senior managers still don’t have the proper tools or the proper knowledge of how to handle these situation or what their obligations are under the law.
Failing to live up this responsibility, management exposes the company to risk in the form of legal action. More and more in the news, we hear about something called "Willful Blindness". This is when someone (such as a manager) knows for a fact that something (such as workplace bullying or harassment) is happening and yet they turn a blind eye to it. Putting it more poignantly, a "willfully blind" manager could be leaving their company open to a huge lawsuit. Other financial considerations are how much it could cost the company if the battered worker were to be put on permanent disability and the management time wasted by having to even deal with a lawsuit in the first place.
Management failing to protect its workers will also have tremendous indirect consequences on the rest of the workforce. Employees, upon seeing one of their own being "thrown under the bus", will stop trusting management, reduce their productivity, and possibly even seek employment elsewhere. Workers will demand more (in compensation, benefits, or perks) as more is asked of them. It will also become more difficult to recruit and hire top performing employees as the company gains a reputation for mistreating employees.
Workplace bullying used to be an end in of itself. Now, it is being shown that workplace bullying is a cause of something more severe, Battered Worker Syndrome. While more research needs to be completed in this area, the link between workplace bullying, harassment, and stress and employee health and well-being is undeniable.
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