How to Blow the Whistle on Bullying and Harassment

Posted by Amanda Nieweler

on February 25, 2015

Today Is Pink Shirt Day in Canada. It Symbolizes Everyone Working Together to Bring Awareness to, and Prevent, Bullying.

The main purpose of this campaign is to stop bullying in our schools and community. But as a global ethics reporting solutions provider, we’d like to extend this campaign to include bullying and harassment in the workplace.

One particular type of bullying that doesn’t get much attention is ostracism. Perhaps because it doesn’t take much effort, physically or verbally, therefore it doesn’t bring much attention to itself. graphic pink shirt day in canada

Ostracism is a silent bully. But is negative attention better than no attention?

In the past decade, research has established bullying as a prevalent problem among working North Americans. A survey by the Workplace Bullying Institute at the beginning of last year found that more than a quarter of adults have suffered from some form of harassment at the office, most of it from superiors. The effects this had on employees was severe, including anxiety, depression, and, in extreme cases, post-traumatic stress.

27% of Americans suffered abuse at work, 21% witnessed the abuse, 72% are aware that workplace bullying happens

However, as damaging as an office bullies’ unwanted attention is, a group of researchers believe that they have found something even more harmful than that unwanted attention in the workplace: no attention at all.

A recent study out of the University of British Columbia’s Sauder School of Business, in Organization Science, found that the consequences of workplace ostracism, compared to workplace bullying has much worse affects on that employee.

A professor involved in the study, stated that “when someone is being bullied, they are at least receiving attention and have a social role to play. But if someone is ostracized in the workplace, the signal is you’re not even worthy of negative attention, you’re not worth someone’s energy to react to you.”

“We’ve been taught if you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all. But ostracism actually leads people to feel more helpless, like they’re not worthy of any attention at all.”

This study also reported that of the people who indicated being ostracized, they were more likely to quit their jobs, compared to those who received attention in the form of bullying.

The researchers say that the response is quite striking because ostracism is seen as far more socially acceptable than bullying, and they found that workers consider ignoring their colleagues more appropriate than harassing them.

Do you feel able to blow the whistle on workplace harassment and bullying?

Ostracism in the workplace need not be intentional to be harmful. In some cases, busy or very unsociable co-workers may have no idea they’re being cruel by neglecting one of their colleagues.

The affects of bullying and harassment can be quite harmful to an organization – just like any other misconduct including fraud, substance abuse, and theft:

  • Increased absenteeism
  • Increased turnover
  • Increased stress
  • Increased costs for employee assistance programs, recruitment, etc
  • Increased risk for accidents / incidents
  • Decreased productivity and motivation
  • Decreased morale
  • Reduced corporate image and customer confidence
  • Poor customer service

Here’s a challenge to organizations out there. If you don’t already have an anonymous ethics reporting system, let us show you how easy it is to implement one. Also, if your Code of Conduct doesn’t have a bullying and harassment section, get that added in and let it be known your stance on this issue.

If you are an organization that has an ethics reporting system in place, make sure you communicate it to your employees. It’s important to ensure they know how to report on any misconduct they see.

eBook: 7 Reasons to Implement a Whistleblower Hotline