Bullying, whether verbal or physical is one of the most upsetting aspects of working life, yet it’s likely to be something many of us have experienced, either directly or indirectly. Whilst it’s tempting to think that we’re only negatively affected by bullying if it happens directly to us, there are strong suggestions that simply witnessing the aggressive act is enough to affect our sense of wellbeing.
A recent study highlights, however, how the right support from colleagues can significantly help us to limit the consequences of bullying in the workplace.
The paper, which was presented at the Annual Conference of the British Psychological Society by Dr. Christine Sprigg highlighted the crucial role we all play in helping colleagues cope with aggressive behavior at work.
The study saw a large group of employees surveyed about their experiences of aggression in the workplace. They were asked to complete two surveys at six-month intervals, with each survey recording a number of psychological traits and measures.
See also: Bullying in the Workplace
Bullying in the workplace
The paper highlights how aggression at work could range from physical acts of violence through threats of violence all the way to shouting and insults. They also highlight the frequency of less direct forms of bullying, including the withholding of information or being given a huge and unmanageable workload.
The study directly looked at how three workplace factors affect the wellbeing of employees, including levels of depression, emotional exhaustion, and anxiety. The three factors included two work-related factors – the social support employees received from their manager, and the social support they received from colleagues – and one individual factor which was the level of optimism each person had.
It found that the receipt of social support, both from colleagues and managers, was a great buffer against aggression at work. Employees reported that when they’d witnessed aggression but received such support, they suffered lower levels of depression than peers who suffered in isolation.
The anxiety employees felt at work as a result of seeing bullying behavior was eased significantly by support from managers, but also a degree of personal optimism. Support from colleagues also played a major role in limiting the spread of emotional exhaustion, providing employees with a valuable buffer to rely upon.
"Taken together our findings show that social support from managers and co-workers, and optimism are all important moderators of the effect of witnessing workplace aggression on employees’ psychological wellbeing," the author said. "Our findings add to the growing body of research linking the witnessing of aggression at work with psychological ill health. They also provide an indication of those individual traits and workplace contextual factors which act as psychological buffers to ill health."
Of course, receiving support and assistance from your boss does rely on your boss not being the source of the bullying in the first place. The paper is less clear on whether support from colleagues is sufficient to overcome negative behavior from our line manager.
Nevertheless, the authors contend that their paper provides a valuable insight into how we can better cope with unacceptable behavior in the workplace.