Each organisation is a kind of “living organism” because it involves numerous employees of different levels whose coordinated and unison interaction directed by well-thought-out leadership ensures the company’s operating and successful performance. In order the above processes always could lead to the top-notch results in terms of the firm’s functioning, the core aspect should be provided. The latter is a well organised and established management of the company. Therefore, a good manager has to be aware of all events and processes taking place in the enterprise, as well as ones outside that can influence employees in particular and the company’s performance in general. Furthermore, stress and aggression in the workplace is one of such concerns. In addition, these phenomena not only create discomfort among the employees, but also become a serious problem leading to the emergence of the uneasy environment as well as disruption of relationships between colleagues (Naseem & Ahmed 2013, p. 3).
As cited by Rollinson (2008), “In Great Britain work-related stress has reached record levels with an estimated annual charge to the economy of ?3.8 billion” (p. 266). Depending on its background, this issue may involve some positive effects such as encouraging workers to perform their duties better. However, overall, stress leads to negative impacts on both employees’ heath and performance and working process effectiveness. One of the reasons causing stress and aggressiveness in the working environment is bullying at work that can be carried out by either senior employees toward subordinated ones or one worker as for another. The research by Branch, Ramsay and Barker (2012) confirms the importance of addressing this issue emphasizing the fact that within European countries “10% to 15% of the workforce is exposed to workplace bullying” (p. 2). Since aforementioned phenomenon can have adverse consequences on the employees’ health and working abilities, it may lead to “high levels of compensations for such employees,” as well (Rollinson 2008, p. 267).
This essay is about to discuss is the case of Judith Woods (2008) who has sustained bullying by her boss when working in one of London offices of a major bank. Whereas she has taken the position being “intelligent and confident,” after 18 months of bullied working experience, she “was contemplating suicide and suffering from such severe depression” that she was had to spent few months in a psychiatric hospital (Woods 2008).
Ms. Woods graduated from Leeds University with a qualification of a pension’s administrator, and had a 5-year previous experience in her specialisation before she came to work at a bank. Nevertheless, the superior from the very beginning was too harsh with her. The boss frequently returned Ms. Woods’ work or asked other subordinated people to redo it, but when she wanted any explanations or tried to express own opinion, she was simply ignored. Moreover, her colleagues, which all were 40-year-old mostly, informed her that she was not the first one treated that way; however, no one of them was going to support her. Thus, the woman was isolated, ridiculed by boss before colleagues, and demoralised by constant comments and criticisms of her abilities. Ms. Woods worked 12 hours per day, took more and more different responsibilities to prove she was a really good employee, but “stress, fear, the constant churning anxiety” (2008) was all she has gained as a result. Furthermore, the boss assured other workers of the department Judith was a hopeless employee, notwithstanding her previous working experience, graduation from special training courses, as well as studying for advance qualifications. What is more, she did not even realise she experienced bullying.
Nevertheless, when the realisation came, Ms. Woods has begun “grievance procedure against her boss within the company” (2008). After all, she got into hospital and was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and spent more than two months there paid for in accordance with the organisation’s private health scheme.
In this case, the issue that requires being addressed by the organisation’s management is bullying of a subordinate by her boss “downwards bullying” (Branch, Ramsay & Barker 2012, p. 2), which is quintessentially an interpersonal conflict. The implementation of her autocratic leadership style has led to establishing the strained work environment in a team.
According to Einarsen, Hoel, Zapf and Cooper (2011), bullying is defined as “harassing, offending, or socially excluding someone or negatively affecting someone’s work tasks” (p. 179). If to compare these characteristics of the term and Ms. Woods’ experience, it becomes evident that she was bullied since her boss ridiculed her before colleagues in her hearing, returned her work for redoing and claimed she is a hopeless in her job, etc.
In order to understand the reason why workers are bullied, a research by Einarsen, Hoel, Zapf and Cooper (2011) will be considered. The scholars define three major causes of this phenomenon:
- bullies use it to increase their own self-esteem;
- ones behave that way lacking social competencies;
- this action becomes a result of micropolitical behaviour (p. 180).
Since Ms. Woods was the youngest among employees in their 40ties and the boss in her 50ties, she was ambitious, with a great desire to work, it is relevant to assume that bully’s attempt to increase her own self-esteem was the main cause of such a harsh treatment.
As it was mentioned above, such an attitude of the senior employee (perpetrator) toward her subordinate (a victim, or target) resulted into an interpersonal conflict that has affected all members of the working process (bystanders, or witnesses) directly and immediately although those seemed did not wish to get involved in the situation. To explain the occurrence, differential power theory can be applied among others. Specifically, the bullying has caused the conflict between insiders “organisational members with employment contracts” (Wood, Braeken & Niven 2013, p. 619). Thus, power over others dominates over the power to achieve any goal (Rollinson 2008, p. 390). This way, Ms. Woods’ boss used one’s legitimate power rather to “punish” her by inadequate reactions at all she was doing than reward her for the diligent and overtime work. Although her more experienced colleagues were entitled with high legitimate power as well and could “affect the presence and quality of social relationships within the group” (Wood, Braeken & Niven 2013, p. 619), they preferred to staying indifferent.
Another approach can be used to theorise the case is one of organisational justice. This concept assumes that an employee may feel unfairness because his or her performance in terms of achieving the company’s goals were not valued or rewarded, or even worse – were accepted negatively. Hence, the proper and equal behaviour toward all members of the work team was not ensured. Indeed, when Ms. Woods worked extra hours, and tried to do her best performing additional tasks and taking more responsibilities, the boss did not support her efforts but only ridiculed her more instead. As a result, she was treated unfairly, and her social rights were violated (Wood, Braeken & Niven 2013, p. 620).
Workplace bullying experienced by Ms. Woods can be detailed through the model of Figure 1 below, which demonstrates a cyclical interaction of components of the analysed process proposed by Branch, Ramsay and Barker (2012, p. 7). Therefore, the correlation of those integral parts exists, and it includes the following:
- B – the uneasy work environment created by both senior employees and subordinates;
- B1 – individual characteristics of participants of the process: Ms. Woods is a target of bullying who is mistreated by her boss – the perpetrator, and her colleagues are bystanders who seemingly do not care about what is happening to their younger colleague and take it as a usual way of work;
- B2 – organisational characteristics of the group: the boss here presents her autocratic style and her subordinates – indifference;
- C – an onset of affective events means constant offensive behaviour of the senior toward Ms. Woods, which no one has not even tried to stop;
- D – individual group and organisational response, in the analysed case, is of zero level although such action could have solved the issue or, at least, lessen its consequences;
- E – well-being of Ms. Woods, involving her physical and psychological health, was suffered most in this situation, and as a result, this occurrence led to disruption of the organisational well-being;
- F – since affective events continued, in spite of the bullied began the “grievance procedure against her boss within the company,” this resulted into the next stage of the process;
- G – cessation of affective events was observed: Ms. Woods has got to the psychiatric hospital with depression and fired from the bank.
However, if to follow this scheme, it should be noted that cycle could be interrupted when the group would have intervened to aid their younger colleague, and the consequences would not have been that harmful to Ms. Woods.
To evaluate what strategies should be applied to solve the problem with minimal moral, health, and material losses for all parties of the conflict and organisation in general, nature of conflict styles of managing such situations ought to be considered either. In 1972, Thomas and Kilman created a model including five strategies to solve conflicts at a workplace. Notwithstanding being dated back to the last century, these strategies are still relevant because they reflect both personal and habitual way of dealing with conflict (HR Council for the Nonprofit Sector n.d.). Additionally, these styles can be seen in two areas: assertiveness (the parties’ behaviour should be directed on satisfaction their own needs and devoted to achieving certain goals), and cooperativeness (the parties’ behaviour corresponds to the satisfaction of somebody else’s needs). Therefore, when those two dimensions are combined, they create five anti-conflict strategies:
- a) accommodating: a person neglects own needs to satisfy concerns of another one;
- b) avoiding: conflict solving is postponed for tomorrow;
- c) collaborating: persons find a creative solution for the conflict that satisfies them both;
- d) competing: this forcing style aims a person to win the satisfaction of one’s concerns;
- e) compromising: parties find an acceptable solution (HR Council for the Nonprofit Sector n.d.).
If Ms. Woods’ position would be taken into consideration, it becomes clear she was trying to apply the accommodating strategy to meet demands of her boss since she redid the tasks, worked overtime, she has even become a workaholic, etc. However, it did not work because the senior was not interested in addressing the issue. What is more important, the boss would not even realise she was a bully using autocratic style as a rule, whereas other employees did not complain (Balducci, Cecchin, Fraccaroli & Schaufeli 2012, p. 673).
Overall, summing up the above discussion, in order to address the issue with the minimal harm for both employees and organisation, as well as prevent its re-occurrence, the following recommendations should be taken into account.
First, management of the company ought to be aware of all events taking place within organisation. Moreover, all leadership styles applied by their heads of departments and other senior employees have to be traced regularly; for instance, via anonymous survey held at least once a week or two, involving all workers notwithstanding their ranks. This policy will be aimed at preventing similar situations.
Second, managers should study the implementation of different leadership styles by leaders inside of the company and, in addition, special trainings are to be carried out in terms of what strategy is better applied in different situations or for achieving particular goals set by the organisation.
Third, a model concerning choosing the style dealing with the conflict is expected to be paid the most attention to. Because all those five strategies support different directions of resolving the conflict – their purpose is one, leaders have to learn use various styles in specific occurrences. The following scheme can be applied as an example:
- goal high (most important) and relationship low = compete
- goal low and relationship high = accommodate
- goal AND relationship high = collaborate
- goal AND relationship low = avoid
- goal and relationship are equally important = compromise (HR Council for the Nonprofit Sector n.d.).
Fourth, team or group trainings should be held constantly in order to create a collaborative and friendly collective since this factor is one of the most significant in both problem-solving process and successful and coordinated company’s performance. For instance, if colleagues helped Ms. Woods in the discussed occurrence, the situation would have solved in a different, less harmful way.
To conclude, stress and aggression in the workplace in general and bullying as its embodiment in particular are of great concern for the modern successful organisational management. Therefore, this paper discussed the problem of bullying in the company experienced by one of its employees, analysed it in accordance with certain theoretical frames, and outlined possible recommendations of addressing the issue in both predicting and resolving perspectives.
Despite of the professional rank, either senior employee or subordinate, or workers of the same positions within the company can become a bully or bullied respectively (Barling, Dupre & Kelloway 2009, p. 677). Choosing proper leadership style, as well as a conflict-solving strategy, by a leader is among the key factors to avoid and fight this negative phenomenon. Furthermore, these styles and strategies are to replace each other in accordance with certain situations. Another important aspect that may aid in addressing and even preventing the problem is the creation and training of a collaborative and friendly team. Moreover, “By dealing with the root cause of the stress and its consequences, we can both relieve current problems and symptoms and also prevent re-occurrence” (Phoenix Associates n.d.). Consequently, clarification of the core reason why this phenomenon took place in this exactly working environment is notable, as well.