Workplace bullying: A communication perspective
In the United States, laws have been passed in most states protecting individuals from harassment, sexual harassment, assault, stalking and discrimination. However, employees are still recipients of unprofessional communication in which they are abused verbally, intimidated, and, in general, made to feel inadequate. As a result, some employees quit their jobs or develop major health problems. In some instances, they commit suicide or homicide at work.
Psychologists in America who examined these workplace behaviors concluded that the deliberate and repeated verbal aggression coupled with ridicule or harassing and intimidating strategies caused mental and physical harm. They called the phenomenon workplace bullying, a term that was already in use in England and other countries.
Focusing on supervisor-employee communication, this study explored elements/symbols that would lead to a definition of workplace bullying from a communication perspective. The theory of symbolic interactionism laid a foundation for the study. Qualitative methods were used: a focus group interview, individual interviews, and textual research. The focus group, consisting mainly of HR experts who worked in or were associated with Florida state government, proposed several themes, including lack of dignity and lack of respect, themes that were aggregated as unprofessional communication. Other themes that emerged were verbal abuse, power, subtle communication, and lack of recourse. Lack of recourse was viewed as powerlessness, or lack of support. Interviews with employees who had resigned or retired as well as interviews with current employees revealed the powerlessness employees felt when faced with unprofessional communication, verbal abuse, power, and subtle communication. A search through newspapers, academic journals, and professional journals provided interpretations from national and international organizations which supported the themes that emerged from the interviews. Overall, the study showed that workplace bullying occurred when employees lacked recourse.
A link between workplace bullying and workplace violence was noted. Vignettes used in the study pointed to some situations that ended in workplace violence when employees lacked recourse.
The study proposed a definition of workplace bullying and recommended that management provide employees with recourse to stem occurrences of workplace bullying, an action that would also result in a decrease in workplace violence.
0617: Public administration