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A high school teacher is subjected to verbal abuse, bold gossip, and whispering in class every day from the students she teaches. She is greeted with a shrug and a closed door when calling the administration for help. Enraged by the toxic climate, she leaves mid-year and takes a job at Starbucks.
A school principal hired to bring innovative ideas to a stagnant culture is forced out of her job, despite her successful tenure and the support of students and families, by a small group of teachers who are staunch defenders of the status quo.
A nurse has been praised for her bedside empathy and exceptional patient care is daily subjected to prying eyes, exclusion and sabotage by fellow nurses, who believe her hard work and compassion are recalibrating expectations , highlight their shortcomings, and thus once again lending fat to the bone that “nurses eat theirs”.
What is this phenomenon called?
So what do we call these transgressions when students go after their professors, employees target their bosses, and colleagues join forces to terrorize their colleagues? As bullying researchers, we call these bottom-up and lateral attacks when people bully those below or next to them in the hierarchy terms counter-bullying, horizontal abuse, or lateral violence. (Taylors, 2016).
Although bullying is most often seen as a top-down job and research supports this typical downward trajectory, bullying someone of equal or lesser power can lead to the same devastating consequences, including, but not limited to, loss of employment, intense emotional suffering and significant physical impairment. health consequences (Juliana, 2007).
Why does counter-bullying and lateral violence happen and what does it look like?
Counter-bullying and lateral violence, similar to other forms of workplace abuse, are based on a belief in limited resources or scarcity, in which my good deeds, accolades and accomplishments are seen as a direct threat to your livelihood, stability, respect, and opportunities for advancement. To regain power, because bullying is almost always about power, those with less or equal organizational power, depending on their placement in the organizational hierarchy, attempt to regain control by exerting social power, a movement that requires the target to be vilified and stripped of respect.
In the hallways of schools, universities, hospitals, nonprofits, and businesses, counter-harassment can look like students rolling their eyes at their instructor, leading loud off-topic discussions while teaching, and launch unfounded and often anonymous complaints to superiors. for the sole purpose of damaging the target’s professional reputation and possibly driving them out of a job. Inside a hospital, lateral violence can arise when a targeted nurse is assigned more patients on the floor, has their patient records tampered with, and is excluded from drinks or after-work meetings.
In what types of organizations do counter-bullying and lateral violence tend to occur?
Organizationally, these transgressions tend to take place in work climates that share characteristics, including a lack of civility, transparency, defined roles, upward mobility, and accountability. Such environments tend to have poor communication flow and functioning, amidst a fair amount of chaos and instability (Taylor, 2016).
At the individual level, the institution may employ a disproportionate number of people whom Conti-O’Hare (2002) calls “wounded healers”, a term referring to the phenomenon in which people who have suffered early trauma seek employment in helping fields, such as nursing, teaching, social work and non-profit organizations. While such placement can often be beneficial to the employee and those she serves, if she has done the work to heal her own wound, and so her deep empathy and understanding works as a bridge and a strength; however, it can also be a hazard. For if the hurt persists, she takes on the identity of the “walking wounded”, using her job as a platform to unload her suffering and exercise control over others in an attempt to make a life that at one time seemed so out of control, manageable and safe (Christie & Jones, 2013).
What is the impact of counter-bullying and lateral violence at work?
In organizations where employees bully back and forth, individuals’ feelings and emotions tend to be minimized. Because of this contempt, coupled with the fear of retaliation, employees begin to shut up, no longer wanting to share innovative ideas. Additionally, to endure the bullying environment, abused employees begin to avoid difficult co-workers and isolate themselves, consequently foregoing opportunities, social events, and training (Taylor, 2016).
There is also supporting evidence that the harm suffered by counter-bullying and lateral violence is significant and dangerous, putting patients, children and clients at risk as conscious and compassionate care diminishes in response to the bullying environment, and those people employees are accused of serving end up hurting themselves (Katz, 2017).
How do you fight counter-bullying and stop it before it starts?
We often think of bullying as childhood antics relegated to the playground; therefore, research shows that when adults are attacked, few employees identify the behavior as bullying. Instead, they attempt to make the most gracious assumptions about their colleagues’ egregious behaviors and then endure abuse or attempt to blend into the background, where attacks are less likely.
When counter-intimidation or lateral violence accelerates and the destruction becomes alarmingly apparent to the target and bystanders, fear of retaliation, unfortunately, tends to inhibit reporting; thus, the abuse accumulates and the overall culture begins to become fragile due to toxicity. In such environments, avoidance and isolation become primary coping strategies, and chaos, unethical behavior, disrespect and lack of support become institutional norms (Taylor, 2016) .
Therefore, the antidote lies not just in dealing with the bully, although this step is essential for cultural healing, but in organizational awareness of the cycle of bullying. The simple act of holding workshops and requiring in-company training on workplace abuse is a good place to start. Such training should cover the characteristics of workplace bullying, the predictable cycle of workplace violence, and the emotional and physical fallout from psychological terrorism in the workplace.
The next step is to create confidential reporting procedures where targets can share their experiences without fear of reprimand (Sellers et al., 2012). Although HR plays a central and important role in organizations, in my experience as a workplace bullying researcher, collecting stories from over 200 targets around the world and representing various industries, unfortunately, reporting workplace abuse to human resources often causes great harm to targets. . To rectify the situation, I offer an independent service whose loyalty is not to protect the liability and reputation of the institution, but rather to be deeply dedicated to the safety and health of the abused.
Finally, since workplace bullying often consists of revoking a target’s community membership, it is essential to create organizational practices that support diverse voices and perspectives and create safe and innovative spaces for people to present themselves at work as themselves. This benefits everyone, because it is in people’s differences that we broaden our thinking and develop innovative organizations that support the common good.