Eliminate "upwards" bullying, promote constructive conflict
A psychologist has called for organisations to protect managers against workplace harassment after a study revealed that nearly a quarter of Australian bosses are the targets of "upwards" bullying.
Disgruntled by changeBased on interviews with 24 senior, middle and supervisory managers and a survey of nearly 140 others, Branch found that the principal trigger for upwards bullying is workplace change.
"If an employee is disgruntled by change - such as new working conditions, management, or processes - they may blame their manager and respond by bullying them," she says.
Upwards bullying, she says, can range from less obvious forms - such as feeding gossip, skipping meetings, intentionally missing deadlines and disregarding input - to more aggressive behaviours, such as yelling and verbal threats.
Managers, in turn, might suffer from stress and anxiety and lose confidence in their abilities as leaders, she says, which ultimately impacts the bottom line.
What employers must doBranch notes that many managers are reluctant to report upwards bullying for fear of not being taken seriously, or because they feel that they're expected to deal with the problem themselves.
But managers should be encouraged to report harassment and to discuss the issue openly, she says.
Employers, Branch says, must:
While upwards bullying is inappropriate, she says, negative reactions are to be expected if a change is insensitively implemented and employees are adversely affected.
From negative to constructive conflictResolution Centre mediator Catherine Gillespie says that many employees - when left to handle conflict "instinctively" - respond to challenges from managers defensively.
What should be a healthy debate over business goals, for instance, she says, can degenerate into disputes centred on asserting power and determining who's right and wrong.
Gillespie notes that leadership structures aren't as rigid as they used to be and managers have to earn respect. Now, more so than ever, individuals feel that their views carry weight and can be reluctant to let things go.
Conflict can stymie production, she says, through the time that is wasted sorting out issues and the destabilising effect it has on a team.
But not all conflict is negative, Gillespie says.
When employees are trained "to handle conflict constructively", she says, they become aware that "being challenged" provides an opportunity for growth, finding solutions and reducing stress.
However, when a negative conflict arises, she says, employees and managers should: