Does research on predicting bullying behaviors by kids yield insights for identifying future workplace aggressors?

ppm-150

In a recent column for Yahoo! Shine, Barbara Greenberg summarizes a study by Douglas Gentile and Brad Bushman, published in the journal Psychology of Popular Media Culture, that identifies six “risk factors that predicted future aggression and bullying behavior” in kids:

1. A tendency toward hostility

2. low parental involvement

3. gender with boys being more likely to be physically aggressive

4. a history of physical victimization

5. a history of prior physical fights

and

6. media violence exposure.

Here’s how the study was conducted:

The study by Gentile and Bushman looked at 430 children ages 7-11 in grades 3-5 from 5 Minnesota schools. For this study, children and their teachers were surveyed twice in a year – usually six months apart. Physical aggression was measured using self-reports, peer nominations, and teacher reports of actual violence.

Any relevance to workplace bullying?

The question of identifying likely workplace aggressors comes up more than occasionally in discussions about preventing bullying at work.

However, most of the popular and academic literature examining aggressors at work focuses on actual behaviors rather than identifying risk factors. There definitely are research opportunities in this realm.

Furthermore, workplace bullying tends to be in the form of psychological rather than physical abuse, so practically speaking it’s less likely that there will be a documented record of prior risk-level behaviors. Even if such a record exists, it is improbable that it will be shared among stakeholders in a position to act preventively, given standard human resources practices and confidentiality/privacy issues concerning employee evaluations.

Equally important is whether employers would even want to be able to “profile” candidates for hiring and promotion based on their supposed propensity to engage in abusive mistreatment of co-workers. Various commercially marketed personality tests may help to identify certain counterproductive traits, but their reliability as pre-employment screening devices is highly questionable.

It’s a topic rife with complications, much different from school situations.

***

Although the full journal article is not freely available, go here for the posted abstract:

Working Notes: Social media and workplace bullying, HR best practices for teachers, and midlife career switches

A few items worth noting:

1. Grad student Cecilia Akuffo’s New Journalism Project — An appreciative shout out to Cecilia Akuffo, a Northeastern University graduate student in journalism, who did a multimedia course project on my work relating to workplace bullying and the role of blogging.

Go here for her Workplace Practices blog post and here (or click above) for the interview posted to YouTube. (That’s my messy office in the background!)

2. ILO handbook on best HR practices for teachers — The International Labour Organization — the United Nations agency charged with advancing policies and practices for the well-being of workers — has published the first edition of the Handbook of Good Human Resource Practices in the Teaching Profession (2012). Even better, it’s available in a free pdf file in English, Spanish, and French. Here’s how the ILO describes the handbook:

Module 1 presents the recruitment and employment of teachers, based on the principles of equal opportunity, non-discrimination and professional competence. Module 2 further develops themes on conditions of employment, including leave entitlement and career development. Module 3 discusses the professional roles, responsibilities and accountability of teachers, while Module 4 examines the work environment, including hours of work and workload; class size and pupil–teacher ratios; and issues of health and safety. The question of teacher reward, salaries and incentives policies is discussed in Module 5, while Module 6 deals with the question of social security. Module 7 considers social dialogue and labour relations within the teaching profession. Questions regarding initial and further teacher education and training are examined in Module 8.

For school boards, school administrators, and teachers unions, it’s definitely worth a good look.

3. Marci Alboher on midlife career switches — Lawyer-turned-writer Marci Alboher writes about people deciding to pursue more meaningful work in their 40s, 50s, and 60s in a piece for the New York Times:

My reinvention wasn’t easy. After about two years, I weaned myself from the law and re-emerged as a journalist. It took a lot of work — classes, conferences, networking with writers and editors, learning from mentors 10 years my junior. In time I was getting regular assignments and writing for publications that included The New York Times. Even today, more than 10 years into my new career, I earn only two-thirds of what I was making in my last law job. But the trade-offs are worth it.

The subject of career reinvention was so fascinating to me that it’s become front and center in my current work. These days I’m working for Encore.org, a nonprofit that focuses on so-called encore careers. As people hit their 50th and 60th birthdays and realize they are far from done with work, millions are moving into new careers that combine making a living and a difference.

She is the author of a newly-published book, Encore Career Handbook: How to Make a Living and a Difference in the Second Half of Life (2013). My copy arrived today; it looks like a very useful read.

DownloadedFile

Corporate Counsel: Take workplace bullying legislation seriously

Shannon Green, in a piece for Corporate Counsel (link here), explains how the possible enactment of the anti-bullying Healthy Workplace Bill is having an impact on lawyers representing employers. In essence, these lawyers are seeing more bullying-related claims from employees, and they’re training their clients to develop workplace bullying policies and other measures in anticipation of the Healthy Workplace Bill becoming law.

Here’s a sampling from the article:

No state has yet to pass legislation defining a cause of action, but according to experts, claims of workplace abuse are nonetheless on the rise. Their advice to employers: the time to train your workforce is now.

Legislation is currently pending in New Jersey, and 21 states have proposed laws on workplace bullying since 2003. The Workplace Bullying Institute advocates state passage of the Healthy Workplace Bill . . ., drafted by Suffolk University Law School professor David Yamada.

Practitioners are using the proposed legislation to create workplace training based on what their state laws would look like if passed.

***

In her management-side employment practice, Sharon Parella says she is seeing more and more claims of workplace bullying every month. The Morrison & Foerster partner says the allegations are significant, and they involve claims against all levels of employees.

“We’ve received claims where an employee is laughed at, teased, poked at incessantly by other employees in the group, excluded from social interactions,” she says. She often sees “an employee who is being really sabotaged at work, not being given help with assignments that he or she needs to be successful, or worse, being undermined so that his or her assignments are done poorly.”

What this signifies

In assessing whether conditions are ripe for the law to change, we look for indicators of greater receptivity to that change among key stakeholders.

The fact that management-side employment lawyers are working with their clients in anticipation of the eventual enactment of the Healthy Workplace Bill is an important sign. It’s also encouraging that these attorneys are acknowledging the wrongfulness of bullying behaviors and the harm caused by such mistreatment, even if they don’t necessarily agree with the proposed legislation.

Folks, we’re getting there. Workplace bullying legislation alone won’t end these destructive behaviors, but it will give employees a chance to recover damages and oblige employers to act preventively and responsively toward bullying at work.

Healthy vs. dysfunctional organizations

With some 800+ articles posted to this blog since late 2008, I’ve been periodically collecting pieces on related topics for your reading pleasure. Here are eight posts from 2011 and 2010 that address various aspects of organizational behavior:

1. What workplace bullying teaches us about the integrity of American employers (2011) — An employer’s response to psychological abuse of its workers says a lot about its core ethics.

2. Confidential settlements in employment cases: Poof, as if nothing happened (2011) — Gag clauses in settlements of employment cases often shield the worst employers from closer scrutiny.

3. How lousy organizations treat institutional history (2011) — Not all organizations treat their past alike.

4. “Strategic planning”: All too often, a time-sucking bridge to nowhere (2011) — In bad organizations, a drawn-out strategic planning process helps to justify and promote more dysfunction.

5. When bad employers retain thuggish employment lawyers (2011) — The worst employers often hire the least-wonderful employment attorneys.

6. How well does your organization respond to employee feedback and criticism? (2011) — The question says it all.

7. Do organizations suppress our empathy? (2010) — On organizational “heart quality.”

8. Is your workplace psychologically and ethically healthy? (2010) — A great list of questions that yield insights into the culture of your workplace.

The impacts of good and bad leadership on employee health

A bit of web surfing turned up a very useful 2011 blog post examining links between leadership qualities and employee health.

Richard Williams, Wallace Higgins, and Harvey Greenberg — consultants with Nehoiden Partners and writing for Boston.com’s Northeast Human Resources Association blog — start by building a pitch for leadership development programs:

Your boss should come with a warning label: May be hazardous to your health. Research once again has confirmed what we’ve always suspected – your boss can cause you stress, induce depression and anxiety or even trigger the onset of serious illness. It is not just bad managers who can negatively affect employee health, but it is also the lackadaisical and mediocre who can put employees on the sick list.

While the cost to employees is their health, welfare and sometimes their income, the cost to workplaces is lost productivity, turnover, training, disability payments and staggering health insurance premiums. Moreover, a whole new field of litigation is opening – lawsuits against “bad” bosses and the organizations that negligently allow them to supervise.

But hope is not lost. A careful review of the research on leadership behavior and employee health yields some important surprises about leadership development and its potential impact on employee health and performance. There appears to be a clear relationship between leader behaviors and employee health, which is a pre-requisite for good performance. Furthermore, those behaviors are specific enough to be part of an effective leadership development program.

Summarizing studies

The authors do an excellent job of summarizing research findings on leadership and employee health. Here’s a snippet:

  • Eleven studies found that positive leader behaviors were associated with lower levels of anxiety and depression while the lack of positive leadership behaviors was associated with higher levels of anxiety and depression. Kuoppala’s meta-analysis of the research on employee health and leadership behaviors concluded that employees with good leadership were 40% more likely to be in the highest category of psychological well-being, including lower levels of anxiety and depression.
  • Eight studies on burnout – physical or emotional exhaustion as the result of prolonged stress – found that positive leader behaviors led to lower levels of burnout.
  • Six studies on stress had mixed results. Four studies found a relationship between leader behaviors and stress; two did not. Taken altogether however these studies strongly indicate that positive leader behaviors can reduce stress while the lack of these behaviors creates an environment that increases stress.

The full blog article includes a link to citations of studies referenced within. If this topic is of interest, it’s definitely worth a click-and-print.

Workplace wellness and workplace bullying

When you hear the term “employee wellness,” do you also think about “workplace bullying”?

That question has been buzzing through my head since yesterday, when it was my pleasure to speak at a program on creating healthy workplaces, sponsored by the New England Work & Family Association (NEWFA) — a group of human resources and wellness program professionals committed to supporting work-life balance — and hosted by the Boston College Center for Work and Family.

A tale of two halves

The first half of the program was an interesting panel discussion about workplace wellness programs, featuring presentations by NEWFA members who have developed and managed wellness programs. We heard about a variety of useful, pro-active initiatives, including health education and coaching (e.g., nutrition, exercise, smoking cessation), stress reduction, and mindfulness training.

The second half of the program was my presentation about workplace bullying and the challenges facing HR. Although I framed my remarks within the context of promoting healthy workplaces, it was clear that my piece was about the “dark” side of work. How else to describe a phenomenon that reduces productivity and morale and triggers a long list of negative health outcomes?

Will the twain meet?

Both pieces of the program related to the same general topic, namely, the creation and sustenance of healthy workplaces that embrace both productivity and employee well-being.  However, I couldn’t help but notice how the room tensed up as my talk explored the details about workplace bullying.

As I told the group, workplace bullying is a very threatening topic to many organizations, especially when the behavior is frequent and comes from a top-down direction. After all, boss-to-subordinate bullying is the most common combination, at least in the U.S. Furthermore, bullying and mobbing behaviors tend to be fueled by organizational cultures that enable or even encourage them. In short, bullying at work often points to responsibility at the top.

Contrasts in dealing with senior management

Perhaps this explains a fundamental difference in how and why senior management is consulted by HR.

Speakers on the panel about employee wellness explained that they often didn’t have to go to top management for specific approval about every new initiative they developed. In some cases, they simply went ahead with a program that eventually would become a regular offering, with no apparent pushback from the corner office.

When I talked about incorporating workplace bullying prevention and response into HR practices and training, however, I saw knowing nods in response to my advice to assess management tolerance for such initiatives and to consult legal counsel on liability exposure.

An integrated perspective

Perhaps I’m making excuses for the pizza I enjoyed the other night, but I don’t think we can de-couple bad habits such as unhealthy eating and smoking from undue stress at work. Indeed, it strikes me as ironic that we can talk more openly about wellness programs designed to reduce stress and improve health habits, while sometimes sweeping under the rug work-related conditions — such as bullying — that create a need for them.

In short, the quest for healthy workplaces cannot ignore fundamental conditions of work. It’s why I am thankful that NEWFA and Boston College created a program that allowed us to consider the workplace in a more balanced light.

HR in the contemporary workplace

Yup, I’m pretty tough on human resources offices. No doubt this orientation is grounded in the shared stories of so many workplace bullying targets who report being abandoned or set up by HR. Rare is the bullying account that expresses appreciation for HR’s intervention.

However, I fully concede that HR often is in a difficult place, caught in the cross fires of organizational politics. It’s why I’ve posed the question of whether an ethical HR officer can survive in a lousy workplace.

It’s also the case that ethical, pro-active HR practices typically fall under the radar screens. Why? Because if HR is doing its job in a good workplace, then we’re highly unlikely to hear about it!

In any event, here are past posts that emphasize HR situations and actions when things aren’t going so great:

1. “Workplace bullying is bad for business” (2012) — Linking to a Worcester Business Journal op-ed I authored that discusses HR’s role in dealing with workplace bullying situations.

2. Are HR professionals bullied at work? (2011) — Unfortunately, independently-minded HR officers are potential bullying targets, too.

3. Quiet cover-ups (2011) — When HR is complicit in covering up bad behavior.

4. The “exit parade” as a worker termination protocol (2011) — All that’s missing is the firing squad (pun intended).

5. Can an ethical HR officer survive at a bad company? (2010) — A very challenging question.

6. SHRM opposes workplace bullying legislation (2010) — Disappointing. Very disappointing.

7. Don’t assume that HR is your buddy (2010) — HR plays a vital role in the workplace, but workers should not mistakenly regard HR as their ally.

8. HR as grim reaper (2009) — Being the terminator can come with costs.

9. “HR was useless” (2009) — One of this blog’s most popular posts, placing a common worker complaint against the purposes & loyalties of HR.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 974 other followers

%d bloggers like this: