Workplace bullying often creates victims in addition to the target of the abuse. In particular, close family members often pay a price as well, as personal relationships are severely tested and sometimes fractured.
Many bullying targets, and those who have interviewed, counseled, and coached them, have known this for a long time. Now, emerging research is helping to build the evidence-based case. Here are two helpful pieces:
“Workplace Mobbing: Individual and Family Health Consequences”
Maureen Duffy and Len Sperry co-authored a 2007 piece, “Workplace Mobbing: Individual and Family Health Consequences,” Family Journal (2007) (abstract here; subscription necessary to access full article):
Family members of mobbing victims, of course, are significantly affected. . . . The victim’s preoccupation with the mobbing experience is likely to result in both obsessive preoccupation and general lack of communication or in a need to constantly talk about the mobbing as if it were the only aspect of the victim’s life. …If the victim is forced out of a job, the resulting loss of income causes financial stresses and the ensuing strain of shame and humiliation of not being the provider he or she once was.
Depending on the circumstances of a mobbing victim’s expulsion from the workplace, questions about reemployability may surface, affecting the entire family in a profound way. The victim’s shame and humiliation may then come to encompass other members of the family. Marriages in which one spouse was a mobbing victim will be affected at every level of the relationship.
“The Fallout from Abusive Supervision: an Examination of Subordinates and Their Partners”
Dawn Carlson and Merideth Ferguson, with Pamela Perrewe and Dwayne Whitten co-authored this newly published study, “The Fallout from Abusive Supervision: an Examination of Subordinates and Their Partners,” Personnel Psychology (2011) (link here; subscription necessary to access pdf):
(O)ur first theoretical contribution is that abusive supervision contributes to the experience of work-to-family conflict and relationship tension. Further, abusive supervision works through work-to-family conflict to contribute to relationship tension. Thus, our research contributes to abusive supervision research in demonstrating that these stressful events do not just affect subordinates while at work but also contribute to the experienced strain of the subordinate and his or her partner….
…Our second theoretical contribution is that the negative experiences from abuse cross over into the family domain of the partner as well as the family domain of the subordinate via the tension in the marital relationship.
…Consistent with displaced aggression theory, the tension and strain manifested in the marital relationship and relating to abusive supervision may indicate a subordinate’s need to take out the day’s frustrations on someone besides the supervisor….
For readers who have experienced workplace bullying, mobbing, and abuse, this research simply may be stating the obvious, and in somewhat subdued tones to boot. Indeed, the summarized findings of these studies cannot begin to capture the heartbreaking realities of individual stories that many targets and their family members can share.
Nevertheless, we need these studies to support the personal accounts. They help to validate our claim that workplace bullying has destructive ripple effects that extend well beyond its immediate targets.