A new University of East Anglia (U.K.) study of 348 workers indicates that the experience of workplace bullying can make targets more vulnerable to future abuse.
In a media briefing, Dr. Ana Sanz Vergel, UAE business school lecturer and co-author of the study (published in Anxiety, Stress & Coping: An International Journal, abstract here) summarizes the findings and explains some of their implications:
This study shows that the relationship between workplace bullying and the psychological impact on victims is much more complex than expected.
…Workplace bullying leads to poor health because the victim is exposed to a very stressful situation – resulting in anxiety and lack of vigour. We wanted to see whether deteriorated health could make the employee an easy target for bullying. For example, the victim may have less energy to respond to difficult situations and therefore receive less support from colleagues or supervisors.
…We found that being exposed to workplace bullying leads to deteriorated mental health and decreased well-being. But at the same time, showing anxious behaviour puts the victim in a weak position and makes them an easy target – leading to a spiral of abuse.
We are by no means victim-blaming here. Clearly employers need to have strong policies against workplace bullying. But training programmes to help victims learn coping mechanisms could help to break the vicious cycle.
Here’s yet more evidence of the need to provide more effective assistance to those who have experienced workplace bullying. Therapy, counseling, and coaching are all potentially viable options, especially if we can do a better job of educating practitioners about the effects of work abuse and options for addressing it. In addition, as I’ve suggested before, perhaps we need to introduce resilience training for those entering the workforce, especially in fields such as health care and education where bullying is common.