How do social and economic class differences impact workplace bullying?

Do social and economic class differences impact workplace bullying and mobbing behaviors? If so, how?

America continues to think itself as a classless society, despite deep and worsening wealth divisions. Now, however, it appears that a combination of the ongoing effects of the Great Recession and the tumult associated with the election of Donald Trump has prompted some closer looks at class distinctions. For example, The Guardian newspaper has launched an ongoing investigative study of class and inequality in the U.S.:

We’re calling it On the Ground: reporting from all corners of America. The series is funded in part by a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation to support the Guardian’s reporting on wealth inequality in America. The Rockefeller grant will fund a broader Guardian project called Inequality and Opportunity in America, focused on economic disparities due to work, class and inequality.

Also, Annie Lowrey, writing for The Atlantic, spotlights a new book by Richard V. Reeves, Dream Hoarders (2017), that points a finger at America’s upper middle class as a major culprit in reinforcing inequality. While recognizing the extreme wealth concentrations enjoyed by the top one percent, Reeves argues that the top twenty percent have also enjoyed considerable success in recent decades, leaving the others in their wake. He further posits that these advantages are being passed on to their children in ways that will only harden social and economic class inequalities.

I’d like to take a closer look at these commentaries in a future post, but for now let’s return to bullying and class distinctions. I did a quick search for studies examining potential relationships between workplace bullying and social/economic class and didn’t come up with much. But the more I ponder the question, the more I’m convinced that class can play out significantly in this realm. It may manifest itself in a well compensated manager or highly degreed professional who looks down at less educated, lower paid co-workers and treats them accordingly. It may involve a group of co-workers who see a peer as not being from their side of the tracks (whichever side that may be) and bully, harass, and ostracize that individual because of it.

In any event, this topic is ripe for more research and understanding. Workplace bullying, mobbing, and abuse may occur due to many reasons. Class distinctions definitely belong on the list.

5 responses

  1. It may go the other way too….someone who perceives themselves as ‘less than’ (i.e., less economic and social advantages) may target someone who they perceive or know has more of those advantages. The ‘position’ to do so probably has more to do with “power” in the workplace, be it in the form of a manager to a subordinate, or the status peers give to one of their own.

    I think in most cases of abuse in the workplace it boils down to who has the ‘upper hand’ so to speak, i.e., the power to harm (bully/abuse). Class may be a factor, but not always the deciding factor insofar as origins of abuse in the workplace.

  2. I agree with Dawn and she raises good points about the possibility of the “have nots” targeting someone who has had privilege, i.e., silver spoon upbringing. I note that membership fees to exclusive country clubs (yes, exclusive = excluding) also foster an economic divide. Those who have been raised in upper middle class and above households do not relate to the struggles of those who have to work several jobs and work their own way through college (community colleges and state schools) and some companies will give preference to their own Ivy League alumni candidates. The socio-economic structure and decline of the middle class in the US is a very real threat to everyone. Life in a gated community is not life!

  3. Thanks for the comments about “less than” and “have nots.” I tried to allude to such scenarios in my “other side of the tracks” reference, but your observations make the points more clearly.

    I would love for class issues related to workplace mistreatment to get more attention from researchers. However, I’ve also seen that within higher education, bringing up class issues makes some folks very uncomfortable, to the point of sidestepping them. That very discomfort is one of the main reasons why we should forge ahead and investigate/discuss.

  4. Nepotism and “good old boys network” is a huge at my employment. Often those in higher positions are able to provide advantages to their family/friends, and yet that group is aggressive about making certain of a hierarchy which protects this “class” system.

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