Those who have studied workplace bullying, mobbing, and abuse know very well that these behaviors are often stoked by toxic organizational cultures. Today I emphasized that theme in a presentation at a workplace mental health seminar hosted by The Conference Board (TCB), “a global, independent business membership and research association working in the public interest.”
I built my remarks around the concept of relational workplace cultures so brilliantly developed by Drs. Linda Hartling and Elizabeth Sparks in their 2002 paper, “Relational-Cultural Practice: Working in a Nonrelational World” (2002), which I’ve referenced on numerous occasions on this blog. (Linda Hartling is the current director of the Human Dignity and Humiliation Studies network.)
According to Hartling and Sparks, a “relational” culture is one that values “growth-fostering relationships, mutual empathy, mutuality, [and] authenticity,” creating qualities of “zest, empowerment, clarity, sense of worth, and a desire for more connection.”
By contrast, three types of “non-relational cultures” hurt morale and productivity:
- “traditional hierarchical” cultures that emphasize top-down power;
- “pseudo-relational” cultures that value superficial “niceness” over constructive change; and,
- brute “survival” cultures that pit everyone against one another in the quest for status and institutional spoils.
These three types of non-relational workplace cultures, I suggested, are likely to enable bullying and related behaviors at work. “Traditional hierarchical” cultures especially promote direct, top-down bullying. “Pseudo-relational” cultures especially enable indirect, passive-aggressive forms of bullying. “Survival” cultures fuel all types of bullying and mobbing behaviors.
Ideally, the best way to prevent and discourage work abuse is to create a relational culture. That includes nurturing civility, encouraging responsible speech, and applying the Golden Rule. However, when workplace behavior becomes targeted and abusive, firm interventions are necessary.
Of course, I also mentioned the need for stronger legal protections for bullied workers, in the form of the anti-bullying Healthy Workplace Bill.
Many thanks to TCB program director John Brewer and event coordinator Amanda Edmonds for the kind invitation to participate in this event. I’ll have more to say about this excellent seminar in a future post.