27 May 2009

STUDY - Male bullies target men and women equally; 60 per cent of workplace bullying is done by men

When a bully is an equal opportunity jerk

THAT'S MEN: Male bullies tend to target men and women equally

WHO ARE the biggest workplace bullies, men or women? Some new research in the US, which has been creating a bit of a stir over there, suggests that the answer depends on whether the target of bullying is a man or a woman.

The American research suggests that about 60 per cent of workplace bullying is done by men. But when you look at who the genders bully, the findings become interesting. Male bullies seem to bully men and women equally. As one commentator said, the male bully is “an equal opportunity jerk”. But about 70 per cent of the targets of female bullies are other women.

Much of the comment that this has generated in America has been to do with the absence of sisterhood among women. The fact remains, though, that for whatever reason, women mainly tend to target other women.

It seems to me, from talking to many people about this, that the figures would be much the same for Ireland.

Workplace bullying is a curious issue in the degree of damage it can do to people who are targeted. Sometimes bullies latch on to some vulnerability in the person they target. For instance, people who are unsure of their own worth are very vulnerable to the bullying message that they are worthless.

At other times, it is the bullies who are insecure and who target very good workers. Such workers, too, can suffer serious distress at the hands of a bully.

Why do women target other women? Are other women more vulnerable as targets than men? Are men more likely to be in positions of authority in the workplace and less susceptible to bullying?

We simply don’t know the answers. Little research has been done with bullies – perhaps few bullies see themselves as such.

When bullying is under way, the person who is targeted then experiences a series of symptoms which destroy his or her peace of mind: loss of sleep, obsessing about the bullying, loss of appetite, not being able to work to a high standard because of their fears of the bully’s next move.

This effect isn’t just found in women. I have met as many men as women whose peace of mind was destroyed by bullies. Both genders display the symptoms I have mentioned above.

My experience is that companies all too often show a real reluctance to tackle the bully, especially if the bully is a manager and even if this person has been identified as a bully many times. Again, this reluctance to tackle the bully seems to be the same regardless of whether the bully is a man or a woman.

I recall one workplace in which a female bully was allowed to wreck the jobs and wellbeing of a series of female secretaries. Somehow the men who mostly ran the place saw her treatment of her secretaries as a sort of female domain into which they were not going to dare to intrude into.

In this way the men facilitated the female bully.

Some bullying is overt and some is sneaky. Publicly reprimanding or shouting at the target is a feature of both male and female bullies, according to a small-scale research study in the UK.

Consistently insulting the target is another. In other words, public humiliation is a favourite weapon of many bullies.

More sneaky and less noticeable methods include changing rosters frequently and unreasonably, spreading rumours, and excluding the target from meetings. Both men and women are well able to engage in both.

Last week’s report from the Commission on Child Abuse showed just how vicious both genders can be – and that viciousness can be translated to the workplace.

The common factor in all these forms of bullying is the undermining of the person’s dignity and stability as a human being.

Sadly, the bully – male or female – often gets away with it. Perhaps it’s hard for other managers on a personal level to challenge macho bullies. After all, they may come across as tough, no-nonsense managers. In some workplaces, aggression is encouraged.

A sad commentary on human behaviour – but what else is new?

No comments:

Post a Comment