Research: Strong staff groups may bully managers

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Just over 3% of the managers who responded to a large survey said that they had been bullied. Single-gender workplaces, strong personnel groups and reorganisations all increase the risk of managers being bullied.

A comprehensive survey of 18,000 managers from different sectors and workplaces showed that 3.2% of respondents had been subjected to bullying. To fall into this category, the bullying behaviour has to be repetitive and must continue for at least six months. This information is on the work environment site, suntarbetsliv.se. Researchers at Karolinska Institutet have now followed up responses to the questionnaire through in-depth interviews with 22 managers who were bullied at work. The results show that the risk of being bullied is greatest for those who have recently started in their position or those who have just come back from parental leave or sick leave. The risk was found to be greater if a male manager was working at a female-dominated workplace or vice versa. Strong personnel groups also increase the risk of managers being bullied, where there are sometimes informal leaders who may feel that their roles are threatened by the manager. In certain cases, bullying starts in connection with personnel reorganisations when anger and frustration is vented at the manager and this later degrades into bullying.

From subtle signals to screams and shouts

In the initial stages the bullying was often subtle, as described at suntarbetsliv.se. Employees would not bother to go to meetings, not carry out tasks or withhold information. There was more and more talking behind people’s backs, which sometimes escalated and became more visible and aggressive in the form of threats and shouting. The majority of managers involved received no support, either from their own managers or the HR department. The study is a part of the research project called Chefer i Skottlinjen (Managers in the line of fire) (2015 to 2019) led by associate professor Christina Björklund at Karolinska Institutet.

An employer can prevent bullying in the following ways:

  • Confront the problem immediately – it will not go away on its own.
  • When people are allowed to decide what is acceptable, certain negative behaviour may flourish.
  • To prevent such behaviour from gaining a foothold, the organisation in question must work with concrete values, structures and guidelines for the workplace.
  • There must be a plan for how to act and take care of any victims of bullying. 

Source: Dagens Nyheter, based on the study “Managers in the line of fire”.

Linda Sundgren, text

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