Dissertation Spotlight: Workplace Incivilities: Characteristics of Targets and The Association between Incivilities

Workplace incivility is a huge problem with mental health in the workplace. The United States of America has limited research on mental health as associated with generalized workplace bullying. Previous findings show that workplace incivility can cause poor mental health; although, most of this research has been centered in Europe or other countries. This research uses the 2016 General Social Survey to examine characteristics of workers and their likelihood of experiencing bullying within their work environment. The results show that incivility in the workplace does not favor status or age (but the results find that there is a slight increase of bullying towards younger employees). Additionally, the research shows that there is a negative effect on organizations and their profits due to poor mental health attributed to bullying.

         Workplace incivilities range from behaviors that elicit excessive criticism, spreading rumors, aggressive interpersonal behavior, social isolation, and sexual harassment. Within the United States, there are no current laws prohibiting bullying within the workplace, but anti-discrimination laws (for older workers, minorities, and women) are in place to offer more protection. Much of the research for the United States is qualitative, which makes it difficult to generalize the data and its effects. Bullying in this setting is shown to have major psychological impacts such as depression, anxiety, PTSD, sleep problems, and, in some cases, suicide.

         Research has found that racial and ethnic minorities are more susceptible to bullying–at a rate of double what White workers experience. Moreover, Black women who experience double jeopardy (a person whose characteristics crosses over two statuses) are more likely to experience bullying than Black men, White women, and White men. Women of color have a higher risk of workplace incivility than White people. Despite inconclusive data on whether men or women are more likely to experience bullying, findings show that women are more likely to experience sexual harassment in their environment. Women are also 2.5 times more likely than men to report sexual harassment. There are some inconsistencies with whether age is a factor, since some studies lean towards older people and others find younger workers are more at risk for incivility. LGBTQ individuals are at risk of workplace bullying in both America and Europe with jokes and negative comments being common. Also, people with less secure jobs, such as part-time workers, are more likely to experience incivility than those who have a secured job (full time employees).

         A problem within the organization from incivility is “destructive leadership,” which is where a leader uses harmful methods to persuade or encourage followers. One leadership style that falls under destructive leadership is “anti-subordinate behavior.” Having a negative leadership style leads to negative emotions from employees, high turnover rates, and displaced aggression by other employees. People in leadership positions are more likely to be the perpetrators in these situations.

         The author concludes that specific demographics of people are at a higher risk of experiencing bullying within the workplace. This can lead to poor mental health that affects how a person works, lives, and interacts with others. Also, incivility affects the organization in a negative way regarding the outlook on the organization and job losses. This research advocates for a reform to the methods in which mental health and bullying are dealt with. Specific measures for reform would include more protective laws, training programs, and a task force that helps a positive relationship between employees.

         The author concludes that specific demographics of people are at a higher risk of experiencing bullying within the workplace. This can lead to poor mental health that affects how a person works, lives, and interacts with others. Also, incivility affects the organization in a negative way regarding the outlook on the organization and job losses. This research advocates for a reform to the methods in which mental health and bullying are dealt with. Specific measures for reform would include more protective laws, training programs, and a task force that helps a positive relationship between employees.

Dr. Katherine Tindell is a graduate of the College of Social Sciences and Public Policy at Florida State University. This post was based on Katherine’s dissertation, written by COSSPP Blog Intern, Lindsey Anderson.

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