I believe that most of us in the workforce have been in a situation where bullying has taken place. We either stood as a witness, as a confidante or have been the victim ourselves. Bullying is very much apparent in the workplace with a whopping national prevalence of 72% of the workers being in the know-how that bullying happens. Thirty-seven million Americans are either currently experiencing being bullied or had experienced being directly bullied in the past, and the wreckage it brings doesn’t end in the workplace. The target, being physically and psychologically tormented, brings his ordeal home with him.
The statistics on workplace bullying are quite alarming. There are numerous researches done on the effects of bullying on the individual and even on the organization, but there are just a few done on the impact of workplace bullying on the family. Because the effects of workplace bullying at home are indirect, not so apparent and difficult to keep track, the issue has taken little attention from campaigners and researchers alike.
Although I am a keen advocate of anti-bullying campaigns with an emphasis on improving feedback platforms in organizations, I had not realized that bullying is having such a tremendous impact on the target’s family, so great as to significantly affect relationships and family dynamics. The realization only fueled my intention of making organizations take more concrete actions on improving platforms for communication and feedback which in this case would help address abusive behaviors in the workplace.
Let us look further into the effects of workplace bullying on the families of those who experienced bullying behavior. When a worker parent who has been a victim of bullying goes home, he carries with him the negative feelings he had at work. This situation causes a ‘ripple effect,' and undeniably, all family members are affected.
In psychology, displacement is a form of defense mechanism wherein there is a redirection of an impulse that is usually aggressive onto a powerless or less powerful substitute target. ‘Kicking the dog’ is a popular term for this. It is likely that the bullied parent may lash it out on his pet, children or even dependent elderly parents if they are living with the family.
- Emotional withdrawal
The physical and emotional exhaustion brought about by bullying takes away strength and positivity that are reserved for family life. The result is a melancholic mood and sulking behind closed doors.
- Marital discord
Bullying in the workplace drives a wedge between spouses. There are two ways that marital relationship can be affected. One is emotional withdrawal, and the other is emotional dumping. When a target withdraws, he or she refuses to talk about the experience. On the other hand, a target can ‘dump’ all his stories of torment on the partner. Both can take their toll over time, leaving the partner at a loss, alienated, tired or feeling a victim, too.
- Strained relationship with children
Emotional withdrawal sends a signal to young children that they are ignored and taken for granted because they are insignificant or to blame for all the troubles. They may feel guilty and abandoned and may suffer from learning difficulties. Older children may rebel at the constant irritability or disregard for their welfare.
- Fear of financial instability
A parent who is bullied at work fears financial instability for the family especially if he or she is the sole breadwinner. The fear of losing one's job looms and presents a stress that he has little control of. It is also one of the primary reasons why victims of abusive behaviors tolerate being the target of bullying.
The effects of workplace bullying that are brought home should be immediately curtailed, and the only way to do this is to stop it at its source: the workplace. In as much as organizations recognize its disastrous effects on work culture and on the business itself, they should be made aware of its rippling effect on the victims' homes where it continuously wreaks havoc on family relationships and dynamics.
The healthcare sector should support the Healthy Workplace Bill. Organizations should foster a positive work culture where workplace bullying could not thrive. Have a unique recognition and reward system and encourage transparency programs that will help curtail this barrier to becoming a peak-performing organization.