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30 October 2006
Confronting Workplace Bullying

Studies reveal that 25 to 30 percent of employees are subjected to workplace bullying and emotional abuse at some stage during their working life. Such workplace hostilities have been linked to negative effects on employees' mental and physical health, which in turn leads to lower company productivity. But while the eradication of bullying would be beneficial to both employees and companies, both parties have had trouble articulating and identifying bullying behavior. Now, new research published in Management Communication Quarterly shows that the use of metaphor by employees to describe bullying experiences may be the answer.

The researchers worked with focus groups, asking them to use drawings and freedom of language to describe the feelings that they experienced while being bullied at work. Employees used descriptions such as "a battle," "water torture," and "a nightmare," to describe their workplace situation, and "two-faced actors," and "devils" to describe their workplace tormentors. "This study provides an important step in understanding the emotion and pain associated with workplace bullying," say the authors. "Emotion can serve as a warning sign that organization interaction is askew," they added.

The authors of the study say that the use of metaphor to describe the emotional toll that bullying exacts upon its victims is an important step to properly identifying the problem. "Whether empowering or disempowering, the metaphors pinpointed through this analysis provide targets with words to explain their situation to others - an important move considering that one of the main problems targeted employees face is that their plight is largely invisible," explain the authors.

The authors claim that this method for identifying an otherwise invisible problem is similar to the way that the term "sexual harassment" was used to root out unsavory workplace behaviors toward women. In this respect, the authors predict that their research will provide a way for employees to properly articulate bullying experiences to employers. "Attending to the metaphors of abused workers serves not only to lay bare the feelings associated with workplace bullying but also to diagnose current interpretations and provide cues for potential intervention and change," concluded the researchers.

Source: SAGE Publications

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