Sue O’Donnell shares her research on workplace bullying and how we should not assume that men do not want or will not ask for help.
Workplace bullying is a serious workplace health issue that involves ongoing negative, offensive, unsafe, unwanted, degrading, or intimidating behaviours and the abuse of power or control. Even though both women and men are bullied, few researchers have examined the experiences of men, let alone gendered differences among men. This post is based on qualitative research with 20 Atlantic Canadian men who were bullied at work. I met and talked with men who had varying employment backgrounds and experiences such as construction, trades work, education, security and law enforcement, health care, business, and business management.
Men’s Experiences of Bullying
Men described experiencing subtle forms of bullying that included intimidation, humiliation, teasing, withholding of information and resources, removing work roles and responsibilities, altering work expectations, hampering or denying advancement, and undermining work, credibility, and reputation and. More overt forms of bullying included dismissal and threats of dismissal, yelling, and physical threats. Men were bullied most often by superiors (people in positions of power).
As men were continually exposed to bullying, they described experiencing a gradual decline in health. One man noted, “As subtle as it is, it rings loudly in my ears. It may seem like a whisper in yours but it’s a cumulative thing. It’s the same as hearing loss. If you subject yourself to loud noises over time, all of a sudden you realize you are deaf. It’s the same as this. You have no idea what it’s actually doing until all of a sudden everything goes to heck.”
Stress, anxiety, and depression were commonly described but men also talked about feelings of self-doubt and blame, lowered self-confidence and esteem, humiliation, fear, anger, powerlessness, and hopelessness. A small number of men described post-traumatic stress symptoms and disorder, self-harm, and suicidal thoughts. Men experienced headaches, sleep problems, decreased energy and fatigue, weight changes, and stomach problems. One man noted, “I was grinding my teeth so much from the stress that I was beating out my teeth, and I was getting these wicked headaches and stuff.”
Men described changes in relationships, withdrawal and isolation at work and at home, unemployment, loss of pension or reduced pension, reduced pay, career reputation changes, and health care costs. One man noted, “I became testy with people including my loved ones.” Another described financial impact, “Disability was nothing compared to what I was getting and with that comes your credit, trying to survive, you know what I mean.”
Overall, men described a lack of workplace support to address and resolve the bullying. This left them feeling as if they had been abandoned by their employer and, in the end, half of the participants (10) left the workplace as a means of seeking relief from the bullying and protecting their health. Contrary to prevailing knowledge and assumptions related to men’s health and help seeking behaviours, findings from this research demonstrate that men want support and many seek help to address bullying and the related health consequences. More than half of the men sought help from workplace and/or health care professionals suggesting that men can and do seek help. Further, the fact that the central concern described by men was a lack of workplace support to address and resolve WBP demonstrates a desire for support among men. We should not assume that men do not want or will not ask for help. Please view and share this video to raise awareness about men’s experiences of bullying: http://vimeo.com/100370073