How bad advice about workplace bullying keeps getting passed on

stressed businessman sitting outside corporate office - Stock
stressed businessman sitting outside corporate office - Stock

Fight or flight? People who get bullied in the workplace tend to get bad advice on how to react‚ yet they pass it on to other targets of bullying‚ a small study shows.

Often the advice — such as “quit your job” — is impractical and can make lives worse‚ said Professor Stacy Tye-Williams from Iowa State University‚ who led the research.

“If you haven’t experienced bullying‚ you don’t understand it and it is hard to imagine what you actually would do in the situation‚” she said.

Yet that did not stop co-workers‚ friends and family from giving advice‚ the most common of which were:

 - Quit or get out of the situation (27%);

- Ignore it or blow it off (23%);

- Fight or stand up to the bully (17%);

 - Stay calm (10%); and

 - Report the bullying (10%).

A few victims were told to “punch the bully” or “quit making things up”.

Tye-Williams said several victims felt they had done nothing wrong and should not have to leave their job‚ and they could not afford to quit.

One woman who had spent 20 years at her job said: “I’ve worked really‚ really hard‚ and why should I have to give up a job that I was good in because of ... the unprofessional way that somebody else was behaving? I just didn’t feel it was fair.”

The researchers said the targets‚ who expressed a sense of being in the right‚ were willing to take the abuse so the bully did not win.

Many victims were afraid of retaliation or further humiliation if they confronted the bully but Tye-Williams said suffering silently rarely improved the situation for them.

“Targets really felt stuck and didn’t know what to do about the bullying‚” she said. “They repeated the same advice even though they felt it would not have worked for them‚ or if they did follow the advice it made the situation worse.”

She said it was clear that people lacked insight into what would work and needed support to tackle workplace bullying.

“The best thing family members‚ friends‚ and colleagues can do is to simply listen without judgment to help targets work through available options‚” she said.

The paper by Tye-Williams and Kathleen Krone — for which they interviewed 50 bullied employees — was published in the Journal of Applied Communication Research.

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