People who are treated badly in the workplace may actually be seen as bullies themselves, according to a new study.
This research related to victim-blaming biases was recently published in the Journal of Applied Psychology. It was co-authored by Shannon Taylor, an associate professor of management in the University of Central Florida’s College of Business.
It found that supervisors may view bullied workers as bad employees, regardless of their performance. The bullies themselves were often viewed in a more positive light, particularly if they were liked by their boss.
“We hope this study will at least bring awareness to people’s potential for bias,” said Shannon Taylor, UCF associate professor.
“The results are eye-opening. I think they are useful because, given all of these accounts in the media of bad behaviour happening, people are often left wondering how can we blame victims, and why do we let these perpetrators off the hook, why do they go unpunished?”
Taylor believes that supervisors need to receive bias training in the workplace, citing the ‘halo effect’ in which a person’s positive attributes may actually mask their negative traits.
“The first step is really awareness of these biases,” he said.
“We hope this study will at least bring awareness to people’s potential for bias.”
In total, four studies were conducted by the researchers. The first two of these relied on surveys of employees and supervisors, and revealed that supervisors tend to exhibit bias against the victims of bullying.
The third and fourth studies were experiments in which participants evaluated employees based on descriptions of their work performance, as well as how they treated others and how they were treated.
They showed that even when evaluators were clearly informed that the victims had not exhibited this type of behaviour towards others, they were still seen as bullies. The fourth study demonstrated that that bullying victims also receive lower job performance evaluations as a result of being victimised.
In all four studies, researchers discovered that bullies were less likely to be seen as deviant when their supervisor considered them to be good performers.
“What I think is really interesting about this is, when you hear stories of high-profile people engaging in bad behaviour at work, a lot of these people have gone unpunished for long periods of time,” said Taylor.
“And we have examples of victims of this bad behaviour being called out and attacked on social media and by the media. Our studies show this is actually pretty common. We’re all susceptible to these biases.”
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