More workplace stressors, email and upwards bullying

According to a paper presented at the latest Industrial & Organisational Psychology Conference organised by the Australian Psychological Society, poor quality emails are causing almost as much stress in the workplace as the number received.

New Zealand provisional (?) psychologist, Rowena Brown, was presenting findings from her PhD studies and said

“Email is a double-edged sword. We know that email can help employees to feel engaged with and connected to their work colleagues, however the impact of a poor quality email, combined with the expectation to respond immediately, can create unnecessary stress.  Our research raises important issues for employers, who have a responsibility to train their staff in appropriate email etiquette.”

This type of research really doesn’t help business and managers to deal with the stress of their employees because it doesn’t  provide any useful control measures.  There are more significant causes of stress that demand the attention of OHS professionals and managers.

The same conference illustrates one of those other stressors.  Sara Branch, a psychologist Griffith University was quoted on the matter of employees bullying their bosses.

“Upwards bullying, like other forms of workplace bullying, is often more subtle and less obvious to other staff. However, it can also include more aggressive behaviours such as yelling, verbal threats, and confrontational phone conversations.”

“Workplaces need to understand that bullying can occur at any level in an organisation. Although managers clearly have formal authority, they can also be victims of bullying and need just as much support as other staff.”

The study also found, according to a media release about the conference, that one of the main triggers for upwards bullying is organisational change.

“If an employee is disgruntled by change, such as new working conditions, management, or processes, they may blame their manager and respond by bullying them.”

With the increased attention to psychosocial hazards in the occupational health and safety profession, it is necessary to pay attention to these sorts of studies but they are simply new perspectives on established issues that should already be monitored and changed.

These studies may illustrate the issue that OHS professionals can use to gain that managerial or client attention but they should be handled carefully so that these specific issues do not dominate the understanding on the manager or client.

SafetyAtWorkBlog advocates looking outside the OHS discipline for new evidence and understandings of workplace issues be it sociology or psychology but one must avoid reacting to hype.

Kevin Jones

7 thoughts on “More workplace stressors, email and upwards bullying”

  1. thanks for the advice kevin
    in the end though as they say its youre word against theirs,and no one person has ever been able to change the mentallity of this place ever,if you cause waves youre hours can be reduced from 7 hrs per day to 3 hrs.
    It would be nice though to see this place brought out of the 1940\’s,where one isnt screamed at for being 1 minute late for work,or questioned for going too the toilet.

  2. Verbal abuse is unbelievable where i work,i really think there is nothing like it in any factory where there in 50 or more employee\’s in Australia
    Ive worked in this factory on queensland\’s Gold Coast for 4 years,and the pure and total hatered and insane screaming and threats that is dished out to workers on a daily basis has been happening even years before i started work in this place.
    The person a woman in her late 50\’s who conducts this insane behaviour has been with this place for something like a incrediable 40 years,and she\’s gotten away with it for decades
    Some employee\’s have been here for 20 plus years and they are still on casual rates not fulltime,\”20 years and still on as just a casual\”

    1. Brent

      You may want to consider contacting both Fair Work Australia and Workplace Health and Safety Queensland for some advice on what you can do, if you want to change the situation. Both have contact numbers on their websites and they accept anonymous enquiries.

  3. Sonja

    Thanks for suggesting ways to improve. I don\’t think I provide any facts of my own in this post. The type of research I appreciate in the workplace is that which has a practical application or changes our understanding of a work practice or hazard. Although \”pure\” research has its place.

    The quality of emails as a workplace hazard is less important than the more widespread hazard of excessive workloads, which email volumes are often part of.

    Upwards bullying has been identified as a reality but bullying studies and OHS guidances in the past have never segmented bullying as only from employer to employee, or manager to worker. The reality of bullying up, down and sideways, has always been acknowledged in the OHS field in Australia.

    I think Bernie is right in the above comment – bullying is a manifestation of our lack of respect for others in, and outside, the workplace. Courtesy, dignity and empathy will weed out bullying but it will take time, as any cultural change does.

  4. Technological stress has an impact on performance, job relationships, satisfaction, burnout, conflict and so forth. We need to deal with or at least understand through research first to then know how best deal with it effetively!

    Before you decide to comment on research, do your own.
    I think you also need to understand:
    a)statistics and how that works
    b)the model used to discuss this matter in more psychological terms
    c)OR that you dont just respond to research like that with no backing up of your facts!

  5. Many businesses operate on a rate of return on investment (ROI). Bullying in its many forms has a direct impact on this ROI. However, given that there is no universal model that can be used to capture the direct and indirect costs, some businesses (boards, owners etc) may not have a full understanding or appreciation of how their bottom line is being affected. Some research indicates that bullying costs between $3 and $36 billion per year. If a national business or organisation lost this amount of money on an annual basis, there would be all sorts of inquiries or media attention. Taxpayers and consumers should be outraged as these costs are passed on in one way or the other.
    Bullying is generally understood to be a health and safety issue, but it is also a major public health issue and needs to be treated as such with some radical surgery.
    There is no simple answer to a complex set of variables. However, the first step begins with open and transparent communication and consultation. Respect and dignity seem to be missing in the vocabulary of some people and whilst a minority may be the combatants, it is the majority who pay.

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