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Beware the underdog

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Mention bullying on a training course and around half the delegates will have a story about being bullied or seeing some bullying. Despite all the training courses attended, legislation passed, HR policy enacted, it still seems fairly common in the workplace. 

We tend to think of bullies as powerful people enacting their power on subordinates but new research suggests this might not be the case. Apparently, status is just as important as power in explaining bullying. Experimenters divided subjects into high status groups and low status groups- let's call them managers and staff. They then gave each group the power to assign tasks to the other group. The staff were much more likely to assign degrading tasks than the managers. It seems that when given the power, individuals with low status are much more likely to bully staff than high status individuals with the same power. 

If we really want to stop a culture of bullying, we should pay less attention to bullying policies and more attention to how we structure teams and departments.  The traditional hierarchical structure of staff teams visualise power relationships in an organisation without showing the value people bring. We need to develop better ways of demonstrating to staff the value and importance of their contribution. 

Thanks to the Situationist blog for the link to this as yet unpublished research.

Tagged with: bullying

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