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Hostile Work Environments and the Impact on Employee Well-Being

At some point in your career, you may have encountered a manager who became verbally abusive if you or your peers made a mistake. Maybe it was someone who micromanages because they didn't trust in your skills and capabilities, therefore, making it difficult for you to carry out your tasks and responsibilities. Perhaps, it was a co-worker who bullied and harassed you throughout the workday due to their insecurities as an employee. You may have encountered a leader whose management style was to lead by intimidation and fear. These scenarios are all considered to be characteristics of a hostile work environment, that can be detrimental to employee well-being as they can cause mental and physical stress to the employee. Inevitably, there will be some type of stress at work and, not all stress is considered bad and can help improve performance. Whether it is project deadlines, work priorities, learning a new skill or processes and procedures. While stress does not create a hostile work environment, the behavior and actions of individuals in the workplace do. Bullying is a behavior that is regarded as a psychosocial stressor in the workplace; it belongs to the group of long-lasting interpersonal stressors and the person experiencing them has little or no possibility to control them. Plopa, Plopa & Skuzinska (2017) explain that bullied employees often feel helpless and powerless. According to Trépanier, Fernet & Austin (2015), bullying is associated with poor employee functioning, expressed through disengagement, job dissatisfaction, and symptoms of anxiety, depression, burnout, and psychological distress. Leadership behaviors and management styles are also sources of stress for employees. For example, managers that abuse their power, display verbal and non-verbal behaviors such as yelling, lack of managing, leading through intimidation and fear, micromanaging, etc. This behavior does indeed cause friction, tension, and stress in the environment. Employees may avoid their managers or may choose to remain silent for fear of further damaging the relationship with their manager or triggering more abuse if not other severe sanctions, (Kiewitz, Restubog, Shoss, Garcia, & Tang, 2016). Suffering in silence is not productive to the employee. It does not resolve any problems and can make matters worse, as the employee can internalize the issues rather than addressing them, wreaking havoc on their physical and mental well-being. A hostile work environment is attributed to reduced productivity and performance, increased healthcare costs as well as workers' compensation claims. Organizations recognize the importance of well-being and the impact it has on profits. Many organization provides incentives for employees to manage stress in their lives and take better care of themselves because they now know the detrimental effects it will have on the employee, mentally and physically. However, it is important to address the sources of employee stress by implementing workplace surveys such as 360 feedback or climate surveys to pinpoint where changes need to be made from either a managerial or organizational perspective to improve the working environment.

References Kiewitz, C., Restubog, S. D., Shoss, M. K., Garcia, P. M., & Tang, R. L. (2016). Suffering in silence: Investigating the role of fear in the relationship between abusive supervision and defensive silence. Journal of Applied Psychology, 101(5), 731-742. doi:10.1037/apl0000074

Plopa, M., Plopa, W., & Skuzińska, A. (2017). Bullying at work, personality and subjective well-being. Journal Of Occupational Health Psychology, 22(1), 19-27. doi:10.1037/a0040320

Trépanier, S., Fernet, C., & Austin, S. (2015). A longitudinal investigation of workplace bullying, basic need satisfaction, and employee functioning. Journal Of Occupational Health Psychology, 20(1), 105-116. doi:10.1037/a0037726


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