The workplace environment can be a significant contributing factor when work colleagues are behaving badly.


Why might our work colleagues be behaving badly? Could it be that our workplaces themselves and our unforgiving work processes are really at the root of much of the problem?  

The premise that workplace stress is a significant causative factor of bad behaviour has been postulated by three researchers: Katarina Fritzon, Associate Professor of Psychology, Bond University; Joanna Wilde, Industrial Fellowship, Aston University, Birmingham; and Rosalind Searle, Professor of HRM and organisational Psychology, University of Glasgow.

The trio blame badly designed workplaces and poor work practices, including excessive demands, having a poor physical environment, unfairness and a lack of social support for producing stress in employees and bringing out the worst in them.

“As a result, co-workers’ coping strategies (including changing the way we think about a situation, using humour or focusing on solving problems) become overwhelmed. This leaves them less able to attend to the day-to-day normal pressures of work and to regulate their own social behaviours effectively,” they wrote in a joint article for The Conversation.

“In other words, bad behaviour in the workplace could be linked to fatigue, rather than to an aspect of a person’s character.”

The researchers also suggest that workplaces which don’t punish employees for unacceptable or harmful behaviour may be giving tacit approval to that bad behaviour, and in effect, encouraging it to continue.

“Individuals behaving badly are often oblivious to the impact they are having, and so without proper sanctions and containment, remain unaware of the need to self-correct. But there are also specific aspects of our workplaces that may contribute to such problematic behaviour.

 “People’s personalities aren’t fixed, which means that some human resources tools, such as testing for “emotional intelligence” (also known as EQ), may actually incentivise people to become more skilful at manipulating others’ emotions.

“If someone is hired or promoted because they are very good at impression management and manipulation, they are likely to be very effective at making their managers believe they are doing a good job while also bullying their peers and subordinates.

“Distress caused by difficult social contexts can also lead to dissociation. Dissociation is a self-protective mechanism that enables people to cut themselves off from their feelings of distress. But it can be experienced by others as coldness or a lack of empathy.”

The researchers suggested that instead of miscategorising these distressed people as psychopathic, we perhaps need to better understand and recognise early indicators of reactions that need care.

Ultimately, they believe we should concentrate on making our workplaces better places to be.

Instead of developing new ways of scapegoating each other with psychological concepts, we need to create environments that take care of our need to belong, and to be appreciated for our contributions and take a good hard look at what organisational factors might be contributing to any bad behaviour.

Read the full article on The Conversation: