20th Jan 2021
As our evolutionary instincts would dictate, physically taking ourselves out of the firing line of work stressors and challenges may support us with our well-being. However, some employees may meet these circumstances by engaging in presenteeism; the act of turning up to work, even when they are not in a healthy, fit state to do so (Ruhle et al., 2020).
Presenteeism is thought to be a key contributor towards the rising £45 billion yearly costs to UK businesses due to the poor mental health of their employees (Deloitte, 2020). Whilst this may be due to other individual and organisational factors, workplace bullying may influence employees to continue working despite being unwell through repeated and unreasonable actions such as:
In toxic organisations, bullying may take the form of individuals spreading incorrect information to damage another employee’s reputation (Michelson & Mouly, 2002). If an unwell employee is the target of these rumours, they may decide to show up at work despite their condition, attempting to gain control over any malicious gossip being shared at their expense.
The desire to stay at work despite being unwell may be fuelled by the motivation to ensure social connections are kept healthy, with interpersonal relationships at risk for those affected by workplace bullying (Crothers et al., 2009). These employees may also want to ensure that they are in the direct eye line of those facilitating ostracising behaviours, explicitly displaying their hard work in front of the perpetrator to help them to avoid being overlooked for promotions, as being bullied at work can impact career advancement prospects (Bartlett & Bartlett, 2011).
Undermining Work and Unrealistic Deadlines
Those who have been bullied at work will be aware of the emotional consequences of having one’s work constantly criticised and undermined (Lewis & Gunn, 2007). Increasing their own working hours to increase the chances of having criticism levelled at them may seem counter intuitive. However, it may be considered the only option for employees so that they have time to ruminate over their work, ensuring that there are no errors to be pounced on. However, bullying may also include being subject to consistently unrealistic deadlines (Ciby & Raya, 2014), making any increasing work efforts redundant.
Recovering from Work
When exposed to workplace bullying over time, those involved can be affected by a range of experiences including anxiety, depression, sleep problems, trouble concentrating and headaches (Hogh et al., 2011). If employees continue to turn up to work despite being unwell, they may not recover from work stressors and risk negative health and performance outcomes, such as exhaustion, burnout and a loss in productivity (Naseem & Ahmed, 2020; Meijman & Mulder, 2013; Rodríguez-Cifuentes et al., 2020).
As a result of this poor health, there may be further opportunities for bullying behaviour to occur. Consequently, presenteeism may increase, performances may become poor enough to justify dismissal and employees may decide that the only way to break the cycle is to leave the business.
Breaking the Cycle
Workplace bullying alone may not be the only factor in increasing employee presenteeism, as inaccurate resourcing, organisational change, challenges at home and personality tendencies, such as perfectionism, may contribute to the issue.
Nevertheless, it is the responsibility of organisational stakeholders to ensure that appropriate measures are in place to support those affected by bullying to reduce the prevalence of presenteeism. Whether introducing firm and transparent policies or offering emotional support to those affected by bullying, compassion and care should be at the core of any plan to work towards a better and brighter future for the workplace and those working in it.
For suggestions on how to support your organisation with workplace bullying, please read about our training programmes for the workplace or learn more about how BulliesOut can help employers and employees on our information pages.
Written by Jason David Phillips
Jason is a former Public Relations and Communications professional. He is a Trainee Organisational Psychologist looking to support the well-being of employees through his writing at BulliesOut.
Image from Unsplash (https://unsplash.com/photos/85XLV4Po2mk)
Bartlett, J.E., & Bartlett, M.E. (2011). Workplace Bullying: An Integrative Literature Review. Advances in Developing Human Resources, 13(1), 69-84. doi: 10.1177/1523422311410651
Ciby, M., & Raya, R.P. (2014). Exploring Victims’ Experiences of Workplace Bullying: A Grounded Theory Approach. Vikalpa: The Journal for Decision Makers, 39(2), 69-81. doi: 10.1177/0256090920140208
Crothers, L.M., Lipinski, J., & Minutolo, M.C. (2009). Cliques, Rumors, and Gossip by the Water Cooler: Female Bullying in the Workplace. The Psychologist-Manager Journal, 12(2), 97-110. doi: 10.1080/10887150902886423
Deloitte. (2020, January 22). Poor mental health costs UK employers up to £45 billion a year. Retrieved from https://www2.deloitte.com/uk/en/pages/press-releases/articles/poor-mental-health-costs-uk-employers-up-to-pound-45-billion-a-year.html
Hogh, A., Mikkelsen, E.G., & Hansen, A.M. (2011). Individual Consequences of Workplace Bullying/Mobbing. In Einarsen, S., Hoel, H., Zapf, D., & Cooper, C.L. (Eds.), Bullying and Harassment in the Workplace (pp. 107-122). Boca Raton: CRC Press.
Lewis, D., & Gunn, R. (2007). Workplace Bullying in the Public Sector: Understanding the Racial Dimension. Public Administration, 85(3), 641-665. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9299.2007.00665.x
Meijman, T.F., & Mulder, G. (2013). Psychological Aspects of Workload. In De Wolff, C., Drenth, P.J.D., & Henk, D. (Eds.), A Handbook of Work and Organizational Psychology: Volume 2: Work Psychology (pp. 5-34). East Sussex: Psychology Press.
Michelson, G., & Mouly, V.S. (2002). ‘You Didn’t Hear it From Us But…’: Towards an Understanding of Rumour and Gossip in Organisations. Australian Journal of Management, 27(1), 57-65. doi: 10.1177/031289620202701S07
Naseem, K., & Ahmed, A. (2020). Presenteeism as a Consequence of Workplace Bullying: Mediating Role of Emotional Exhaustion and Moderation of Climate for Conflict Management. Pakistan Journal of Commerce and Social Sciences, 14(1), 143-166. Retrieved from http://jespk.net/publications/4384.pdf
Rodríguez-Cifuentes, F., Fernández-Salinero, S., Moriano, J.A., & Topa, G. (2020). Presenteeism, Overcommitment, Workplace Bullying, and Job Satisfaction: A Moderated Mediation Relationship. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 17(22), 8616. doi: 10.3390/ijerph17228616
Ruhle, S.A., Breitsohl, H., Aboagye, E., Baba, V., Leal, C.C., Dietz, C., Ferreira, A.I., Gerich, J., Johns, G., Karanika-Murray, M., Lohaus, D., Løkke, A., Lopes, S.L., Martinez, L.F., Miraglia, M., Muschalla, B., Poethke, U., Sarwat, N., Schade, H., Steidelmüller, C., Vinberg, S., Whysall, Z., & Yang, T. (2020). “To work, or not to work, that is the question” – Recent trends and avenues for research on Presenteeism. European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology, 29(3), 344-363. doi: 10.1080/1359432X.2019.1704734
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