Study Reveals Supervisors Lean Towards Victim Blaming In Harassment and Bullying Situations

With all of the media focus on workplace harassment and sexual assault in our society, one might think that a new level of awareness has emerged in regard to helping and protecting victims of harassment and bullying in the workplace.  However, a recently-published study conducted by several university business professors shows that not only are supervisors unlikely to believe claims of harassment or bullying, but actually are biased to perceive victims as the aggressors in many situations.

The study (click here to view study in pay site) used both surveys as well as real-life situations where supervisors evaluated employees based on their work performance, how they treated others, and how they were treated.  Despite being informed that the victim did not mistreat anyone, supervisors tended to view the victims as the bullies.

The researchers found that the most common characteristic about the “wrongly-accused” bullies was that they were identified as good performers – the assessment had nothing to do with whether the victim was a strong or weak performer.

The “halo effect” is a well-known theory about the tendency for an impression created in one area to (sometimes wrongly) influence opinion in another area.  Instead of focusing on the things that could be destroying a work group, people focus more on the things that make them succeed.

The study found that the most important tool to combat such erroneous assessments of worker behavior is through bias training.  If supervisors are educated on removing biases and focusing on the behaviors occurring, they can begin to see the real damage being done to co-workers of “productive barbarians” working under their command.

Society is a long way off from being a place where all people can be accepted for their differences, no matter what; the workplace is no different.  Education of your employees can go a long way in both creating a work environment in which all employees can feel accepted, and supervisors can recognize bad behavior and its impact on employees and production.  If you feel your workplace could use training on supervisor biases or creating a more respectful atmosphere, contact the Wiley Law Office, for training that works.