Which Leadership Style Impacts Bullying?

Leadership Style Impacts Bullying

Have you ever wondered if your leadership style impacts bullying in your workplace? Recent European research indicates that the day-to-day leadership practices of managers and leaders who are stressed and under pressure lead to increased bullying behaviour. Also, their style of leadership has a bearing. On days when managers and leaders use transformational or participative styles of leadership even when they are under pressure, bullying is low. When managers and leaders take a laissez-faire leadership style, bullying-related negative acts increase.

In Australia, October is mental health month and preventing workplace bullying is high on the agenda. In this article, we look at how leadership style impacts workplace bullying prevalence to encourage leaders and managers to consider how they may be allowing bullying in their organisations when they are stressed. We offer some strategies and resources to empower leaders and managers to develop their leadership style.

Work Pressure Leads to Negative Behaviour

Work pressure, burnout and high levels of stress are occurring as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Organisations are reducing staff numbers, restructuring and requiring leaders, managers and others to take on additional responsibilities. A stressful working environment may lead to an increase in social tension within workgroups, as the pressure is felt by all.

Also, workplace bullying and harassment thrive in demanding workplaces. In stressful environments, employees may not only experience organisational constraints but receive contradictory expectations and demands. Pressured and stressed leaders and managers are not always clear with what they want, or have the time to fully explain their expectations. Stressed manager’s leadership style impacts bullying by allowing negative behaviours to go unchecked.

See our article, Employee Engagement, Burnout, Stress – Signs and Tips.

Leadership Style Impacts Workplace Bullying

Leaders, managers and supervisors may both prevent, stop, permit, or engage in bullying behaviours, depending on which behaviours they display or hold back. Indeed, they may shape the development of workplace bullying in different ways as their leadership style impacts bullying behaviour.

Research shows that transformational leadership has positive effects on employee well-being and is related to less workplace bullying. Transformational leaders serve as role models of positive workplace behaviours. Whereas, laissez-faire leadership creates reduced job satisfaction, burnout, health problems and an increase in complaints of exposure to workplace bullying.

We need attentive and supportive leaders, managers and supervisors to moderate demanding situations which may escalate into tension and workplace bullying.

However, on high-pressure workdays, there is likely to be restricted time to manage any conflicts in the workgroup. Any unsolved conflicts may escalate, increasing the level of aggression between leaders, their teams and their peers. Consequently, employees might make more mistakes and be more sensitive to criticism. They may be involved in more work conflicts and may become easy targets of negative acts on that particular day. Bullying behaviour can begin to slowly creep in on these days and these negative acts may slip through.

See our article, What is Your Preferred Safety Leadership Style?

Transformational Leaders Are Supportive

A transformational leadership style impacts bullying particularly on stressful days with high work pressure. Transformational leaders show their employe’s appreciation and support and provide the necessary tools to cope with demanding stressors at work.

Also, appreciation and support encourage performance and may reduce interpersonal conflicts. Even in demanding situations, there are likely to be fewer instances of negative social interactions between team members. Bullying behaviour is not tolerated, and instead, team dynamics are collaborative, supportive and focus on looking at problems from different perspectives.

The Tap into Safety training platform has online and mobile-friendly courses to train about preventing Workplace Bullying. Coming in October are new courses for Leaders, Managers and Supervisors to help them improve their skills of communicating, managing their team, managing conflict and choosing the appropriate leadership style.

Listen to our podcast, Why People Use Bullying Behaviour at Work and How to Prevent It. 

Leaders Must Focus on Day-to-Day Interactions

We’ve established in high-stress work environments that leadership style impacts bullying, and note that transformational leaders are critically important. However, leaders and managers must manage their team social interactions daily because workplace stressors can escalate very quickly and trigger bullying behaviour. The higher the stress, the more quickly things can get out of hand.

The study finds that exposure to bullying-related negative acts seems to be particularly prevalent on days and in situations where leaders are inactive or when they avoid intervening in and managing situations. In high-stress work environments, a lack of constructive intervention is likely to sustain, and increase the feelings of stress and frustration of employees, leaving them at an increased risk of exposure to bullying behaviour. Furthermore, perpetrators may view the non-response from the leader as a signal that their behaviour is acceptable.

As a leader, manager or supervisor you must also consider the daily work environment. Transformational leaders set challenging expectations and motivate followers to strive further and aim higher. However, on high-stress workdays, such encouragement may exacerbate already existing work pressure, and result in even more perceived work stress. So, you need to evaluate your leadership style and position it to support the day-to-day work demands.

See our article, Psychological Resilience and Stress: Reduce the Risk.

To Conclude

This study highlights that leadership style impacts bullying in high-stress work environments and encourages transformational leaders who are supportive and collaborative. The study finds that workplace bullying increases on days and in situations where leaders are inactive or when they avoid intervening in and managing situations.

In high-stress work environments, a lack of constructive intervention is likely to sustain, and increase the feelings of stress and frustration of employees, leaving them at an increased risk of exposure to bullying behaviour. Also, a lack of constructive intervention can encourage perpetrators who may view the non-response from the leader as a signal that their bullying behaviour is acceptable.

Transformational leadership styles generally help to reduce bullying at work, however, leaders and managers must manage their team social interactions daily. Workplace stressors can escalate very quickly and easily get out of hand to trigger bullying behaviour.

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