Workplace harassment goes beyond personality clashes

It's easy to blame workplace harassment cases on incompatible personality types – however, a university academic has suggested the problem has much deeper roots.

According to the University of South Australia's Dr Michelle Tuckey, the issue of harassment at work goes beyond the individuals involved and is rather entrenched in the structure of the entire organisation. She said that the misdirected focus of research until now has been behind the general  – and likely incorrect – perception that people are at the centre of harassment.

“Research shows workplace harassment is generally not an issue of personality conflicts but rather a reflection of the whole organisational system,” she asserts.

“Yet our review of current studies done in the field found the overwhelming majority of harassment research has been conducted at the individual level, with 85 per cent of studies only including information from one data source – most commonly the target or victim.”

Workplace harassment results in a lose-lose scenario for all parties involved. Chronically harassed and bullied employees can suffer from a range of both mental and physical health problems, leading to depression and burnout as well as drastically lowered morale.

“Organisations also lose out – they face costly compensation costs, higher turnover, and lower job satisfaction and commitment to work,” says Dr Tuckey.

She concluded by saying that more research needs to be carried out to determine what factors can lead to a harassment-free work environment. In the meantime, organisations can take a wide range of initiatives, such as implementing anti-bullying policies, to ensure the problem is kept in check.

These sentiments suggest that while personality assessment can help businesses recruit employees that present a good cultural fit, harassment is an HR issue that needs to be tackled at an organisation-wide level. With new anti-bullying laws slowly taking their hold in Australia this year, it's more important than ever before that companies make an effort to stamp it out.