With a reported 60% of employees reported experiencing workplace bullying within the last 6 months , the negative effect of mistreatment on their work-related attitudes and performance, as well as their general health, can be far-reaching and long lasting , What is causing this alarming rate of anti-social behaviour?
An international team of researchers, including Dr Kenneth Tai from Singapore Management University, collectively predicted that gender and bottom-line mentality would have an interactive effect on mistreatment in the workplace.
Their findings recommend that a more balanced approach is taken to victimisation theories relating to workplace mistreatment, as team characteristics need to be taken into account in addition to the interaction between the victim and the perpetrator.
Read more about their work: https://doi.org/10.1037/apl0000936
Image source: Pro-Stock Studio/ shutterstock.com
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In this episode, we’ll delve into research which explains how expectations around gender may influence workplace mistreatment and bullying, particularly in relation to bottom-line mentality, gender norm violation and team gender compositions.
Mistreatment in the workplace can include victimisation, bullying and social undermining. When workers are mistreated, it can have a negative effect on their work-related attitudes and performance, as well as their general health. According to a survey undertaken by UNISION, one of the UK’s largest trade unions, 60% of employees reported experiencing workplace bullying within the last 6 months. What is causing this alarming rate of anti-social behaviour? Researchers have tried to uncover the triggers behind workplace mistreatment, often with a significant focus upon gender. Whilst gender identity is a surface level demographic, it can influence individuals’ perceptions of how a person should act, think, or feel. This may include expectations of how different genders should behave, these are referred to as gender norms. For example, women may be traditionally expected to display more caring and nurturing aspects of their character, whilst it is more acceptable for males to exhibit aggression and competitiveness.
Anecdotally, it has been suggested that women are more likely to be the target of workplace bullying and mistreatment. However, there is little empirical evidence to back up these claims. It may be the case that both genders experience workplace mistreatment if they do not act in accordance with expected gender norms, this is referred to as Role Congruity Theory. These preconceptions can even include the type of mindset we expect different genders to exhibit. A particular example of this is bottom-line mentality, where an individual becomes so focused on achieving bottom-line outcomes such that they overlook other organisational goals or behaviours. For example, an employee may be so determined to achieve a promotion that they neglect their morals and therefore do not treat colleagues with respect. Those who have this mindset are more likely to be competitive and results orient, these characteristics are traditionally more aligned with male gender norms.
Researchers from several institutions have joined forces to investigate the relationship between gender and workplace mistreatment in relation to bottom-line mentality Dr Kenneth Tai from Singapore Management University and an international team of colleagues have collectively predicted that gender and bottom-line mentality would have an interactive effect on mistreatment in the workplace. Women who undertake higher bottom-line mentality are more likely to be perceived as aggressive and competitive which goes against typical female stereotypes. Therefore, the researchers hypothesized that these women are more likely to be mistreated, than women who display lower bottom-line mentality that fits with traditional gendered expectations. Conversely, the researchers expected that men who displayed lower bottom-line mentality would be mistreated, as they are perceived to have passive characteristics which are contrary to male stereotypes.
The researchers also theorised that the qualities which are rated as more desirable for men were indicative of bottom-line mentality, such as having a business sense, being ambitious, competitive, or aggressive. Therefore, bottom-line mentality amongst women is more likely to be seen as gender role violation, as is lower bottom-line mentality amongst men. When people act in a way that is not expected of their gender it can cause a backlash effect. For example, if a man cries during a performance evaluation they are likely to receive a lower performance score. Conversely, if a woman undertakes self-promotion to enhance their status, they may be perceived as less likeable or hireable. The researchers believe these gender norm violations may explain why women with higher and men with lower bottom-line mentality are more likely to experience workplace bullying.
The researchers also hypothesised that the gender composition of teams may influence members’ evaluations of each other. Traditionally there is a perception of women having lower social status in the workplace which may negatively affect attitudes towards women, meaning they are evaluated poorly in teams with a lower proportion of females. Therefore, the researchers hypothesised that the proportion of women in a team is likely to influence the degree to which women are seen as violating gender norms when they have a high bottom-line mindset. The researchers also believe that when there is a lower proportion of women in a team their presence is more visible, meaning there are greater expectations for them to conform to gender norms. Prior research has shown that individuals with lower status are more likely to have their behaviour scrutinised. Therefore the researchers predict that in teams with fewer women, females are more likely to be mistreated for having a high-bottom line mentality. In contrast, they predict that the proportion of women would not influence the way that men are perceived within a team in relation to violating gender norms.
The researchers conducted two different studies, the first aimed to evaluate the hypothesis that there is a relationship between gender and bottom-line mentality. This study involved administering surveys to two different companies, asking their employees to record their gender, complete a scale measuring bottom-line mentality and answer questions to gauge their level of mistreatment in the workplace. Both companies were based in South Korea, the first was a government agency where employees were in charge of tax processing. The employees were typically males with an average age of 40 years old, most of whom had a university level degree. 84% of these employees completed to the survey, yielding a final sample of 176. The second company was a private advertising firm, where employees were responsible for creating newspaper, television and internet commercials. These employees were slightly younger and had an average age of 29 years old, there was a more mixed gender composition with just over 60% being male and the majority had a high level of education. Fifty-seven percent of employees responded to the survey, generating 191 completed responses.
The results found a significant interaction between gender and bottom-line mentality. Consistent with the researchers’ predictions, the results demonstrated that women with a higher bottom-line mentality were more likely to be mistreated, whereas men with a low bottom-line mentality were also more likely to be mistreated than other colleagues.
The second study aimed to test two further hypotheses, the first was the interaction between gender, bottom-line mentality, and gender norm violations and the second was the impact team gender composition may have on mistreatment. This study involved retail managers from a sales team in South Korea. The employees all managed retail stores and typically worked in teams of 5 to 9 employees. A total of 175 employees completed the survey which asked about team gender composition and violation of gender norms in addition to bottom-line mentality and mistreatment. The study found that there was not a significant interaction between gender, bottom-line mentality and gender norm violation, despite gender norm violation being significantly related to mistreatment. However, it did find that the three-way interaction between gender, bottom-line mentality and team composition was significant. In line with the researchers predictions, women with a higher bottom-line mentality were more likely to be perceived as violating gender norms in teams where there was a lower proportion of women. In contrast, the proportion of women within the team did not have an impact on whether men with lower bottom-line mentality were more likely to be perceived a breaking gender norms.
This study has demonstrated that the role of congruity theory can be applied to at a team level in relation to gender, bottom-line mentality and mistreatment. The findings recommend that a more balanced approach is taken to victimisation theories relating to workplace mistreatment, as team characteristics need to be taken into account in addition to the interaction between the victim and the perpetrator.
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