Harassed women work harder, study finds

ALEISHA ORR
Last updated 15:59 21/03/2013
Stress
GETTY
BIG IMPACT: Women tended to be the targets of workplace incivility more often, partly due to women being less likely to be in a senior position.

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Women who face rude and disrespectful behaviour in the workplace tolerate it and react by working harder.

This has been found as part of research done by Edith Cowan University and the University of New England.

ECU school of psychology and social science senior lecturer Dr Jennifer Loh said while women often had to deal with more negative behaviour than men, men reacted by withdrawing.

Men who are treated rudely tended to react by taking longer breaks away from work and taking spurious sick days.

The findings are from a study of 317 Australian white-collar workers that examines workplace incivility.

Loh described examples of incivility as refusing to acknowledge co-workers, general gossip, rolling one's eyes at co-workers' suggestions, texting or emailing during meetings, making derogatory comments or insulting colleagues.

Workplace incivility is considered a step down from bullying, however, the study shows it still has a significant impact on the office environment and productivity.

Loh, an organisational psychologist, said one possible reason for women's reaction to incivility in the workplace was the importance women tended to place on a good personal and social relationship with colleagues.

"Therefore, when they are faced with incivility in the workplace - and this would generally be over work issues - women are more likely to attempt to work harder with the aim to improve their work relationships," she said.

The study confirmed that women tended to be the targets of workplace incivility more often.

Loh said this was partly due to gender inequality in the workplace, with women being paid less and being less likely to be in a senior position.

She said previous studies had found perceived power imbalances were a prerequisite for incivil behaviour or bullying to occur.

Women also tended to use more passive coping strategies to deal with workplace incivility.

Rather than being interested in punishing their harasser, they were more interested in putting a stop to the undesirable behaviour itself.

In contrast, Loh said men experiencing similar behaviour would tend to either ignore their aggressor or retaliate by withdrawing from work.

She said while employers valued those that worked hard, the knowledge that women worked harder when harassed should not be used against them.

Loh said while women worked harder initially, a harassed worker was not productive for a company in the long run.

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"You can work extra hard and do that for a while but eventually you'll get sick of it and get stressed," she said.

"They think if they are giving their blood and sweat and are continued to be treated in that way. They'll then think, I'll leave.

"This causes a loss in terms of recruitment costs and tarnishing the company's reputation," she said.

"A lot of women work casual or part time, so there is a potential for some to move into work in a greater capacity."

Women should speak up and report harrassment so it could be dealt with properly and did not continue, Loh said.

"If workplace incivility is not handled properly, it can spiral and create a hostile work environment which can lead to violence.

"Therefore, it is important that managers and upper management acknowledge the existence of workplace incivility and stop it in its track as early as possible."

Loh said further research would be done in other parts of the world.

- WA Today

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