Helping Men Rebuild Their Sense of Self Following Workplace Bullying

Sunday, 8 November 2015: 4:20 PM

Judith A. MacIntosh, BN, MScN, PhD, RN
Faculty of Nursing, University of New Brunswick, Fredericton, NB, Canada

Workplace bullying is prevalent abuse consisting of offensive behaviours that humiliate or intimidate others at work (Carbo and Hughes, 2010). The reported incidence varies with type of abuse and measurement methods but world-wide rates are reported to be increasing. Workplace violence has been identified as an international problem (World Health Organization, n.d.). We know that workplace bullying has effects on physiological, psychological, social, and economic health. Our past research showed how workplace bullying influenced women’s health promotion and workforce engagement (MacIntosh, O’Donnell, Wuest, & Merritt-Gray, 2011). We recognized a need to study men’s experiences because of potential differences in biology, gender norms, and help seeking behaviours.

We used grounded theory to study and develop a substantive theory of how men took care of their health and engaged in the workforce following workplace bullying. We recruited a community sample and interviewed 36 adult men, ranging in age from 30 to 81 years (average age 52 years). Most men had some high school education and many had gone to university. Men in this study worked in healthcare, office work, trades, labour, and business in cities, towns, and villages and in both large and small workplaces. About 2/3 of men were bullied by bosses and about 2/3 of those bosses were men. The rest of the people bullying were co-workers or groups of them. Most men reported psychological bullying. About 1/3 of men were fired, laid off, or forced to retire early because they were blamed for being bullied. Only about ¼ of men stayed in their workplaces.

The main problem for men experiencing workplace bullying was that it eroded their sense of self. How they thought of themselves was shaken. It was hard to understand and how they were treated did not fit with how they saw themselves. Men addressed this problem using a four stage process we named Sustaining Self. We called the stages noting discrepancies, gauging damage, preserving, and coming to terms. Men’s efforts to take care of their health and to keep working were affected by the amount of support they got from friends, family, health care workers, and at work. How men thought they were expected to behave as men affected what they did about being bullied.

I will talk about how men managed workplace bullying and what they believed would help them to manage and to rebuild their sense of self. Their recommendations include policy and workplace culture change strategies. Many men in this study sought help from available resources and I will talk about which sources of help they tried and accessed, and the outcomes of that help-seeking. That men did seek help leads us to further research concerning which men are more likely to seek help for health problems and what prompts them to do so.