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‘It could be groundbreaking’

Study looking for simple behaviours to reduce workplace mistreatment


By Susan White

Could reducing the incidences of workplace mistreatment be as simple as applying the same strategies used to achieve a goal?

Researchers at Memorial’s Faculty of Business Administration have received national funding from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) to find out.

Dr. Amy Warren is pictured in the business building at Memorial University.
Dr. Amy Warren’s SSHRC-funded study aims to reduce workplace harassment.
Photo: Submitted

Principal investigator Dr. Amy Warren and co-investigator Dr. Travor Brown, along with co-investigator Dr. Kathryne Dupré of Carleton University, have received an Insight Grant worth $95,450 for their study, Using Goals to Address Workplace Mistreatment.

The missing piece

Workplace mistreatment, which ranges from relatively mild behaviours such as rudeness to more severe forms like harassment, is known to have negative ramifications for the victims at both work and home, says Dr. Warren.

“Victims of workplace mistreatment tend to experience negative outcomes such as increased stress, and we know that high levels of stress can lead to costly outcomes such as reduced productivity, increased absenteeism and poor health,” she said. “This is costing organizations millions, if not billions, of dollars around the world.”

Dr. Warren says the missing piece is interventions.

“We are trying to find a solution to help people deal with workplace mistreatment if they’re a target of it, but we’re also coming at it from the perspective of working with perpetrators of mistreatment. We want to find out if a goal setting intervention can help reduce the incidences of people actually perpetrating mistreatment in the workplace.”

A simple solution

The researchers hope to achieve this by applying the same intervention strategies one would apply to achieve a goal.

Goal setting has been used in a variety of workplace contexts, says Dr. Warren. Essentially, individuals set themselves a challenging goal and are given the tools they need to attain it.

“Consider workplace mistreatment – if we can design an intervention based on well-established goal setting theory as a way to resolve the interpersonal issues that often lead to mistreatment – it could be groundbreaking,” she said.

“It’s something that organizations would be able to implement, and would not cost a lot of money. We know that it works in all kinds of other areas, so why can’t it work for something like mistreatment?”

Identifying behaviours

The first step in the study is to bring together subject matter experts to help identify behaviours that targets of harassment and perpetrators may be able to use when workplace mistreatment occurs.

“It’s getting people to buy into behaviours that will make them successful at achieving a goal.” — Dr. Amy Warren

The goal will be to try and use the behaviours to reduce the impact of mistreatment on individuals and perhaps even the incidences of it altogether.

“It’s getting people to buy into behaviours that will make them successful at achieving a goal,” said Dr. Warren.

She hopes the research will help the team develop a formula for interventions that can be broadly distributed to organizations.

“The more organizations that we can touch with a successful intervention, the better we can make the workplace for many, many people, and to me that would make the work so worthwhile.”

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