Cultural differences and workplace bullying

Jun 27 2013 by Brian Amble Print This Article

Behaviour that would be seen as acceptable in Hong Kong, New York or London would be seen as bullying in Latin America or Africa, according to a new study of white collar bullying.

Culture differences means that the country a company is based in has a direct effect on how much workplace bullying is accepted and where behavioural lines are drawn, research co-authored by Audencia Nantes School of Management Professor Nikos Bozionelos has found.

"Our study shows that while industry type, salary and gender all influence acceptability of workplace bullying, the country's culture of work is the biggest factor," Bozionelos said.

"This is vital for multi-national corporations setting global HR policies and for employees considering out of country assignments. Both management and employees must realize that acceptance of employee abuse depends on location."

The UK and the US were among the countries with a "high performance orientation" valuing accomplishments, a sense of urgency and explicit communication. These countries may tolerate bullying if it is seen as a means to achieve better results. In contrast, countries such as Argentina, Mexico and Colombia value the humane treatment of the individual more than they do economic performance.

The research, based on a survey of 1484 alumni and current MBA students from 14 countries worldwide, found that white collar workers in the Confucian Asia region (Singapore, Hong Kong and Taiwan) are those who have the highest acceptance rate of workplace bullying. For Confucian Asia, which has a higher performance orientation than other areas of the world areas such as Latin America and Sub-Saharan Africa, bullying may be seen as an acceptable price to pay for performance.

It also appears that that bullying might bring greater productivity in certain cases but at a cost. In extreme cases, shouting, unfair division of labour or employee segregation can cause physical trauma. As a result, workers can feel trapped, developing anxiety, depression and even suicidal thoughts.

The global study notes that in countries like Singapore, Hong Kong and Taiwan supervisors' large degree of power means employees are more likely to accept bullying. Meanwhile, workers in countries such as the UK may fall victim to bullying at the same rate as Asians but suffer more because of their belief in an ideal of fairness. They can therefore feel that workplace bullies are abusing both the employee's level of acceptable behaviour and that of society as a whole.