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U. study finds high likelihood of bullying in lab settings

A research study found that instances of bullying are especially prevalent in laboratory settings. – Photo by Trnava University / Unsplash

A recent study conducted by Paul Chiou, a lecturer in the Department of Clinical Laboratory and Medical Imaging Sciences at Rutgers—Newark, found that more than two-thirds of laboratory professionals are subjected to workplace bullying.

The study, which mainly consisted of employees in the U.S. and Canada, found that the perpetrators of this bullying are most likely to be their victims' peers. Additionally, workplaces with high amounts of bullying reported more employees taking sick days.

"Simply, workplace bullying is too high. It is associated with people calling out sick, and organizational leadership and workplace culture (impacting the environment)," Chiou said.

In the study, researchers sent out a questionnaire evaluating the profiles of both victims and perpetrators of workplace bullying. The form yielded 229 valid responses. A test sample of employees was used to investigate if laboratories offering resources to employees have a more productive and fulfilled workforce.

The study concluded that there are multiple harmful effects of workplace bullying, including inefficiency, high turnover and a lack of fulfillment for employees. Moreover, the chronic stress of bullying can suppress the human body's immune system and make employees more susceptible to illness.

The most cited reason for bullying was racism, according to the study. The most common instances of workplace bullying were ignoring opinions, being exposed to unmanageable workloads and being personally ignored or excluded.

Regarding how workplace structure affects bullying, the study's test sample of workers reported far fewer sick days than those who were subjected to bullying.

"Laboratories with supportive work environments to prevent bullying tend to have lower call-out sick mental days. It is consistent with the medical literature that employer support is an effective way of protecting people against incivility and ensuring a healthier work environment," Chiou said.

He cited workplace leadership as the main factor contributing to bullying. He said that laboratories should both have prevention and support plans to help employees recover and discipline perpetrators.

"Since the perpetrators of these negative acts can frequently be high performers and likely to be considered valuable employees that management may wish to protect when a complaint is lodged against them, there needs to be a genuine commitment from management in order for this to work," the study said.

Among the study's limitations is its inclusion of an overrepresentation of male and Black professionals in comparison to the U.S. laboratory workforce.

Another limitation is the fact that perpetrators are less inclined to admit their actions, which can result in underrepresented incidences of bullying.

Chiou said he was motivated to do this research after witnessing several instances of problematic behavior while working in the private sector.

"(I've) just witnessed far too much incivility at the workplace, and I hope the study will bring awareness and visibility to this very important topic," he said.

Despite the focus of the study being on laboratory professionals, Chiou said any individuals can learn from it as well.

"The issue of exposure to bullying appeared universal and has serious work implications that require organizational thought leaders and administrations to be proactively involved to mitigate its spread," he said.

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