Lateral workplace violence needs more attention than it gets right now. There are no laws, at federal or state level, that deal with lateral workplace violence. Some industries and their associations have set some standards on how to deal with it but that needs to be broadened and there should be some statutes within the ambit of law that can thwart this menace.
Lateral workplace violence has far-reaching impacts. There are many who have reported quitting their job and even a profession owing to being bullied, due to hostile workplace conditions and various kinds of abuse. In some cases, it could be intimidation and in some it could be sexual harassment. Abuse of authority is also common.
What is Lateral Workplace Violence?
Lateral workplace violence is an act of aggression. It could be verbal or nonverbal, physical or psychological. Offensive abuses, intimidation, insulting behavior, actions that are malicious and abuse of authority or a situation can be classified as lateral workplace violence. Such acts can be conducted by one person against another, by many people against one person, by many people against several individuals or by one individual against a group of people. Lateral workplace violence often stems from positions of authority, or superiors, but it is also common among peers or colleagues having the same designation or job profile.
Lateral workplace violence can be sporadic and abrupt in nature. But it can also be systematic, planned, persistent and ongoing.
Impact of Lateral Workplace Violence
The impact will depend on the nature of the act. Physical abuse will obviously have a physical impact. Verbal or emotional abuse will have more of a psychological impact. The stress a victim experiences, the increased vulnerability, the humiliation and the threats would always have a scarring impact on an individual’s psyche. There are some immediate effects which are noticed as well. Employees who are victims of lateral workplace violence would have reduced or declining productivity, they would resort to absenteeism and may even quit for unexplained reasons. Victims also undergo depression, suppressed anger and resentment and there can also be an impact on the personality of the targeted employee.
Examples of Lateral Workplace Violence
Verbal confrontation, nonverbal innuendo, undermining acts, sabotage, withholding information, backstabbing, infighting and making someone a scapegoat are common examples of lateral workplace violence.
Here are some specific scenarios that would illustrate how lateral workplace violence may shape up.
- A person or people in position may use their clout or power to control assignments, day-offs, breaks through the shift, holiday or time-off and rosters.
- Colleagues or peers may control an individual or individuals by consistently reporting their shortcomings, actions or inactions to the immediate supervisor or manager.
- Some leaders, managers or supervisors may put some victims under duress, impose deadlines that are impossible to keep and assign workload that is humanely undoable.
- Intentional withholding of information or sharing wrong information for an individual or individuals to get into trouble and thus being pulled up for it and penalized for no fault of theirs. This could happen covertly or overtly.
There are many manifestations of lateral workplace violence.
- Yelling, a demanding attitude of seniors or peers, refusing to offer any help or guidance, intentionally allowing someone to be in a tight spot, exposing someone’s shortcomings or limitations or even secrets that have been shared, consciously badmouthing someone and scheming to pull someone down or to cause substantial professional damage are all manifestations of lateral workplace violence.
- Intimidating with the power of authority, threatening disciplinary actions or instilling fear of being sacked, being excessively critical of an individual or group of people, consistently pulling someone down or holding someone back, using various kinds of physical gestures to express hostility and outright violence or an act with the intent to cause physical hurt are also forms of lateral workplace violence.
Managing Lateral Workplace Violence
While there should be standard laws to tackle lateral workplace violence, one cannot seek legal help until such a law is in place. Managing lateral workplace violence will be possible only when companies and people accept that it exists and has its tentacles spread out far and wide. Also, people need to stop considering it or bullying as acceptable. There is covert acceptance of lateral workplace violence because those who indulge in it are also part of the workforce that must reject it.
The best way to manage lateral workplace violence is to have an open, un-opinionated, fair and well monitored grievance reporting system. Most employees don’t report being victims of lateral workplace violence. Every employee should be told that they are to report whatever experience they encounter and they must be assured that a fair probe will be launched to unearth the facts.
Such a practice must also be mentioned in the human resources policy of a company.