November 24, 2007

Negative work environment

Studies employing measures of global organisational environment have tended to find an association between a negative work environment and bullying. Bjorkqvist et al (1994) noted that previous studies by Leymann (e.g., 1986, 1992) indicate risk factors for bullying such as a strict hierarchical organisation, an authoritarian atmosphere and poor communication.

In his 1996 paper, Leymann reported that an analysis of around 800 case studies of workplace bullying suggests that ‘extremely poorly organised production and/or working methods and an almost helpless or uninterested management were found’. Hoel and Salin (2003) reported that studies by Keashly and Jagatic (2000) and Vartia (1996) suggest that communication and cooperation problems, low morale and negative social climate are associated with the presence of workplace bullying. Hoel and Cooper (2000), in their large survey of UK workplaces, found that experience of bullying was related to a negative work climate.

Around 83% of the self-referred victims of bullying in O’Moore et al’s (1998) study reported the work environment to be competitive, and 77% said their work environment was strained and stressful. In Einarsen et al’s (1998) study on assistant nurses in Norwegian hospitals, bullied nurses had a negative assessment of various aspects of their daily work.

In their recent study, Coyne et al (2003) found that self and peer nominated victims of bullying perceived the working environment to be characterised by more negative aspects (e.g., strained, stressful, regular change, authoritarian management and competitive) than other groups. However, they also found that other groups of victims (e.g., just self labelled victims) did not differ from the control group in their perceptions of the work environment. This led Coyne and colleagues to hypothesise whether organisational variables interact with personal variables (e.g., personality) to promote bullying.

‘Formal’ and ‘informal’ organisational culture

It has been hypothesised (see Hoel and Salin, 2003) that work cultures that contain close knit groups and with traditional autocratic management and leadership cultures (for example, the military) can be environments where bullying can flourish as social and organisational norms are difficult to challenge. This hypothesis is supported by results from surveys such as that of Rayner et al (2002, cited by Hoel and Salin, 2003) whereby bullies were believed to bully because they ‘could get away with it’.

However, in a paper discussing the concept of ‘incivility’ in the workplace, Andersson and Pearson (1999) hypothesised that ‘climates of informality’ – an informal and casual workplace – could actually encourage disrespectful behaviour. They suggest that in an informal setting, it is more difficult to determine what are acceptable and unacceptable behaviours, and therefore there is the potential for ‘incivility’, which may foster bullying.

From: Bullying at work: a review of the literature, authors: Johanna Beswick, Joanne Gore, David Palferman (HSE), 2006

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