July 16, 2010

Workplace Bullying: Causes, Consequences, and Corrections

...Most researchers conclude that there is probably no such thing as a “victim” personality and it is equally unlikely that there is a “bully” personality (Rayner et al., 2002; Zapf & Einarsen, 2003). However, researchers have attempted to parse out the individual factors that might increase the likelihood of bullying or being bullied (Coyne, Seigne, & Randall, 2000; Zapf & Einarsen, 2003). We review this literature while counseling caution on the reliance on any simplistic, individual explanations for the phenomenon.


There appears to be no sex bias in being targeted. Men and women are equally likely to report being bullied at work (Namie, 2007; Rayner, 1997; Zapf et al., 2003). However, organizational position and certain traits or behaviors are linked to being targeted. Organizational position is inversely associated with being targeted. The higher organizational position, the lower the incidence of bullying; low-status workers are simply more vulnerable (Hodson et al., 2006).

Certain traits, behaviors, or markers are associated with increased risk, but the inconsistency of associated markers fails to convey a reliable picture of targets. For example, appearing too weak, anxious, submissive, unassertive, or conflict-aversive is claimed to provoke aggression in others (Coyne et al., 2000). Conversely, communicating aggressively, rejecting less-ethical group norms, and overachieving are also suggested as antecedents to being targeted (Adams & Crawford, 1992). On one hand, targets are characterized as “literal minded, ... somewhat unsophisticated ... overachiever[s]” (Brodsky, 1976, p.89) who lack social, communication skills, have low self-esteem, and are suspicious of others (Coyne et al., 2000). On the other hand, research identifies employees who are particularly talented, conscientious, and well-liked by others as persons likely to be targeted (Coyne, Chong, Seigne, & Randall, 2003; Lutgen-Sandvik, 2006; Namie, 2003a). Plainly, there is no clear marker-cluster that categorizes targets.


Whether men or women are more likely to be reported as bullies has yet to be resolved. Research findings are mixed; some suggest that bullies seem to be male more often (Hoel & Cooper, 2000; Zapf et al., 2003), and others suggest the opposite (Namie, 2003a). There does appear to be a relationship between position and bullying others—supervisors or upper- managers are identified as abusers in 60 to 80 percent of cases (e.g., Hoel & Cooper, 2000; Lutgen-Sandvik et al., 2007; Namie, 2003a; Rayner, 1997). In a nationally representative survey (Namie, 2007), 72 percent of reported bullies were managers, some of whom had the sponsorship and support of executives, managerial peers, or human resources.

Workplace violence researchers have invested considerable effort in identifying precursors of potentially violent organizational actors. The traits and behaviors associated with such aggression likely play a part in bullying. These include lack of self control, self-reflection, empathy and perspective-taking (Douglas & Martinko, 2001); personal volatility; history or tendency toward depression; Theory X beliefs; Type A personalities; negative affectivity; and unstable, unrealistic high self-esteem (Neuman & Baron, 1998; Tepper, 2000; Zapf & Einarsen, 2003). For example, inflated views of self that are “unstable or heavily dependent on external validation” (Zapf & Einarsen, 2003, p. 168) are particularly vulnerable to being interrogated, contradicted, or censured.

Other alleged markers include lack of social or communicative adeptness (Einarsen, Raknes, & Mattheisen, 1994), growing up around domestic violence, or being a victim of child abuse (Randall, 2001). Alcohol and drug abuse and aggressive behavior in one’s personal life may also be predictors of workplace bullying (Douglas & Martinko, 2001). Whatever the constellations of markers, bullies act in ways identified as pathological, power-addicted, and controlling (Namie & Namie, 2000; Tracy et al., 2006). Bullies are perceived as being good at “managing up” and ingratiating themselves with higher-level persons. As with targets, however, there is little research directly linking any specific personality type to perpetrators of workplace bullying (Rayner et al., 2002)...

From: Lutgen-Sandvik, P. & Sypher, B.D. (2009) Destructive Organizational Communication. New York: Routledge Press.

July 07, 2010

Work bullying linked to mental health problems

ACADEMICS at Sheffield University have uncovered new evidence of a strong link between workplace bullying and the subsequent psychological ill-health of employees.

The study, which will be presented for the first time at the Institute of Work Psychology's conference in Sheffield today, found that bullying from colleagues significantly influenced levels of stress reported seven months later. Researchers found 39 per cent of respondents reported frequent – weekly or daily – bullying from workmates in the previous six months.

Christine Sprigg, a psychology lecturer at Sheffield University, who led the research, said: "The evidence of the relationship between employee ill-health and workplace bullying is clearly shown by our data but, more importantly, we find that there might be workplace interventions – for example working to boost employee self-esteem – that can help to lessen the impact of other people's bad behaviour at work."

The research team collaborated with nine organisations and more than 5,600 employees in carrying out the study.

Dr Luise Vassie, from the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health which funded the study, said: "We're pleased this research not only adds to the existing body of knowledge on this subject, but also provides us with ideas on how the detrimental impact of bullying on worker health can be reduced."

From: http://www.yorkshirepost.co.uk

July 01, 2010

Newcastle uni (Australia) bully claims: Academic says harassment led to illness

THE University of Newcastle has agreed to cover the medical costs of an academic who claimed she suffered years of bullying and harassment at work that led to a psychological illness.

Microbiologist Michelle Adams said she was one of dozens of staff who had suffered bullying and harassment in recent years at the university and she believed it was an "ingrained culture" at the institution.

University vice-chancellor Nick Saunders said he did not believe bullying or harassment was a problem at the institution.

But he confirmed 57 complaints were investigated last year.

"To my knowledge bullying and harassment is not a major problem at the University of Newcastle in the context of an organisation that employs and teaches 35,000 staff and students," Professor Saunders said.

Dr Adams's case dates back to 2003 when she raised allegations of plagiarism against two fellow academics.

Following the allegation Dr Adams said she was treated like a "leper", frozen out of communication with colleagues, bullied in meetings and the hostility got so bad she was afraid to enter the staffroom.

In a statutory declaration to a Workers Compensation Commission conference last month she detailed being left off important emails, given an hour's notice by email to attend meetings at Ourimbah when she was at the Callaghan campus and feeling isolated.

"In the end I feared going to work and there were times when I would just break down and cry," she said.

"It has gone on for so long that it is hard to remember what life was like before all of this."

The University of Newcastle branch of the National Tertiary Education Union and Newcastle University Student Union launched a major anti-bullying campaign last year.

The unions said there was a "large volume" of cases in which staff and students reported ongoing bullying and harassment on campus.

Education union vice-president Rod Noble said in some cases staff had been forced to leave the university as a result.

"For some people there are fears of retribution and some are simply too afraid to speak out," Mr Noble said.

"People have left as they have felt that was the only way to resolve it."

Several former Newcastle University academics who spoke to The Herald confirmed a "culture of fear" and said if people spoke up they "risked their careers".

Professor Saunders said there was simply no evidence of a culture of bullying.

He said the university's complaints office dealt with 33 formal, or written, cases of harassment and bullying last year that were made by 27 people, with 22 cases upheld against 16 people.

Of them 17 cases related to bullying with 12 cases upheld against six people.

A further 24 informal complaints of harassment were made by 24 people and seven related to bullying. None of the seven informal complaints resulted in an investigation.

Professor Saunders said bullying and harassment was not tolerated and it was clearly against the university's code of conduct.

Punishment ranged from counselling to the university taking action for misconduct.

From: http://www.theherald.com.au