Bullying at the Workplace and Victimology

Subject: Employee Management
Pages: 10
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Study level: PhD


In this paper, the review of literature regarding the area of interest to this particular research has been categorized into four sections. To start with, the issue of workplace bullying, along with the associated definitions and theories, are addressed. Next, the relationship between personality and bullying behavior, and personality and victimology are explored. Further, the characteristics of workplace bullying are addressed and finally, an assessment and amelioration of workplace bullying is undertaken.

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In reviewing the contents of this chapter, use was made of various EBSO databases including Academic Search Permior, Communication & Mass MEDIA Complete, PsycINFO, Psychology and Behavioral Sciences Collection, and PsyArticles. In conducting the search for the revenant content to the study, the primary keywords used include bullying, workplace, victims, workplace problems, victims, organizations, public sector, and private sector.

Researchers are yet to reach a consensus on the definition of bullying at the workplace (Agervold, 2007; Kelly, 2006; Khalil, 2009; Lally, 2009; Minton & Minton, 2004; Privitera & Campbell, 2009; Randle & Stevenson, 2007; Simon & Simon, 2006; Yildirim, 2007; Yildiz, 2007).

Heinz Leyman is credited with having begun the study of bullying at the workplace during the 1980s (Yildiz, 2007). Before Andera Adams began studying bullying at the workplace in the U.S. in the early 1990s, few recognized that adults could fall victim to bullying outside the confines of a schoolyard (Randle & Stevenson, 2007, p. 49). There is a strong association between bullying and school that few even acknowledge the construct of workplace bullying (Randle & Stevenson, 2007). Early studies on the issue of bullying at the workplace entailed an assessment of group-individual dynamics with focus on how cliques and power groups ostracized individuals who went against norms by means of ridicule or other behavior (Agervold, 2007).

According to this line of research, power groups imposed sanctions which acted to establish a group’s outer limits. When studies embarked on bullying research, the examination of such forms of behaviors at the workplace evolved from an assessment of collective vs. individual dynamic to the individual vs. individual dynamics. In bullying research, the main focus is the socially deviant individual. In this case, a bully is often regarded as his or her way of functioning at work. Bullying has also, at this level, been found to be much more prevalent than previously thought, causing many companies to develop large-scale prevention programs (Agervold, 2007).

There lacks in literature a concise definition of bullying in relation to other behaviors. Agervold defines bullying as “a social interaction through which one individual …is attacked by one or more…individuals almost on a daily basis and for periods of many months, bringing the person into an almost helpless position with potentially high risk of expulsion” (2007, p. 162). To determine the extent of the prevalence of bullying defined in this fashion, the Leymann Inventory of Psychological Terror was developed, and is characterized by 45 actions as typical of bullying in the workplace. This line of research underscores the fact that it is not simply what action is taken that turns it into a form of bullying, but that it is done over a period of time, escalating toward a psychological crisis. While this definition is gaining ground worldwide, U.S.-based research still incorporates workplace aggression and incivility into the model to allow for a somewhat fuzzier definition of workplace bullying.

In another definition of bullying, it is seen as “ an escalating process in the course of which the person confronted ends up in an inferior position and becomes the target of systematic negative social acts” (Agervold, p. 164).

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A third definition of bullying includes four elements, frequency and duration, reaction of the target and the balance of power and the intent of the perpetrator. Agervold (2007) found that this definition fails to consider that unequal power is not always precedent to bullying, and that persons might even feel that they are being bullied when the bully is not aware of it.

The idea that the victim must view bullying as degrading also fails to adhere to a clear definition as one can feel that being transferred or demoted is degrading, and yet it is not bullying. Agervold (2007) argued that the intention of the bully to harm, and the recognition of the victim that harm is intended, is at the core of the concept of bullying. This precludes instances where persons react negatively to a fellow employee who simply acts aggressively because “that’s the way he is” as being defined as bullying.

Indeed, recognition of bullying by victims is one of the defining characteristics of bullying as victims when they acknowledge that the actions being taken against them are in fact bullying. Thus, the victim’s subjective preconception of the attack as intentional is a prerequisite for bullying being defined as such. A complicating factor in this definition, however, is that being bullied is attached to a stigma that may cause some victims not to report it or even want to recognize it. For this reason, bullying risk being chronically underreported.

The existence of hidden bullying that barely registers with the victim also complicates the situation. Also, the fact that one’s boss has an aggressive management style does not constitute bullying, and it becomes bullying only if the person perceives it as directed at him. It is for this reason that the “hazing” culture that new recruits face is not perceived, by some, as bullying, but as a condition that is common to all recruits, “irrespective of how degrading and inhumane it is felt to be” (Agervold, p. 168).

Based on all of these problems, Agervold (2007) offered the comprehensive definition that bullying involves regular negative and aggressive communications directed at the self-esteem of the victim, for a period of at least six months, utilizing a temporal threshold to distinguish aggression of a more episodic character. To test the validity of this definition, Agervold (2007) surveyed over 3,000 workers at a small rural public authority, state institutions, day-care institutions and psychiatric wards of hospitals using Einarsen ‘s Negative Acts Questionnaire.

The results showed a great deal of confusion over definitions of bullying, in addition to the fact that some victims have witnessed other acts of bullying, which weakens the objectivity of their observations. The fact that victims experience a high degree of stress also exposes reports to bias. Overall, 1% of the subjects reported being bullied, while 4.7% were only exposed to acts of bullying. Overall, counting acts stretching out over three months, the prevalence of bullying in the organizations studied was 3.3% (Agervold, 2007).

Characteristics of workplace bullying

The study of bullying at the workplace has greatly expanded the list of actions considered to be bullying, (for example, exclusion, gossip, insulting people regarding race or gender, offensive jokes, name calling, the use of threatening language, singling someone out for unfair treatment, overbearing supervision, undermining an employee through negative feedback, unwelcome sexual advances, displaying offensive posters and pin-ups, staring, discounting a person’s opinions, the silent treatment, exhibiting mood swings, making up spontaneous rules, harsh criticism, encouraging others to hurt others, throwing tantrums, retaliation, verbal put-downs, placing undoable workloads or demands on one, launching a baseless campaign to oust an employee, sabotage, failing to sign off on projects to ensure its failure, blocking paychecks, assigning a person to unsafe work, having a weapon at work and taking credit for another’s work).

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If all these actions are conceptualized as part of an ongoing campaign of intimidation and abuse, this could be interpreted as bullying at the workplace (Simon & Simon, 2006). Though this represents a lengthy list of behaviors, and hence a source of problem for the victim in reporting an incident, it is also true that failure to do so will usually result in the victim losing his or her job, not the bully. This appears counterintuitive, given that the classic profile for a victim is an experienced employee over the age of 40, who has had a long relationship with management.

Simon and Simon (2006) argued that conflict resolution is the most effective way to stop bullying, through mediation, implementing anti-bullying policies, having in place respectful workplace training and prompt investigation and disciplining of reported incidents of bullying also can reinforce this procedure. Simon and Simon (2006) also acknowledged that in some cases, organizational overhaul may be the only answer, such as changing the organization from a power-over to a power-with structure.

With regard to legal recourse, Simon and Simon (2006) found that while public sector employees have some protections, laws in many states, including Pennsylvania, the subject of their study, “fail to redress the kind of abuse employees suffer at the hands of a bully” (Simon & Simon, 166). They proposed, therefore, the extension of the Abuse Work Environment Act-based protections for public sector employees to all employees in the private sector as well.


Mobbing is a term for bullying which, though it has not gained wide currency, was first used by Leymann in early studies of workplace abuse to describe acts of workplace terrorism (Yildirim, 2007). Mobbing was utilized as a term to emphasize the psychological terror aspect of bullying, and all of the consequent group behaviors that it involves. The defining characteristic of mobbing is that a group of individuals gradually mount an organized front of abuse against a single person, over the long-term, and in a systematic fashion involving all manner of abusive strategies (Yildirim, 2007). One of the key defining outcomes of mobbing is that the victim ends up feeling isolated and alone in an organization, resulting in intense emotional and psychological damage.

To determine the extent of such mobbing in a hospital in Turkey, Yildirim (2007) surveyed 505 nurses with over 86% of respondents reporting that they had at one time or another been victims of mobbing behavior. Of interest, with regard to locating bullying in different kinds of workplaces, is the finding that the nurses in private hospitals faced statistically more mobbing than those in public hospitals.

The study also found that most victims of bullying responded in a manner designed to defend their position at work, by working harder, being more organized, and being careful to avoid criticism, but which has negative psychological impact on them, sometimes leading to suicidal ideation (Yildirim, 2007). Yildirim (2007) recommended that victims be able to approach managers to report and cause such problems to cease, rather than engage in such counterproductive coping strategies.

Psychological abuse

Indeed, psychological abuse only began to be studied academically in the 1980s, with an increase in research occurring during the past decade. Study of the problem has now spread worldwide, with differing incidence of abuse being reported in different work environments (Yildiz, 2007).

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Overall, the global workforce in the healthcare sector appears to be more at risk of psychological abuse or bullying than workers in any other field, a conclusion that may account for the prevalence of studies on bullying in nursing schools and hospitals. Studies have found that psychological abuse is common in most offices, with up to 55% of respondents in one study reporting being subjected to this form of abuse over the past year. It has also been documented that victims of psychological abuse suffer various physical problems as a result, and that their problems, according to what Leymann called “the wave effect,” spreads to victims’ family members and friends as well (Yildiz, 2007, p. 117).

To contribute to this amassing of data on the frequency of psychological abuse at the workplace, Yildiz (2007) made use of the Statistical Package for the Social Sciences along with the Negative Acts Questionnaire to study 363 individuals working in the private educational sector and private healthcare sector of the Turkish economy. The results indicate that over half of the participants experienced some form of psychological abuse, with assigning them impossible or unreasonable tasks to do being found to be the most common form of abuse, in 45.2% of cases. Having one’s opinions ignored was another way in which victims felt abused.

In the educational sector, setting impossible deadlines and being ordered to do work below one’s level of competence were the most common forms of psychological abuse. In the healthcare sector, employees reported that excessive monitoring of their work as well as having their opinions ignored and being given impossible tasks, were the primary forms of psychological abuse.

Verbal violence, being shouted at in public, being victimized by outbursts of anger, was also found to be more common in the health sector than in the educational sector, perhaps due to the stressful nature of the work (Yildiz, 2007). Most victims reported that such abuse lead to anxiety, loss of concentration and motivation, and thoughts of leaving the job. Thus, Yildiz (2007) found strong evidence for the pervasiveness of psychological abuse in two kinds of private sector workplaces.

Cyber bullying

Adding a new dimension to the problem of defining workplace bullying is the emergence of cyber bullying. Cyber bullying involves “sending derogatory or threatening messages directly to the victim or indirectly to others, to forward personal and confidential communication or images of the victim for others to see, and to publicly post denigrating messages” (Privitera & Campbell, 2009, p. 296). To further explore this problem, Privitera & Campbell (2009) examined an Australian manufacturing workplace for instances of face-to-face compared to cyber bullying. 145 workers took part in the study, utilizing the Negative Acts Questionnaire-Revised to determine if they had been subject to either kind of bullying.

The results of the study “suggest that negative acts via technology are emerging alongside those enacted face-to-face at the workplace and may represent a new form of bullying, albeit to a much more limited extent” (Privitera & Campbell, p. 299). One third of the respondents report having experienced cyber bullying in line with Leymann’s definition during the previous six months, while 34% had been subjected to face-to-face bullying. Overall, however, considering different media and the persistence of the bullying, Privitera & Campbell (2009) concluded that only 11% of employees truly suffered cyber bullying. The study also found that employees across a number of organizational types and fields all experience comparable levels of bullying.

Relationship between personality and bullying behavior and personality and victimology

Kelly (2006) noted that determining the prevalence of workplace bulling remains difficult because studies have shown that respondents usually define bullying by how it is described in the measuring instrument. Thus, one study found that while only 8.8% of respondents reported that they had experienced bullying, when a general definition of bullying was given to them, 24% reported being bullied when the definition of bullying was broken down into a list of specific negative acts (Kelly, 2006). In other surveys, “respondents’ perceptions of bullying change after definitions are offered or bullying activities are named” (Kelly, p. 114). This may contribute to the fact that, by some counts, only 10% of bullying is ever reported at work.

The shifting definitions of bullying often cause victims to withdraw complaints because they feel that there is no possible redress, or even that they may have caused the bullying to occur (Kelly, 2006). Too many employees believe that organizations tolerate bullying, and so see no point in reporting it. It is these findings that lead Kelly (2006) and others to argue that large scale bullying is an organizational problem.

Measuring the incidence of bullying at the workplace was codified by Einarsen’s Negative Acts Questionnaire (Einarsen, Hoel & Notelaers, 2009, p. 24). The instrument has been found, in numerous studies, to be an accurate tool in assessing the degree to which individuals at work are exposed to individual, work-related and physically intimidating forms of bullying. Einarsen et al. (2009) has defended the validity as well as the psychometric qualities of the questionnaire against other competing questionnaires. His scale is built on the theoretical notion that bullying goes beyond discrete events of unpleasantness but entails an “evolving and often escalating hostile workplace” (p. 25).

Such a campaign can also include both direct and indirect actions, ranging from verbal abuse to gossip. Bullying can also take the form of personal-related abuse, such as questioning a person’s mental fitness, to work-related abuse, including giving a person too few, too simple, or too many and too difficult tasks to do. Bullying is also believed to be bullying only if an imbalance in power between the persons involved exists, and if the bullying leads to further separating of the power with the bullying tending “to drain the coping resources of the target, thus in itself emphasizing the increasing powerlessness of targets” (Einarsen et al., p. 26).

The model used by Einarsen et al. (2009) also involves both objective measures of bullying, and subjective responses by the victims. Thus, the Negative Acts Questionnaire-Revised codifies all of these elements of the developing literature on bullying in the workplace in the form of 23 items describing various kinds of bullying, and eliciting interviewee response. In testing the validity of the instrument, the questionnaires were distributed to 12,350 employees in 70 organizations, private and public, large and small, in the UK. Targets of bullying scored higher on the scale than bullies, and the questionnaire answers correlated with “measures of mental health, psychosocial work environment and leadership, indicating a good construct validity of the instrument” (Einarsen et al., p. 24).

Research has also attempted to fine-tune instruments to examine the prevalence of bullying in various fields. Hutchinson, Wilkes, Vickers & Jackson (2008) described a test of a standard measure for workplace bullying used in the nursing sector.

They note that they developed this instrument because there is little evidence that Leymann’s Psychological Terrorization or Mikkelsen and Einarsen’s Negative Acts Questionnaire apply to nursing contexts. Adapting the definition of bullying that sees it as having to be persistent over a period of at least six months, 23 seven-point scales were developed to measure incidents of bullying. The instrument was then tested with 500 nurses in New South Wales to provide a psychometric analysis of common bullying acts in their workplaces. The instrument was found to have “internal consistency and be highly reliable” (Hutchinson et al., p. 26).

The overall importance of the instrument as it applies to the field of nursing is that it found that bullying mainly occurs in the field in subtle and less overt ways, usually involving an attack upon reputation or competence, than in the form of interpersonal conflict that dominates most other models of workplace bullying. This suggests that in this field “stigmatization through attack upon reputation and competence may precede personal attacks and other forms of behavior more commonly associated with the stereotype of workplace bullying, highlighting the subtle nature of many bullying acts” (Hutchinson et al., p. 28).

An additional problem of not clearly defining bullying is that some people who believe they are just doing their job are subsequently accused of bullying in that they have offered advice and criticism too harshly (Daley, 2009).

Minton and Minton (2004) offered a phenomenological explanation for the bully-victim cycle, starting with the observation that bullying is repetitive in nature and the victim often shows an unwillingness to defend him or herself. They refer the Freud’s distinction between eros and thanatos, and how sadism emerges from an overlapping of the two. Theories relating torture to sadism are also considered relevant to the bullying situation. Lorenz (2002) distinguished between predator-prey and fighting behavior in animals and man. While animals develop natural defenses which often ensure non-lethality in fighting, mans’ weapons know no such inhibition and thus man has an aggressive instinct that has progressed from survival-oriented to hostile aggression, “acts by which we threaten, without any clear survival advantage gain” (Minton & Minton, p. 233).

At the same time, all primates establish dominance hierarchies, and submit to them on the basis of some sort of pre-conscious biological understanding of the role of status and power in keeping order in society. For Minton and Minton (2004), these ideas explain why bullies bully, and also why others remain silent about it.

Minton and Minton (2004) argued that the bullies bully in order to enhance their megalomania and that this drive is “evolutionary based, or rooted in either sadistic sexual gratification, or indeed the manifestation of the will to power” (Minton & Minton, p. 236). The dynamics involved explain why the bully is able to amass a group of followers and why the victim, powerless to act against a group to which we have no hope of belonging, quickly breaks down, leading to the statistic that too many children, for example, in the case of school bullying, choose suicide over facing another day of bullying.

Khalil (2009) studied the prevalence of violence in hospitals in South Africa, for example, utilizing a definition of bullying that encompassed six categories of violence, physical, psychological, vertical, horizontal covert and overt. Psychological violence, involving anything from verbal abuse to gossiping, has been found to be more prevalent than physical violence, but still results in emotional discomfort for another person (Khalil, 2009).

A study by the International Labor Organization found that “more than 2 million workers across the economic spectrum experienced some form of psychological violence” (Khalil, p. 208). Vertical violence involves abuse due to rank, while horizontal violence entails failure to respect privacy or sabotaging others on equal footing. On the other hand, covert violence involves coercion to force one to subsequently keep quiet about bullying.

To better understand how much and why such violence exists in a population of nurses at a hospital in Cape Town, Khalil (2009) conducted an ethnographic study of the elements of nursing culture that support violence, followed by a phenomenological study describing the various dynamics of actual incidents of violence. The results found that 45% of nurses engage in psychological violence, with 20% participation in physical violence. Khalil (2009) also found that the culture of nursing, with little communication between nurses, lack of respect between nurses of different levels, and inadequate anger management training for nurses, all contributed to high levels of violence.

Khalil (2009) argued that including anger management strategies as part of the induction process might reduce the level of bullying in the field. In addition to these measures, Lally (2009) also believed that all healthcare personnel need to be educated on appropriate behavior, how to participate in collaborative practice and find a way to make reporting bullying easier.

The idea that certain kinds of persons become workplace bullies ultimately derives from research on the personality antecedents of other workplace problems (Furham & Bramwell, 2006; Kapuchinski, 2007; Palmer & Thakordas, 2005). Furham & Bramwell (2006) made use of the five-factor model of personality, for example, to determine if it could predict absenteeism by employees. They predicted that positive extraversion and negative conscientiousness would predict work absence. The scale was utilized to test the personality profiles of a number of employees at a small photo-processing company. Of all of the big five factors, it was found that extraversion alone predicted higher rates of absenteeism. This may be because extraverts generally have many commitments outside of work and may view work as something that gets in the way of their overall lives.

Overall, the research “broadly support past research which has concluded that specific personality traits influence absence taking behavior.” (Furham & Bramwell, p. 75). However, while the study found that extraversion generally predicts absenteeism, no further personality traits were found to predict absenteeism. While conscientiousness was not found to specifically predict absenteeism, it is also true that conscientiousness predicted a number of other positive workplace behaviors, and that conscientiousness increased with age. This line of research clearly points toward efforts to find the personality traits antecedent to workplace bullies.

A common profiling device is to link bullies with aggressive behavior. To study this point, Palmer and Thakordas (2005) studied a population of 70 male offenders in prison for any correlation between aggressiveness and bullying behavior, using the Direct and Indirect Prisoner Behavior Checklist as well as the Buss-Perry Aggression Questionnaire, a common measure of aggression and hostility. Results indicated that 42% of respondents fell within the range of bullying, while the remainder fell in bully/victim, pure bully or pure victim groups.

Overall, Palmer and Thakordas (2005) found that there was an association between aggression and the Buss-Perry results, associating high levels of aggression, as well as anger, with bullying, though more research is needed to determine if reactive or proactive aggression were, specifically, more closely related to bullying.

Personnel psychology, a branch of human resources, and part of the industrial and organizational psychological literature, studies correlations between personality profiles and predictions of workplace behavior. Recently, the Five-Factor model of personality traits (extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, neuroticism and openness to experience) has been expanded to a six-dimensional HEXACO (honesty, emotionality, eXtraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness and openness to experience) model in which a new factor, honesty-humility, has been added (Lee, Ashton & De Vries, 2005).

Previously Big Five tests were undertaken to determine if they could predict workplace delinquency or misbehavior, with mixed results. Lee et al. (2005) argued that the reason the model failed was that it did not include a personality factor which taps into exploitation and deception, but HEXACO studies have shown that “honesty-humility was strongly negatively correlated with some existing personality constructs tapping manipulation and exploitation, such as Machiavellianism, primary psychopathy and social adroitness” (Lee et al., p. 184).

Lee et al. (2005) conducted a test of the HEXACO model on university students, using the HEXACO personality inventory, and found that the HEXACO model was indeed able to surpass the FFM in predicting employee delinquent behavior to such a degree that the results have “considerable practical significance” (Lee et al., p. 192).

Wislar, Richman, Fendrich & Flaherty (2002) examined the extent to which personality factors such as narcissism in bullies and neuroticism in victims relate to workplace abuse. They examined whether or not these personality deficits affected workers’ perception of the workplace as interpersonally abusive, including sexual harassment. They also examined the extent to which this perception is contingent on deleterious drinking behavior.

They surveyed a population of employees at two universities in the U.S. measuring their experience of abuse by the Sexual Experiences Questionnaire, the Sixteen Personality Factor Scale and the Michigan Alcohol Screening Test. The results found a causal relationship between harassment and abuse and alcohol consumption, as well as a reverse link between the amount of alcohol consumption by employees and the likelihood of experiencing abuse. Moreover, respondents high on neuroticism and narcissism were much more likely to perceive behavior in the workplace as abusive or harassing.

Kapuchinski (2007) explored the dimensions of what he terms personality disordered individuals in the workplace, or those who manipulate others, take no responsibility for their actions, are totally self-centered, and still amass a cadre of loyal minions around them. They often engage in passive aggressive behavior, by undermining projects and making others feel guilty for their mistakes. The drama queen or king “always puts on a show, exaggerates, looks for attention, exploits sexual charms and uses his-her neediness to skew your judgment” (Kapuchinski, p. 36). Anti-social PDI employees believe that they live by their own rules, and, as a result, primarily operate through manipulation and control. By profiling these various types of personality disordered individuals at work, and itemizing the kinds of behavior they engage in at work.

Kapuchinski (2007) also inferred a linkage between personality disorder and workplace bullying, insofar as many of the actions of PDIs clearly fall within the range of workplace bullying. Indeed, among the various kinds of workplace bullies itemized in her study, Kelly (2006) noted “the most destructive behavior (at work) is that of the psychopathic bully who deliberately seeks to destroy others through fear, whisper campaigns, marginalization and destabilization” (p. 113). The particular danger of psychopathic bullies is that they generally appear as highly effective to others, and often are rewarded with promotion, meaning that their bullying remains hidden for a considerable amount of time.

While the workplace bullying literature has labored mightily to disabuse the public of the notion that bullying occurs only in schoolyards among adolescents and children, Smith, Singer, Hoel & Cooper (2003) explored the possibility that schoolyard bullying may set a pattern for persons as either bullies or victims in their adult life. Overall, they found a strong relationship between reported roles in school bullying, and experience in workplace victimization.

Utilizing Olweus’ model that distinguishes between bullies, victims, and bully/victims, or those who as victims begin to bully as well, Smith et al. (2003) found that bully-victims were at the highest risk for workplace victimization, especially with regard to coping strategies like making fun of it, or simply failing to cope. While these findings appear to establish a link, the linkage did not hold up for women, and the linkage between the experience of schoolyard and workplace bullying is modest at best, as many victims of bullies in school go on to not experience any bullying in adult life (Smith et al., 2003).

Assessment and amelioration of workplace bullying

In addition to seeking a personality profile for workplace bullies, another side of bullying research explores whether or not such a profile exists for workplace bullying victims. Indeed, Glaso, Matthiesen, Nielsen & Einarsen (2007) studied 144 individuals, 72 of whom had been victims of workplace bullying, and, using the International Personality Item Pool, found that victims differed from non-victims in four of five personality dimensions.

Victims of bullying tended to be more neurotic, less agreeable, conscientious and extraverted. At the same time, however, a cluster analysis found that a number of the victims had no discernible differences in personality from non-victims. Thus, Glaso et al. (2007) concluded that “there is no such thing as a general victim personality profile” (Glaso et al., p. 313). That said, a small cluster of victims evidenced emotionality instability, shyness and disagreeableness, indicating as well that, while generalizations must be avoided, “personality should not be neglected as being a factor in understanding the bullying phenomenon” (Glaso et al., p. 313).

This kind of study is undertaken to counter the tendency of some researchers favoring profiling to blaming the victim in workplace bullying by itemizing a personality that irritates other people into bullying him or her.

However, additional research has found that most of these so-called essential personality traits are in fact caused by exposure to bullying, and that it is the bullying, not the antecedent personality of the victim, that causes fear and anxiety leading to helplessness and depression (Glaso et al., 2007). Along these lines, some researchers are also exploring if the so-called victim personalities in fact only provide evidence that these persons are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of exposure to workplace bullying.

Though research on bully personality profiling remains strong, the literature on bullying appears to have evolved toward favoring organizational explanations for workplace bullying, with factors such as company size, what sector the organization is located in, organizational style, type of leadership and tolerance for bullying all discovered to be factors contributing to or impeding workplace bullying (Boyle & Parry, 2007; Brown & Middaugh, 2009; Halbur, 2009; Hinchberger, 2009; Hutchinson, 2009; Kelly, 2006; Lewis, 2005; Malcolm, 2006; Murray, 2009; Randle & Stevenson, 2007; Snow, 2008; Strandmark & Hallberg, 2003; Yildiz, 2007).

Baillien, Neyens, De Witte & De Cuyper (2009) conducted a study of workplace bullying by interviewing human resource managers, prevention workers and social service employees as to the workplace antecedents of bullying. Reviewing the literature, they found that victim characteristics such as shyness, depression, low social skills and neuroticism, avoidance of conflict, and sensitivity, may make victims susceptible to bullying. They combined the responses to build a three-way model of what leads to bullying in the workplace, including lack of social support among colleagues, a task-oriented and autocratic climate, and formal power relationships, all seeming to incite bullying.

Research has also shown that tension and frustration resulting from such antecedents cause more incidents of venting of emotion, as well as the search for scapegoats (Baillien et al., 2009). Stress at work may also cause some employees to distance themselves from the organization, resulting in retaliation from others. They also note that whether or not there is, in fact, a victim personality has increasingly been questioned in the literature. In terms of bullies, they have often been identified with abrasive personalities, petty tyrants or authoritarian personalities. According to the study, bullying may result from being unable to cope with frustration, leading bullies to seek out victims.

Bullying may also result from escalating conflict and the destructive team and organizational cultures of the organization (Baillien et al., 2009). The study was conducted at 19 Belgian organizations in the manufacturing, service sector and non-profit sector. The model was also replicated in a study of small and medium-sized organizations with inefficient coping, unsolved interpersonal conflicts and direct stimulation by team- and organizational characteristics as leading to bullying (Baillien et al., 2009).

Hutchinson, Vickers, Jackson and Wilkes (2006), in their study of workplace bullying in the field of nursing, also argued that wider environmental and organizational issues may contribute to higher incidence of bullying. In one study, they utilized a “circuits of power” model to explain how bullying becomes normalized in various fields, often in ways that are invisible to most. They note that too often it is simply “accepted” in the field that there will be violent behavior among nurses. Statistics appear to bear out this suggestion, and 70% of all nurses reported being bullied in the previous year.

While respecting work done on the concept of horizontal violence in nursing bullying, Hutchinson et al. (2006) also enlisted the notion of education and critical consciousness to suggest a description of nurses as a whole as an “oppressed group” who over time have internalized bullying to the extent that they have become fearful of freedom and work in a state of psychic alienation. Nurses appear to be doubly oppressed through medical dominance and gender, resulting in internalized negativity that makes it difficult for nurses to take control of their own destiny (Hutchinson et al., 2006). As a result, nurses engage in “denial, minimization and rituals that maintain the status quo and allows power relations to remain unchanged” (Hutchinson et al., p. 120).

In addition, disciplinary power is exerted over nurses through accounting practices, architecture and training, forces which shape nurses, but of which they are often unaware. Finally, Clegg described the dynamics of this kind of power in organizations, noting that it flows through organizations like a force field, with three functions, agency, which gives some people the power to act, system integration, which dominates through discipline and production, and social integration, which establishes the rules of group membership. Most of these functions operate in simple circuits, but when they meet resistance exert more power to manage and control resistance.

Using a metaphor common in the organizational literature, the increasingly complex systems developed by organizations to maintain control over others has been described as “the iron cage” (Hutchinson et al., 2006). This way, employees comes under constant surveillance and pressure to conform to rules, a situation that can lead to bullying. Moreover, the circuits of power model demonstrates how much bullying can occur under the guise of superior personnel reinforcing rules over others, or by efforts to denigrate persons who appear to want to disrupt the status quo.

As a result, “those who bullied were able to create a veneer of legitimacy and ensure their abusive behavior remained officially undetected, while reports of bullying were ignored, denied or minimized” (Hutchinson et al., p. 124). This analysis answers Hutchinson’s et al. (2006) call for a finer-grained analysis of what occurs within the nursing workplace, as this kind of analysis can help to uncover ‘hidden’ processes of power deployed for bullying (Hutchinson et al., 2006). By this model, Hutchinson et al. (2006) argued that it is possible to gain better insight into the almost invisible nature of workplace bullying in the public sector field of nursing.

Kelly (2006) reported that in addition to nursing, where workplace bullying is notoriously high, another study found that 43% of bank workers in New Zealand reported bullying, and 87% of social or human resources workers in the UK had witnessed or experienced bullying (Kelly, 2006). Studies have also found that in 70-80% of cases of workplace bullying, the managers or supervisors are the bullies, again raising the issue that bullying is an organizational issue. Using a “Swiss cheese” model (essentially, an ecological model that attributes the bullying to multiple sources coming from various directions), Kelly (2006) argues that bullying is enabled by various organizational barriers such as a tolerant internal culture, processes and structures that prevent reporting bullying, legal requirements that limit prosecution as well as legislation.

An immense deal of bullying appears to take place in the public sector workplaces, or institutional cultures part way between private and public, such as hospitals (for example, Brown & Middaugh, 2009). Brown and Middaugh (2009) recounted a career of a nurse who encountered considered “horizontal hostility” during the course of her career, which is defined as “a consistent pattern of behavior designed to control, diminish or devalue a peer (or group) that creates a risk to health and/or safety” (Brown & Middaugh, p. 305).

Brown and Middaugh (2009) compared horizontal hostility, clearly a form of bullying, to hazing, which involves experienced workers engaging in irritating actions or behaviors designed to initiate nurses into new units (Brown & Middaugh, 2009). Noting that between 30% and 50% of all U.S. workers experience some form of workplace bullying on a weekly basis, Brown and Middaugh (2009) noted that all such bullying having to do with the criticizing, undermining and discouraging of newcomers is hazing, but still a kind of bullying. This sort of hazing can even be carried out by “gossiping, eye rolling, sighing, humiliation, silence or sabotage through withholding information or peer support” (Brown & Middaugh, p. 305). Thus, according to Brown & Middaugh (2009), hazing is a kind of bullying.

Yildiz (2007) conducted a case study to determine the extent to which workplace bullying manifest as psychological abuse in the education and health sectors. Using the Statistical Package for the Social Sciences as well as the Negative Acts Questionnaire, Yildiz (2007) surveyed 363 employees in 11 private schools and 13 private hospitals in Turkey, to determine the prevalence of bullying. The results indicated that 47% of personnel in both fields had experienced some form of psychological abuse-based bullying at work. One important variable of the study is that all participants had high overall educational levels.

The study also found that the most typical example of workplace bullying in these sectors is a senior person preying on an employee by giving them inappropriate tasks to do, and causing victims stress because they are forced to work at a level of competence that is below their own level of experience or skill (Yildiz, 2007). Yildiz (2007) also found that such instances of psychological abuse are much more frequent than more overt acts of physical abuse. These findings assist research in differentiating workplace bullying from field to field.

There is some evidence that the high level of workplace bullying in the health sector is partly due to the high number of female employees in the sector. Women in the workplace tend to be more vulnerable to violence, with one study finding that 13,935 women were victims of workplace violence in 2000 (Hinchberger, 2009). As a result of this, women nurses are three times more likely than any other professional group to experience bullying.

The fact that research has shown that violence against nurses is underreported further exacerbates the problem. Hutchinson (2009) noted that nurses suffer as much bullying as those in high-risk occupations such as police and prison officers. In a case study, Hinchberger (2009) sought to expand the study of bullying against nurses by including student nurses in the population, examining the degree to which they were vulnerable to horizontal violence, again defined as “a consistent (hidden) pattern of behavior designed to control, diminish or devalue another peer” (Hinchberger, p. 38).

The case study involved surveying student nurses at Chicago hospitals using the Metropolitan Chicago Healthcare Survey. Oppression theory, as well as social critical theory, forms the theoretical basis of the study. The results indicated, “one hundred percent of the student nurses who responded to the survey questionnaire had either observed or experienced violence in their clinical placements” (Hinchberger, p. 43). 50% of perpetrators were staff members, 69% of their abuse was verbal, with only 10% being physical. Only 30% of the subjects either notified the security or police, however.

The results of the study caused Hinchberger (2009) to reinforce recommendations to increase security in hospitals, and to better train nurses in how to prevent and report such incidents. The study also concluded that, in organizations, the message must be sent from the leadership that bullying will not be tolerated in the workplace (Hinchberger, 2009).

Hutchinson (2009) asserted that one of the problems with workplace bullying is that when employees work in an atmosphere of blame and injustice, employees’ fear of retribution creates a culture of silence, resulting in the underreporting of bullying. Lewis (2005) repeated this theme in public sector bullying, by noting that, for the most part, much bullying persists because victims do not know how to define and counter it. Studies have shown that “targets do try to respond constructively to bullying before finally withdrawing from their employing organizations” but that they need more effective coping strategies to do so (Lewis, p. 120).

Women experience increased levels of bullying at work, have greater difficulty identifying bullying and are more likely to self-marginalize themselves by allowing themselves to fall into self-doubt and self-blaming as a result of bullying. Thus, Lewis (2005) studied how women in public sector positions come to identify bullying, and what impact this process has on their response to bullying. The results indicated that many women victims of bullying in the public sector try to cope alone out of fear that by reporting bullying that would threaten perceptions of their competence among colleagues (Lewis, 2005). The bullying resulted in loss of trust in their organizations, and loss of faith in their work.

In many cases, women reported the negative effects of bullying as either stress or illness problems, with one victim even blaming her “reproductive biology” as the cause for her distress at work (Lewis, 2005). They also minimized interpersonal problems, took responsibility for unresolved difficulties, but as the bullying increased and they found themselves unable to make sense of the situation they were in, they withdrew, often in a state of shock (Lewis, p. 130). Overall, Lewis (2005) concluded “the ambiguity of bullying behaviors may constitute a barrier to targets’ recognition of bullying, which may be delayed beyond earlier stages when prevention may be easier” (Lewis, p. 130).

Commitment to the workplace, while contributing to women’s self-esteem, may also prevent women from recognizing shifts in and abuse of power leading to bullying (Lewis, 2005). Failure of others to acknowledge what is occurring also may lead women to self-blame as victims of bullies, and also defer acknowledging the source of their pain in bullying by complaining of physical problems. Overall, then, the extent to which all of the above inadequate coping by women in public sector organizations were enabled by organizational deficiencies, Lewis (2005) argues that “bullying may be better understood as an organizational problem, rather than one which can be explained in terms of individual characteristics of either the target or the bully” (Lewis, p. 130).

Brown and Middaugh (2009) provided a case study of bullying experienced by pre-service teachers in training. They utilized findings in the literature that there is a relationship between bullying and stress levels, with one study finding that “23% of male bullying victims within organizations suffer from psychological disorders and unrest” (Brown & Middaugh, p. 306). They report on studies, which found that bullying victims suffer from a host of other disorders ranging from chronic fatigue to suicidal tendencies. With regard to organizational antecedents to bullying, studies have shown that organizations that deal poorly with work assignments and have persistent leadership problems cause bullying (Brown & Middaugh, 2009).

Dominating managerial styles seem to tacitly countenance bullying in organizations as well. With regard to teachers, Brown and Middaugh (2009) suggested that they may be targets of bullying as the research has shown that people with talent are often the target of bullying as other less talented workers may feel threatened by them. To test these notions on a population of 385 elementary schools teachers at an in-service training center in Turkey, Brown and Middaugh (2009) utilized the Einarsen Negative Acts Questionnaire Scale to determine the level of bullying experienced by the subjects.

The results indicated that at least 50% of the teachers were bullied in various forms, including “exposure to slander and rumors, the neglect of someone’s views and opinions, being made fun of, being insulted and humiliated” among other issues (Brown & Middaugh, p. 314). The study also found that there is no difference in bullying levels by gender or marital status of bully or victim.

Evidence suggests that white-collar workplaces experience as much bullying as other workplaces, but that it is more “subtle” (Halbur, 2009, p. 3). Typical academic bullying or mobbing, for example, is when a department member tries to drive a colleague from the department by rumor and gossip that escalates to others joining him in criticizing the unwanted colleague (Halbur, 2009).

Mobbing, according to Halbur (2009), occurs when the nature of these attacks is personal, directed at a person’s reputation, and even delves into his or her personal relationships. Another apparently characteristic aspect of mobbing in academic contexts is that victims of it are high achievers, often with tenure-track positions. In many cases, academic victims of mobbing wait too long to report it, often letting it fester for three or four years, by which time it may be too late to salvage one’s reputation.

The fact that the bullying is subtle and pervasive also makes it difficult to lodge a complaint. As a result, Halbur (2009) argued that in reviewing instances of bullying in academia the chair should look for “consensual validation,” that is, if one hears the same message from a number of sources. Finally, studies have shown that mobbing occurs most often in hierarchical organizations with clear divisions between tenure and untenured faculty. While tenure was formerly a “sacred cow” that seemed to elevate a professor above criticism, it now appears that bullying is increasingly being used as a weapon by untenured professors to tear down their secure colleagues (Halbur, 2009).

Strandmark and Hallberg (2003) sought to determine the origins of bullying in public sector workplaces. Firstly, they dismissed some social psychology theories on the origins of bullying, such as the idea that bullying is more common in female-dominated workplaces as women are “more dependent on group dynamics at work than men” and “try to cause psychological rather than physical harm to their opponents” (Strandmark & Hallberg, p. 332). Another theory is that students in a profession see veteran professionals bullying, and internalize these norms as part of the process of becoming a professional in the public sector.

To explore the different approaches related to power relations, Strandmark & Hallberg (2003) surveyed public sector employees in teaching, social services, nursing, physiotherapy, police work and the priesthood, to determine the origins of bullying in public sector contexts.

Overall, the employees from all of these fields gave a common view of public service sector work, “with restricted participation, weak or indistinct leadership, betrayed expectations and unclear roles creating a poor psychosocial environment” (Strandmark & Hallberg, p. 336). They found that these are exactly the sort of organizational climates that allow for deep professional and personal conflict to arise, and that, if a worker diverged from the norms of the office, they became subject to bullying. These issues are exacerbated by change in the organization, reduction of workforce, resulting value conflicts and alteration of power relationships.

Therefore, a struggle for power in a confused workplace, if left unresolved, appeared to Strandmark and Hallberg (2003) to be the origin of bullying in the public sector. One detail in this analysis that differs from schoolyard bullying is that in workplaces bullying may emerge because a person becomes jealous of the higher qualifications and interests of their victims. In sum, Strandmark and Hallberg (2003) argued that it is a long-term power struggle in a workplace resulting from conflicting values, fueled by poor organizational conditions and leadership, which is primarily responsible for bullying in public sector workplaces.

Baron, Neuman and Geddes (1999) conducted a study seeking to link workplace aggression with theories of human aggression. Overall, the study suggests that contrary to human aggression theories, “harm-doing in work settings tends to be far less dramatic in nature” (Baron et al., p. 282). According to human aggression research, adults maximize what is known as the effect-danger ratio when taking action against others (that is, they seek to maximize harm to others while minimizing the danger to themselves). This dynamic resulted in covert aggression being more common than overt action.

The fact that employees come in frequent contact with each other and any aggression between them could be traced also tends to reduce aggression to covert forms. The fact that it is likely that aggression is witnessed in the workplace also reinforces covert actions. As a result, Baron et al. (1999) hypothesized that covert forms of aggression are more frequent than overt aggression. A sense of perceived injustice and Type A Behavior pattern are believed to be connected with aggression along these lines. Moreover, the greater the sense of perceived injustice, the more the employees are likely to engage in workplace aggression, and this is especially true if they rate high in Type A Behavior pattern.

Coyne, Craig and Smith-Lee Chong (2004) also subscribed to Einarsen’s basic definition of bullying as involving a repeated campaign of acts by a more powerful person at work against a less powerful one, also noting that bullying “involves an element of subjectivity on the part of the victim in terms of how they view the behavior” (p. 302). However, Coyne et al. (2004) also noted that while studies of school bullying have begun to explore the more complex group dynamics of bullying, most studies of workplace bullying remain focused on the dyadic bullying situation.

Thus, “the group or team level perspective and the impact of bulling on the group appears to be have been neglected” (Coyne et al., p. 302). In this context, bullying by a group can zero in on a single scapegoat to blame him or her for the failure of the group. In this context, social isolation of an individual from a group at work can be construed as a form of workplace bullying.

Tyrannical supervision of groups, forcing incompatible people to work together, and other group dynamics can in turn create bystanders and other enablers of bullying in the group context. Some fields apparently favor this form of bullying over others. Firefighters, for example, favor isolation and exclusion as the most common form of bullying, especially when an inductee into a group refuses to abide by group dynamics. To determine if informal networks of groupings that then bullied others by means of isolation in a fire-fighting context developed, Coyne et al. (2004) made use of sociometry, which analyzes group dynamics. 288 fire fighting personnel in a regional firehouse in the UK were the population of the study.

Sociograms derived from this analysis revealed that isolated individuals were indeed more likely to be bullied but that others within the groups were also bullied. This may be because groups recording a high level of victimization also showed a higher level of bonding, suggesting to Coyne et al. (2004) that bullied firefighters may develop a secondary group to defend themselves against bullying. At the same time, it appears that a great many firefighters have to accept a mild form of bullying, teasing and ridicule, as a normal part of being part of the group. In addition to providing a good sense of the group dynamics by which some people at work are isolated, and others not, the study clearly infers that bullying dynamics vary by field as well.

Boyle and Parry (2007) recommended an auto ethnographic approach to exploring the relationship between the individual and others in organizational culture. This method allows the everyday life of the organization to be connected with broader political agendas of the organization, and is thus “more likely to unearth and illuminate the tacit and subaltern aspects of organization” (Boyle & Parry, p. 186). This approach also involves having the subject exposing the vulnerable self and that this can involve some risk (Boyle & Parry, 2007).

Overall, the auto ethnographic approach represents “a move from a broad lens focuses on individuals’ cultural and social context, to focus on the inner, vulnerable and often resistant self” (Boyle & Parry, p. 186). Thus, this method has been used to provide real-time accounts of workplace bullying, with eyewitness and personal testimony “unearthing the sinister, buried aspects of organizational life” (Boyle & Parry, p. 187).

In their study of a company in Norway, Hauge, Skogstad & Einarsesn (2007) found that companies characterized by a great deal of role conflict, interpersonal conflict, and a tyrannical and laissez-faire boss, tend to have more instances of workplace bullying. Role conflict derived from laissez-faire leadership in assigning roles contributed to confusion and stress, confirming previous research, which found that many workers reporting bullied experienced considerable role stress on the job. The fact that the laissez-faire leadership failed to make clear decisions about issues of competition between workers as well as bullying appeared to countenance more bullying. This confirmed previous research, which found that bullying, declines in workplaces where the boss is supportive and communicative, as opposed to passive and destructive.

In addition, while bullies did not recognize their work environment as having problems, victims of bullies were far more aware of these problems in the workplace. Thus, “bullying is likely to prevail in stressful working environments characterized by high levels of interpersonal friction and destructive leadership styles.” (Hauge et al., p. 220). As a result, reinforcing other studies from Germany, Ireland and Denmark, the work environment hypothesis strongly implicates leadership in countenancing workplace bullying, whether directly or indirectly. Overall, workers in environments where bullying is prevalent are less satisfied with their work and more susceptible to work-related stress disorders.

Malcolm (2006) interviewed a number of healthcare professionals in terms of their perceptions of workplace bullying, using the Symbolic Interactionist theory emphasis on the situational context of meaning “and the role of meaning as a communication process (via symbolization) located in interpretative acts” (Malcolm, p. 53). The study found that the oppositional nature of nursing vis-à-vis doctors creates a culture where cliques can form and thus lead to exclusionary practices with regard to other nurses.

The fact that nurses are often at odds with general management also creates an organizational culture where the existence of power differentials and competition may exist. Using Awareness Context Theory, Malcolm (2006) found that most bullies behave with pretence and conscious manipulation, and, as they engage in various kinds of bullying as part of an overall campaign, bullying comes to be viewed as a normal part of the job. Overall, Malcolm (2006) argued that while individual personality plays a play in workplace bullying most bullying is contextually (workplace) mediated and thus are learned behaviors in certain kinds of organizations (Malcolm, p. 55). Thus, the norms of the organization create definitions of acceptable behavior, and as a result of this process bullying can become tolerated.

Heavy workloads may also lead to bullying being countenanced as a work to get staff to do their work. The interpretive standpoint that the organization’s order is “reconstructed continually” means that negotiation must constantly take place to get anything done, a situation that may lead to bullying to do so. These situations also create a meaning-setting crisis in which one person must enforce through bullying his or her view of a situation over others.

Studies have shown that the problem of the negotiative process is more overt in professional as opposed to industrial organizations. For all of these reasons, Malcolm (2006) argued that bully victims need to learn how to better manage contexts and defuse the manipulation by which a bully has tried to override the process with his or her will.

Nursing Standard (2008) reported on a study of workplace bullying in the healthcare, education, social work and related police professions, with regard to how bullying starts in the workplace. All respondents contributed to the view that the psychosocial environment of the organization laid the groundwork for bullying when characterized by “restricted opportunities, weak or indistinct leadership, betrayed expectations and unclear roles” (Nursing Standard, p. 1). More stress was created at work when companies laid off some employees, giving more work to those left behind.

Constant reorganization of the organization also gave rise to anxiety and conflict, and the study also found that bullying was preceded by a long-standing struggle for power with either strong or weak individuals being directly influenced by these struggles (Nursing Standard, 2008). Thus, the study found a solid basis for arguing that personality-trait-based reasons for bullying are in fact preceded by serious organizational problems, which, if left to fester, will develop a psychosocial work climate conducive to bullying.

Murray (2009) found that senior managers who tolerate these behaviors often enable bullies at work and their tacit approval of bullies leads to the creation of a wall of silence around the issue. Also, some bullies are senior level, thereby making it increasingly difficult to fire them as “many institutions choose not to take the necessary steps to stop the bullying from taking place” (Murray, p. 175). Adding to the problem is that bullying can often be disguised as a kind of management, as in a case study where a subordinate’s manager was never pleased with her work, called her into unplanned meeting where the worker was further denigrated, the subject was accused of being incompetent and, overall, the subject’s confidence in her ability to her job was completely undermined. This kind of behavior can then further contribute to organizational decline, as the victim will begin to lose productivity and engage in absenteeism.

By one estimate, for example, bullying indirectly accounts for a loss of over $4 billion annually to U.S. companies. As a result, Murray (2009) argued that, in addition to helping victims of bullies cope better with the problem, new codes and regulations, enforcing a zero tolerance policy, are what are really required to repair organizational support of bullying.

Primarily concerned with the impact of bullying on employee absenteeism and turnover, and acknowledging Einsaren’s definition of bullying, Moayed, Daraiseh, Shell and Salem (2006) focused on how external variables, particularly market and society/environment issues, can create corporate cultures where bullying is enabled. These factors primarily influenced bullying insofar as they necessitate constant change, leading to “improper training, poor leadership and ineffective managerial and communication skills” (Moayed et al., p. 322).

Other organizational risk factors for bullying, discovered in a literature review, were uncertainty in duty, ambiguity in job descriptions and time pressure not to mention the physical characteristics of the workplace environment and the type of job. The study also found that more absenteeism due to illness was also associated with workplace bullying, suggesting that bullying does directly negatively impact the health of workers (Moayed et al., 2006).

The gradual shift in bullying research from focusing on personality traits to exploring organizational enablers of the problem has also lead to a need for new measuring instruments. The most common methods used to investigate the presence and prevalence of bullying in an organization is the operational classification method based on the use of the Negative Acts Questionnaire as well as the Leymann Inventory of Psychological Terror. However, Notelaers, Einarsen, de Witte and Vermunt (2006) questioned the construct validity of this measure, as, for one thing, it persists in conceptualizing bullying solely as occurring between bully and victim.

In contrast, the latent class cluster analysis method is able to measure a fuller sense of the impact of bullying on organizations by taking into account “various groups (Notelaers et al., p. 290). The method also measured the degree to which members of various groups experienced direct or indirect bullying, witnessed bullying or simply heard about bullying, all of which explores the broader reverberations of bullying. Using over 6,000 respondents from 18 Belgian organizations, Notelaers et al. (2006) tested the validity of the cluster method with workers from both the private and public sectors. The results showed that “there are different and distinct groups of employees concerning exposure to bullying at work” with the findings indicating that there are six clusters of persons exposed to bullying at work (Notelaers et al., p. 300).

Overall, Notelaers et al. (2006) argued that cluster analysis provides a more finely-grained analysis of the extent of the impact of bullying at work, allowing for more targeted and particular interventions to address various work problems linked to the individual workers’ degree of exposure to bullying. Also, it was recommended that the organizational structures be analyzed to determine if they contain any risk factors that may enable bullying, and intervention paths be developed to fix these structural weaknesses (Notelaers et al., 2006).

Randle and Stevenson (2007) argued that while conflict is inevitable in all workplaces, nonetheless, this does not mean that bullying is also inevitable. Indeed, they proposed a counterintuitive or dialectic response to the problem of bullying by acknowledging that “recognizing an inherent tendency towards conflict is a prerequisite in preventing workplace bullying” (Randle & Stevenson, p. 49). They agreed with others that the organizational culture of a workplace, defined as “the way we do things around here,” can facilitate or impede bullying, if it includes hazing-type assignments to new employees or allows for a great deal of gossiping at work (Randle & Stevenson, 2007).

Adding to the momentum of the effort to focus on the organizational causes of bullying in the literature, is a changed perspective on who bullies are: formerly perceived to be persons with weak self-esteem who needed to act out, more recent research has found that bullies in fact have good social skills, enabling them to build up good social support, in the form of a clique, meaning that “the bully’s performance may be so skilled that his or her actions are rarely challenged or even perceived as bullying” (Randle & Stevenson, p. 50).

Another organizational side effect of bullying discerned in recent studies, adding to the complexity of the phenomenon, is that even victims of bullying, in an organizational climate that tolerates it, will begin to bully in order to adhere to the norms of the organization. Finally, while the concept of bullying used to be clear about intent, recent research has found that bullying can take place without the bully even being aware of intent. Thus, an organizational definition of a bully is “a calculating problem-solver who uses bullying tactics to ensure activities occurs in the way they want” (Randle & Stevenson, p. 53). As a result, organizations with high stress levels, inadequate training, constant change, managerial pressure and unrealistic targets more often than not experience increased levels of bullying.

A more hierarchical structure can also trigger bullying, but more important still is workplace tolerance of bullies, awareness of the impact of the bully on others, and the presence of proactive anti-bullying policies. While arguing therefore that changing an organization may be the only way to reduce bullying, Randle & Stevenson (2007) also acknowledge that organizational change is difficult, and could in itself, incite bullying, which means that outside help may be needed.

Using Festinger’s theory of cognitive dissonance, they argue that changing behavior to change culture might be easier than vice versa, and recommend the use of such mechanisms as performance management systems to do so. Revised disclosure policies, improving employee knowledge of workplace legislation processes, and even having employees keep diaries may all, also, be helpful in reducing organizational-countenanced bullying.

Roscigno, Lopez and Hodson (2009) also built their study on the research of the role of organizational structure, job control and role conflict at work, in contributing to workplace bullying, by examining how status inequalities in the organization bullying (Roscigno et al., 2009). Focusing on top-down supervisory bullying, they also utilized the concept of power in organizations as well as the construct of routine activities, which argues that bullying emerges out of the routine activities of suitable targets at work. The routine activities framework is derived from crime fighting, which found that crime occurs when “motivated offenders…converge with suitable targets in the absence of capable guardians” (Roscigno et al., p 1564).

With regard to power, this framework defines the victim as being reduced to a state of relational powerlessness which is only exacerbated by disrespect of their low pay, minority status or job insecurity (Roscigno et al., 2009). Some organizational procedures that seem to enable bullying are direct personal supervision and chaotic organization of production. The presence of guardians, bureaucratic procedures and accountability, however, can reduce bullying. Roscigno, Lopez & Hodson (2009) tested the validity of these claims in a survey of case studies of occupational bullying, finding that “bullying is most common for employees with positional or relational weakness, for women, minorities and workers with insecure jobs” (Roscigno, Lopez & Hodson, p 1576).

Also, bullying occurs more often where the majority of the workers are women, as their lower social status combined with sexist attitudes in management can lead to more bullying behavior (Roscigno et al., 2009). The study also confirmed that “managerial bumbling” leads to blaming subordinates through bullying (Roscigno, Lopez & Hodson, p 1578). Thus, this ethnographic study of organizational bullying confirmed that bullying is rooted in routine activities when those activities are structured by relational power and organizational context.

Snow (2008) also reported on a study of bullying at a London hospital, which again found that the managerial structure and competence in executing its duties has an immediate effect on workplace bullying. The study found, for example, that if as an employee one cannot count on support from one’s immediate superior, one is more vulnerable to being bullied (Snow, 2008). Finding that UK hospitals average 55,000 physical attacks, often by patients, against nurses, the study was undertaken in order to document that not enough is being done to prevent bullying (Snow, 2008).

Case studies of programs to reduce workplace bullying by means of profiling or reorganization

A number of case studies have explored bullying from an alternative perspective, suggesting that simply by altering the framework by which bullying is viewed, a better approach to countering it can be developed (Cook, 2006; Daley, 2009; Hutchinson, 2009; Martin, 2008; Olender-Russo, 2009; Vickers, 2007; White, 2004). In this manner, White (2004) explored bullying from a psychodynamic perspective, using ideas derived from psychodynamics to better understand organizational life. The primary concept utilized is that of ‘space’ in workplaces, and how this leads to the notion of containment and boundaries. How these dynamics play out through a life cycle of the bullying process is also explored.

From a psychodynamic perspective, many of the structural arrangements of workplaces such as divisions of labor and assignment of tasks in fact express social defenses. Thus, one researcher found that the routines assigned to nurses around patients were established in order to help nurses contain their own anxiety about the nature of their work. This perspective also argues that denial, isolation, projection and splitting, as well as envy often reinforce group dynamics in workplaces.

Transference and counter transference also contribute to organizational settings, according to this point of view. Using these ideas, White (2004) described a case study of an unexpected bully, a charming, affable woman who, nonetheless, by constantly projecting grandiose, unrealistic goals on her subordinates, forced her subordinates to collude with her in a pretence, which White (2004) defined as a form of bullying.

While still using a psychodynamic concept, her charm mixed with her pretence lead to confusion or “clouding” of the psyche of others at work. White (2004) also examined how space in offices reflected whether or not bullying was occurring, with offices allowing for personalization of space being bully-free, but offices where employees were given little sense of ownership of their spaces leading to bullying. This was especially true where the boss of one organization treated all space in the organization as his own home, freely entered whenever he wished.

People with well-defined selves are also likely to have a secure sense of boundaries, and resist any attempt to redefine their boundaries, while children with a weak sense of self “seem doomed as adults to search outside themselves for answers to inner questions” rendering them vulnerable to bullying by others (White, p. 274). Indeed, in her study, White (2004) found that the bully boss was continually testing others’ boundaries, to see how they would react, to see what influence her power over others had on all employees.

The theory of projective identification is the main psychoanalytical theory to explain how boundaries are broke and bullies use others to contain their own feelings. Projection occurs when we deny feelings and thus have to project them onto others, and, should the process involve splitting as well, we identify others as idealized or demonized. According to this model as applied to life cycle theory, projection occurs in four stages, embryonic, trigger, loyalty and the dance of death phases (White, 2004).

The embryonic state represents a latent condition where bully-victim statuses have been assumed but not acted upon, with the trigger then inciting action, as, faced with threatening change, the bully seeks out another person as the container of his or her negative feelings. In the loyalty phase, the victim fails to report the bullying, and sometimes may even remain loyal to the bully, taking the bullying as part of the cost of what appears to be an otherwise helpful relationship. Finally, in the dance of death phase, “the bully and victim (are) psychically intertwined as if in a frenetic and parasitic dance” (White, p. 278). In the resulting confusion of identities, the victim may even begin to blame him or herself for the bullying. It is at this point that White (2004) argued that intervention is required to break the cycle of bullying.

Based on the aforementioned analysis, White (2004) recommended that offices need to create a reflective space away from the interchange of office politics, provide counseling informed by psychodynamic theory holidays, mediation and, finally, helping leaders to develop their negative capability, to reduce office bullying.

A primary problem with workplace bullying is exemplified by the results of a 2007 survey of over 7, 0000 U.S. adult workers in all fields. Almost two-thirds (62%) of the respondents reported that employers ignored bullying (Martin, 2008). One approach to reduce workplace bullying is legislative, with several states having passed laws to make workplace bullying a cause of action for a lawsuit. Various professional organizations have also established protocols clearly defining bullying, and calling for organizational action to prevent bullying.

Martin (2008) argued that focusing on ethics and creating an organizational culture that has as its pillars respect and civility is an important approach as well. A number of organizations have instituted wellness programs where a reported bully will be measured using the Maslach Burnout Inventory as a pre-post measure to help improve behavior and attitude. More importantly, Martin (2008) argued that the culture of the organization must be changed, with education and training, so that bullying or disruptive behavior of any kind is not tolerated.

Remedial interventions

Various approaches to remedying workplace bullying have been developed, ranging from individual- to organizational-focused, and remedial, corrective, regulatory or restorative (Hutchinson, 2009). Remedial and corrective approaches focus on stopping individual bullies, and diffusing immediate conflict through conflict resolution and aggression de-escalation strategies. These approaches have fallen into some disfavor as they fail to address organizational climates that seem to countenance bullying. At the organizational level, a number of companies issue prohibitive statements, but the effectiveness of these policies is doubtful, as companies where such statements have been issued continue to experience higher rates of violence.

In-house prevention has also been found to result in minimizing or ignoring bullying, with the implication that somehow the victims of bullying deserved it. In contrast to such zero tolerance policies, organizational restorative strategies “focus attention on bullying as a human violation which requires the perpetrator to make amends within the context of a supportive group that assists in restoration and re-integration” (Hutchinson, p. 150). This approach, with a focus on the role of groups, has been used with success in cases of family violence, elder abuse and health care sector abuse.

Both restorative circles and restorative conferencing, in which groups shared in the responsibility for bullying. Integrity boards have also been used to introduce restorative justice strategy in universities. Overall, Hutchinson (2009) argued that restorative approaches to workplace bullying would develop into best practice as they fully take into account the shared responsibility of all personnel in an organization.

Jackson, Firtko & Edenborough (2007) provided a literature review on the usefulness of actively building up personal resilience as a way to cope with workplace bullying. The idea of actively building resilience comes from the Human Becoming School of Thought philosophy, a theory which emphasizes making healthy choices to enhance one’s quality of life.

This approach urges that organizations offer employee’s specific training on how to build up resilience, involving the promotion of strengths, developing self-care strategies, and coping in effective ways. Jackson et al. (2007) also argued that maintaining positively, developing emotional insight, achieving life balance and spirituality and becoming more reflective all will help bullied employees develop resilience. Overall, however, the degree to which this approach focuses on remedying negativity in response to bullying in the victim, it appears to fall short of best practice involving more organizational-level approaches.

Cook (2006) argued that by and large most organizations are not doing enough to prevent bullying in the workplace. Cook (2006) reported on a study by the Chartered Management Institute that found that one third of all managers reported bullying at their workplaces over the previous three years, but that little has been done to stem the tide of bullying. Cook (2006) argued that to anti-bullying legislation to have more teeth a more accurate definition of workplace bullying is needed. According to one model, efforts must be made to nip bullying in the bud, by clamping down on minor offenses such as gossip or pulling rank of junior team members, before this kind of behavior escalates into significant acts of bullying.

Routine risk assessments of one’s office, formal employee satisfaction surveys, and creating a support structure that allows victims to voice their concerns in confidence to human resources are all seen as necessary steps to prevent bullying (Cook, 2006).

Daley (2009) argued that every company must develop its own policy defining bullying, and the definition be agreed upon by the staff. All offices ought to also have specially trained contact officers, who have been hired specifically to help employees who have trouble asking senior staff members for help with a bullying issue (Daley, 2009, p. 1).

A union safety representative or steward is another person who can address issues of bullying. Informal meetings are called for to resolve issues over whether bullying occurred, or if there was only a misunderstanding. If a manager who provides negative performance ratings is then accused of bullying these concerns should be negotiated by HR.

Vickers (2007) argued that an ethnographic approach to describing bullying in routine situations in everyday environments might bring to light some of the dynamics of bullying. Autobiographical narratives attuned to the fact that the self is distributed among various other individuals in the course of one’s life, are also helpful. Her experience of being given a set of cues from the first day of work indicated in retrospect that Vickers (2007) believed she was being bullied from the time she began her new job. She found an authoritarian workplace, a culture of secrecy and an imbalance between demands and support and several instances of exchanges intended to alienate the staff, all typical of what workplace theorists characterize as a toxic work environment or an abusive organization (Vickers, 2007).

Vickers (2007) then found that her boss was keeping a file on her, making jokes in public office space at her expense, and imposing absurd rules for her to follow. He also gave her misinformation, wasting her work days pursuing unproductive tasks, and was lying about her to other people. These actions also confirmed what the literature says about the role of ambiguity of intention as the premise for many acts of apparently minor deviant behavior.

The fact that her boss also demanded that he hold her office key was viewed by Vickers (2007) retrospectively as an act of bullying through controlling the power. The fact that the boss required her to be announced before she entered his office, whereas no one else was, was also interpreted as a public act of humiliation, amounting to bullying. She also found that the boss stalled in returning work, made problems in paying her, refused to give her a key to the copy room, all resulting in a situation where she chose to remain out of his way as much as possible. The boss was also in the habit of calling his female employees by profane epithets.

Overall, Vickers’ (2007) account, informed by the literature on bullying, allowed her to see that she was in fact being bullied in a persistent, orchestrated way, for no other apparent reason except that she was new to the job and female. Though she engaged in retrospective analysis, her method of uncovering bullying abuse indicates the effectiveness of the auto ethnographic approach in ferreting out the day in-day out details of bullying.

She argued that this is due to the fact that so-called passive social intelligence develops only slowly, due to barriers put in place to reporting bullying. The fact that too many of the dehumanizing and disrespectful things that happened to her were considered to be the norm, and thus also hidden from sight, again reiterates the importance of applying an ethnographic method to dig beneath the surface. Thus, sense making is a solid theoretical framework for countering the forces in workplace that keep bullying hidden.

From an organizational point of view, Olender-Russo (2009) argued that bullying can only be stopped by creating an organization that is caring and appreciative. To do this, managers must identify what is working well within an organization through an appreciative inquiry process as well as Felgen’s I2E2 formula for long-lasting change, to facilitate the process of improving outcomes.

The I2E2 formula involves inspiration, infrastructure, education and evidence, which, to prevent bullying, involves centering reform around the concept of individual regard, which involves empowering employees and facilitating goal attainment by them, creating an infrastructure which allows expectations of regard to be an integral part of employee orientation, learning initiatives, such as providing all employees with a commitment to my coworkers card as a trigger to remind employees of their commitment to core values of regard on a daily basis, and finally assessing implementation of the program through constant assessment, entailing seeking out evidence of improved relations between management and employees. Most importantly, managers must embrace the attitude of eliminating bullying by modeling behavior and creating environments of learning and healing (Olender-Russo, 2009).


This literature review facilitated in the realization of three key findings. To start with, there is an increase in the bullying incidents at the workplace as reported by employees. Secondly, the focus of the current theoretical research on the issue of bullying at the workplace has shifted from an individual-personality profile context to an organizational point of view. Accordingly, researchers are now more concerned with the study of bullying at the organizational level, with the intention of exploring forces within the workplace(for example, deficits in organizational leadership) that could lead to increased incidents of bullying.

Several case studies have endeavored to validate this approach through the use of organizational perspective. On the basis of this new model, organizational norms, along with large groups dynamics seems to facilitate the persistence of hidden bullying, which remains a fundamental focal point for this proposed research. Thirdly, the interventions to remediate workplace bullying as explored in the literature review focused on organizational-based models. There is an emerging trend regarding the issue of bullying at the workplace that appears to emphasize more on covert bullying, a position that is in agreement with the organizational approach to bullying. This could be the case since women appear to bear the greatest brunt when it comes to the issue of workplace bullying, going by the reported cases.

Further, the organizational approach has also helped to reveal new evidence that organizational structural problems, (and more so where a highly hierarchical structure is involved), poor job definitions resulting in enhanced role confusion, and repeated change occasioned by the dynamism of the global market pale collectively create power struggles, in effect yielding a stressful workplace that acts as the perfect ground for bullying and toxic workplace environment.