How to asses the risk factors of workplace bullying?

As an identifier for workplace bullying, organizational problems can be specified into five risk factors that contribute to bullying. These risk factors are:

(1). Organisational culture.

The culture of an organisation is made up of shared values, beliefs and assumptions that define how an organisation views itself and its environment. These underlying values may encourage acts of bullying and expect targets to endure the behaviour or make it acceptable for management to ignore bullying complaints. For example, when bullying and aggressive behaviour is seen as necessary to get the job done or to ‘toughen people up’ for the rigours of the industry.

To asses the risk of bullying in a workplace due to organisational culture, the Leymann Inventory of Psychological Terrorisation LIPT (Leyman, 1990) can be used. A study extended the Leymann questionnaire and constructed six mobbing scales published in Zapf et al. (1996).

  • The first scale was mobbing by organisational measures, which included the bully questioning a person’s decisions, judging a person’s job performance wrongly or in an offending manner, and assigning degrading tasks to the person concerned.
  • The second scale was social isolation, which included the bully does not talk to the person concerned and being treated like air or non-existent.
  • The third scale was attacking the private sphere which included permanently criticizing a person’s private life, making a person look stupid, and suspecting a person to be psychologically disturbed.
  • The fourth scale was verbal aggression, which included shouting at or cursing loudly at a person, and verbal threats.
  • The fifth scale was physical aggression, which included threat of physical violence, and minor use of violence.
  • The sixth scale was rumours, which included saying nasty things about a person behind his or her back.

(2). Leadership Styles

Autocratic leadership styles are strict and directive, where workers are not involved in decision making and may have little control or flexibility over their work.

Conversely a leader may have a style that is too relaxed. A relaxed leadership style is characterised by a tendency to avoid making decisions, inadequate or absent supervision of workers, inappropriate delegation of tasks to subordinates and little or no guidance or performance feedback being provided to workers.

To asses the risk of bullying in the organisation due to leadership style, Supervisory Behavior Description Questionnaire (SBDQ) developed by Fleishman (1953) can be used. It measures two leadership style in work organizations namely Democratic or employee-centred and Autocratic or work-centred.

(3). System of Work

The way in which work is organised and designed can have a significant impact on stress and conflict in the workplace. It is related to the occurrence of workplace bullying. Inappropriate systems of work that may lead to incidents of bullying include:

  • workload and excessive task demands (for example, through unreasonable performance measures or timeframes)
  • role conflict (perception of contradictory demands and expectations to carry out the job)
  • role ambiguity (being unsure about what tasks are part of one’s own job, as opposed to someone else’s job)
  • uncertainty about the way work should be done (for example, through a lack of training)
  • job insecurity and change (for example, due to restructuring, downsizing, outsourcing, new rosters or changes in work methods), and to asses the risk of bullying in the organisation due to system of work, some scales of the “Instrument for Stress-oriented Job Analysis” (ISJA, version 5.1) (Zapf, 1993) can be used. The scales are job complexity, task-related job control, time-related job control, uncertainty, organisational problems, concentration necessities, time pressure and compulsory cooperation.

In addition, several scales measuring aspects of the social system can be used. A scale of social stressors (Frese and Zapf, 1987) comprised items referring to the social climate in the work group, and conflicts with colleagues and supervisors.

(4). Poor Workplace Relationships

Poor workplace relationships may be characterised by:

  • criticism and other negative interactions
  • negative relationships between supervisors and workers
  • poor communication or inadequate consultation
  • interpersonal conflict, or workers being excluded or isolated

To asses the risk of bullying in the organisation due to poor workplace relationships, a team questionnaire designed specifically to measure workplace relationships can be used.

(5). Workforce Characteristics

Although all workers are potentially at risk of being bullied, the following groups of workers may be at higher risk:

  • young workers
  • new workers
  • apprentices
  • injured workers and workers on return to work plans
  • piece workers, and
  • Workers in a minority group because of ethnicity, religion, disability, gender or sexual preferences.

To asses the risk of bullying in the organisation due to workforce characteristics, a German translation of the Rahim Organisational Conflict Inventory ± ROCI II (Rahim and Magner, 1995) measuring five conflict styles (avoiding, compromising, dominating, integrating and obliging) of potential victims can be used.

These different kinds of questionnaire and interview can be used to asses each of the risk factor that contribute to workplace bullying. Scores from the questionnaires and interview answers can be interpreted as higher or lower risk for workplace bullying. For more information, please go to Appendix A (Preventing and Responding, n.d).

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