How To Identify Workplace Bullying

What is Workplace Bullying?

Workplace bullying is defined as persistent, offensive, abusive, intimidating or insulting behaviour, abuse of power or unfair penal sanctions which make the recipient feel upset, threatened, humiliated or vulnerable. Workplace bullying undermines the recipient’s self-confidence and may cause them to suffer stress. It can include tactics such as verbal, nonverbal, psychological, physical abuse and humiliation (Tracy, Lutgen-Sandvik, & Alberts, 2006).

Figure 1 is a bullying risk assessment model based on the results of systematic review of Moayed et al’ (2006).  According to figure 1, organizational problems and personality of the victims are two of the most common identifiers for bullying and harassment cases in the workplace (Zapf, 1999).Figure 1: Model for workplace bullying (Moayed et al., 2006)

Organizational Problem. The study found that victims were 16 percent more likely to report that organizational problems were the main reason for workplace bullying (Zapf, 1999). Lack of structure on working conditions, unclear job responsibility, and demanding time pressure were reported as the most common risk factors from a study examining 96 mobbing victims in German. Power imbalances, leadership styles and organizational culture also significantly contribute to workplace bullying (Salin, 2003).

For instance, restructuring, downsizing and mergers mean people are often asked to do more with fewer resources. As the span of control increases, managers may adopt a more autocratic leadership style and job security is threatened. These changes may result in increased resentment and tensions, which can lead to stressful working condition that may trigger workplace bullying. When employees are encouraged to compete against one another for sales quotas or to achieve other work related to goals, bullying behaviour may happen. In order to discredit a co-worker, the bully may gossip, sabotage work, or criticize ideas from the victim (Lutgen-Sandvik & McDermott, 2008).

Some organizations build enabling structures into the workplace by creating an internal reward system that encourages competition. Often, these organizational leaders value profits over people and do not know how to deal with bullying behaviours. These leaders might not fully understand the costs involved with avoiding or mismanaging them. When organizational cultures do nothing about the bullying behaviour, they contribute to it and are seen as conspiring with the bully (Keashly, 2002).

Bullying victims’ background and personality. Differences in age, race, gender, ethnicity and educational levels may intensify conflicts and increase bullying behaviours because people do not understand the motivations and actions of people who are perceived as different. Additionally individuals who lack self-confidence or sufficient conflict management skills are also likely to be targets of workplace bullying.  People who are characterized as overachievers may also fall prey to a workplace bully because the bully may feel threatened by the target’s competence (Zapf & Einarsen, 2003).