15 June 2009

Antecendents of Workplace Bullying

There appears to be a consensus that workplace bullying has multiple causes that may operate simultaneously.

Several ways have been proposed to describe causes of bullying in the workplace from a diverse range of perspectives.

Some authors suggest there are four factors leading to workplace bullying:

(1) deficiencies in work design;
(2) deficiencies in leadership behaviour;
(3) a socially exposed position of the victim; and
(4) a low moral standard in the organisation.

These causes can in turn be grouped into individual factors relating to the victim and the perpetrator, and organisational factors relating to leadership, work culture and work design.

Comcare concluded the presence of these factors alone did not necessarily mean workplace bullying would occur, but may indicate a greater risk of bullying occurring.

A range of studies report negative leadership or management styles that can lead to or support workplace bullying include:
  1. Intolerant and discriminatory styles of management
  2. Destructive, aggressive and authoritarian leadership
  3. Scapegoating
  4. Introducing competition
  5. Poor ethical concerns
  6. A leadership style that ‘sees no evil, hears no evil, speaks no evil’
  7. Negative styles of management such as autocratic, divisive, laissez-faire and non contingent punishment (where punishment seems to be unrelated to the behaviour).
For the purpose of this research, three antecents of workplace bullying were considered: the perpetrator (bully), the target (victim) and organisational characteristics that lead to or support bullying.

The Bully
Comcare claims under certain conditions any person is capable of bullying.

Perpetrators of workplace bullying – the bullies – are characterised in different ways by different researchers, usually attempting to identify paths that lead to their behaviour.

Some researchers suggested three paths lead to three different types of bullies:

  • chronic bullies (who became bullies due to personality development),
  • opportunistic bullies (who read social cues in their environment) or
  • accidental bullies, sometimes called
  • blind spot bullies (who are unaware of the effect of their actions).

Workplace bullying may be in some cases a form of organisational politics, a perpetrator’s deliberate competitive strategy.

Other authors categorise bullies based on their behaviour: the screaming mimi (who wants to control the emotional tone), the constant critic (the hyper-critical nitpicker), the two-headed snake (who slithers up the organisational chart and is brutal to those below) and the gatekeeper (who is obsessed with control).

Comcare suggested the following types of bullies: the
pressure bully (people who bully when they are stressed and are unaware of the impacts of their actions), the interpersonally deficient bully, the abuser of power, the personality disordered bully (someone who has no empathy for victims), the gatekeeper bully (establishes barriers to be overcome by colleagues), the sandpit bully (assigns experts to generalists tasks, takes over projects when success is assured), the toilet bully (starts disciplinary actions over minor errors) and the king bully (who expels workers, terminates employment).

The Target and the Victim
The terms ‘target’ and ‘victim’ are often used interchangeably in literature on workplace bullying, without clearly explaining the difference.

If the differences are explained, then individuals who only remain targets of bullying have strong and assertive personalities while others become victims if they have week and non-assertive personalities.

Comcare stated while there are no specific characteristics of individuals who are most likely to become victims of bullying, some risk factors can be identified.

These include people working in specific industries and occupations, the organisational level of the victim, the victim’s age, gender, minority groups and certain personality traits.

Some researchers argue certain personality traits in an individual may attract a bully’s attention.

Traits include: being driven by a strong sense of justice and integrity; being intelligent and skilled; being positive and non confrontational; having experienced bullying previously; standing up for a colleague who is bullied; unwittingly revealing incompetence by being competent; having high moral standards; being too old or expensive; being oversensitive, suspicious and angry; or having low self esteem.

Organisational Characteristics
Organisational characteristics that lead to or support workplace bullying have been widely documented and are sometimes divided into deficiencies in work design (work environment) and deficiencies in leadership behaviour.

Comcare suggested the following deficiencies were linked to workplace bullying: organisational change, workforce characteristics, workplace relationships and culture, inadequate information flow, unfair promotion, staff shortages, a high rate and intensity of work, poorly defined jobs, lack of clarity of employee responsibilities and poor performance feedback.


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