03 June 2009

Workplace bullying behaviours

Bullying in the workplace is not one phenomenon; it covers a host of situations and contexts.

Workplace bullying is generally placed on a continuum of inappropriate behaviours that straddles psychopathic behaviour, mobbing, harassment, rudeness, social undermining, generalised workplace abuse, mistreatment and intimidation, emotional abuse, psychological harassment, petty tyranny and peer rejection.

The wide range of terms is partly due to the high level of subjectivity associated with this field of study.

There are many definitions and descriptions of workplace bullying. The European Agency for Safety and Health at Work described workplace bullying as repeated, unreasonable behaviour directed towards an employee, or group of employees, that creates a risk to health and safety.
Comcare described it as harassment that covers a broad range of behaviours across a wide spectrum, and can occur wherever people work together. It too, said the behavior was repeated and posed a risk to health and safety.

The term ‘workplace bullying’ is sometimes used interchangeably with ‘mobbing’ and ‘harassment’. The World Health Organisation described mobbing as aggressive and threatening workplace behaviours of one or more members of a group (the mobber) towards an individual (the target or the victim) though occasionally mobbing can be practiced on groups.

The main difference between workplace harassment and bullying is in the specificity of behaviors. Bullying is seen as a ‘generic harassment’ directed at individual factors such as personal traits, work position or level of competence in the job. Harassment appears to be directed at some personal characteristic of the victim, such as sex, race, disability, age or religion.

Workplace bullying covers a broad range of behaviours (some authors described around 50 workplace bullying behaviours) and most people observed or were subjected to one or more of the following:

Verbal abuse, unjustified criticism, belittling, humiliation; insults; gossip; malicious rumours; isolation; victimisation; personality targeting; teasing; practical jokes; exclusion from conversations and social gatherings; impossible deadlines, work overloading; inconsistent compliance with rules; unnecessary pressure; under-work or creating a feeling of uselessness; interference with personal effects; meaningless or demeaning tasks; unexplained job changes; withholding work-related information or resources; denial of award conditions; exclusion from meetings; and physical threats.

Various researchers have attempted to group workplace bullying behaviours.
Some authors identified five types of bullying behaviours:

1. threat to professional status
2. threat to personal standing
3. isolation
4. Overwork; and
5. destabilisation.

Others defined the following seven groups of workplace bullying behaviours:

1. verbal/active/direct behaviours (eg name calling)
2. verbal/active/indirect (eg unfair treatment, false accusations and rumours)
3. verbal/passive/direct (eg being ignored, silent treatment)
4. verbal/passive/indirect (eg memos/phone calls ignored, little or no feedback)
5. physical/active/direct (eg glaring at, physical assault)
6. physical/active/indirect (eg theft or destruction of property, deliberately overloading with work); and
7. physical/passive/indirect (eg unreasonable deadlines, lack of resources).

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