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An Investigation of Aggression and Bullying in the Workplace

©2011 Doktorarbeit / Dissertation 33 Seiten


Workplace bullying has been studied extensively in the United States, Austria, Germany, Scandinavia, and the United Kingdom.
Previous studies of bullying have focused on types of bullying (Einarsen, Hoel, Zapf, & Cooper, 2003; Keashly, 1998; Pearson, Andersson, & Wegner, 2001), frequency of bullying (Zapf, Einarsen, Hoel, & Vartia, 2003), the organizational and social factors that permit or encourage bullying (Andersson & Pearson, 1999; Fox & Stallworth, 2004; Vartia, 1996; Zapf, 1999), bullying’s adverse effects on the victims (Zapf, Knorz, & Kulla, 1996), ways to counter bullying (Richards & Daley, 2003), and the attributes of bullies and their victims (Zapf). However, a review of the literature did not uncover studies focusing on the attributes of workplace bullies in particular. The proposed study will help fill this gap in the literature by constructing a psychological profile of workplace bullies. This profile will help organizations recognize bullies, mitigate their effects, and prevent bullying.


Table of Contents

Statement of the Problem
Purpose of the Study
Research Questions

Brief Review of the Literature
Definitions of Bullying
Workplace Bullying

Research Method
Informed Consent
Geographic Location
Data Collection Procedures
Validity and Reliabilty
Data Analysis Procedures

Appendix: Annotated Bibliography


Bullying behavior at work is much more rampant than previously thought even though such behavior is a frequently overlooked area of concern (Agervold, 2007). Aggression and violence including verbal or physical abuse bear enormous costs for employers, workers, and the health and mental care sectors. Enterprises worried about sustainable competitiveness in an age of globalize business rivalry count no cost excessive when it comes to acquiring equipment and implementing processes that will raise staff productivity; however, many companies do not appear to address the immense negative impact of bullying behavior on workers. Efforts by researchers to define bullying in the workplace have yet to provide enough insight to solve the problem (Agervold, 2007; Kelly, 2006; Khalil, 2009; Lally, 2009; Minton & Minton, 2004; Privitera & Campbell, 2009; Randle & Stevenson, 2007; Simon & Simon, 2006; Yildirim, 2007; Yildiz, 2007).

The study of bullying in the workplace commenced as a special interest in the studies of Heinz Leymann in the 1980s (as cited in Yildiz, 2007). Meanwhile Adams (1990), who also studied workplace bullying, claimed that only a few recognized that it could take place “between adults outside of the confines of a schoolyard” (as cited in Randle & Stevenson, 2007, p. 49). While awareness grew regarding rights and protections for specific groups (e.g. minorities, the physically handicapped, women), occupational health regulations do not explicitly foster oversight for bullying and physical harassment in the workplace, which is often aggravated by an increasingly diverse workforce.

Problem Statement

Bullying at the workplace merits concern for many reasons, including: (a) the detrimental effects on teamwork, (b) low morale, (c) focus on workplace goals, (d) organizational cohesiveness, (e) productivity and quality drives, and (f) turnover of trained staff. Bullying also impels victims to seek counseling, and they may require medical care when aggravated assault is involved.

The phenomenon of hidden bullying in the workplace is a critical psychological and behavioral issue; however, organizations lack awareness, become tolerant, or are negligent of the immense negative impact of bullying workers. Research (e.g., Anderson & Bushman, 2002) in human aggression document the effect-danger ratio in that aggressive adults seek to maximize harm to others by minimizing danger to themselves. Thus the dynamic functioning of the effect-danger ratio may suggest that covert aggression may be more common than overt aggression in the workplace.

Covert bullying in the workplace may be more prevalent than previously acknowledged in existing literature. In the United States of America alone, more than 37% of American workers claim to have been bullied at one time or another in the past (Workplace Bullying Institute, 2007). In addition, the changing complexion of occupations in America with white-collar services supplanting agriculture and manufacturing in importance merely seems to have transferred the context for sustained and hurtful bullying.

The psychological impact of workplace bullying has far-reaching implications for parents, schools, and employers. The theoretical perspective of social constructivism is an appropriate paradigm to examine how individuals seek understanding of the world in which they live and work (Creswell, 2009) and in the particular to allow some degree of objectivity in understanding the cause and patterns of behavior workplace bullying. Social constructivism is premised upon the assumption that those involved in a phenomenon have valid observations. In the occurrence of workplace bullying, both the person (s) enacting bullying behaviors and the victim of bullying behaviors have valid observations that may delineate further the phenomenon of workplace bullying

The proposed study will make sense of (or interpret) the meanings others have about the world by taking their subjective experiences of abusive parenting and/or bullying and viewing it through a more objective lens (for example, developing a list of psychological attributes most commonly associated with workplace bullying based on participants’ responses). While the stories and experiences themselves may be highly subjective, the researcher can use research, comparative statistics, and other objective means, as well as the researcher’s own analysis to make this study highly applicable to other cases, thereby raising the understanding of this behavior and clarify the role of the effect - ratio dynamic as it relates to aggression theory in the workplace.

Purpose of the Study

The aim of this study is to derive insight into the characteristics of bullying perpetrators and victims in the workplace. The researcher will profile the socio-demographic and organizational status of those who repeatedly engage in bullying in order to uncover the personality traits relevant to such aggressive behavior. Similarly, the researcher will profile the demographic characteristics, personality traits, and organizational position of the bully-victims. The study is designed to address significant gaps in the body of knowledge by:

1) Investigating the current prevalence of workplace bullying by the type of workplace in a given metropolitan area, Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
2) Defining character traits, socio-demographic profile, and family-life antecedents that characterize perpetrators and victims (see definition of terms) of workplace bullies.

With respect to antecedents, the study will focus on the possible role of dysfunctional upbringing, the present home life, and prominent traits of workplace bullies. Given the stage of inquiry in this field, and looking to replicate findings on prevalence while being open to unique features of local organizations; the research design will employ the mixed methods research model. The rationale for mixed methods design (Trochim & Donnelly, 2008) consists partly of the stage at which the research is taking place, especially in relation to prior work in the field. Next, there is the matter of whether the qualitative research component informs subsequent quantitative-type research or runs on parallel tracks with the latter.

Since previous studies merely engaged in meta-analysis or pure mathematical modeling of personality profiling, both of which are exclusively quantitative techniques, the mixed method approach will provide greater insight in investigating the phenomenon of hidden bullying in the workplace. This research design will holistically explore and describe the prevalence of bullying in different work settings. Furthermore, this approach will be useful in investigating the aspect of dysfunctional upbringing, as well as the prominent traits of workplace bullies. The mixed method approach will allow the researcher to gain a deeper understanding about the complex nature of bullying at the workplace.

Research Questions

The research questions for my proposed study are:

Q1: What is the self-reported incidence of perpetrating bullying treatment in the workplace?

Q2: How does the prevalence of bullying differ by type of work setting?

Q3: What are the self-reported traits and dysfunctional aspects of upbringing and present family life that are distinctive of bullying perpetrators?

Q4: How do department heads and human resource managers respond to bullying in the workplace?

Q5: Is hierarchical, peer, or upward bullying more prevalent and does overt aggression really reflect inadequacy?

The aforementioned research questions will guide the choice of study participants, interview questions, and general approach to this subject area. For the given research questions, the researcher must implement the following objectives: (a) gain access to voluntary participation independent of clinical or industrial “gatekeepers,” so as to minimize ethical issues; (b) profile bullies in a variety of industrial settings identified in the literature as rather more prone to instances of bullying; (c) tap a sizeable base of respondents and diversity of organizational environments so as to optimize generalizability (Creswell, 2009) and; (d) enhance the chances of locating three types of protagonists: perpetrators, victims, and targets (Matthiesen & Einarsen, 2007).

Brief Review of the Literature

Definitions of Bullying

Bullying, as opposed to other behaviors, is harder to define. Different scholars and researches provided a variety of definitions. Griffin and Gross (2004) maintained that bullying is merely one subset of the entire complex of aggressive behaviors, whether these manifest in the workplace or earlier, in school. On the other hand, Agervold (2007) described 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” (p. 162).

Few researchers acknowledged the construct of workplace bullying because the association between bullying and school was so strong (Randle & Stevenson, 2007). The study of bullying in the workplace originated in earlier studies of group-individual dynamics in the workplace. This focused on how cliques and power groups ostracized individuals [who went against norms] by means of ridicule and other behavior (Agervold, 2007). However, different researchers gave the common and essential elements involved in workplace bullying, which involves a perpetrator displaying hostile verbal behavior, coercion, physical contact, and other actions that attack the competence of a colleague at work and degrade the self-esteem of the victim (Forsyth, 2006; Keashly & Jagatic, 2003).

Previous studies also bring the topic more clearly into focus, as most researchers acknowledged that the social circle of the victims or their primary environment is actually the site of bullying. Such observation is found to be much more prevalent than previously thought, causing many companies to develop large-scale prevention programs (Agervold, 2007). While this definition is gaining ground worldwide, United States-based research still folds workplace aggression and incivility into a model to allow for different characterizations of workplace bullying. For instance, according to 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, 2007, p. 16)

Similarly, Agervold (2007) argued that the intention of the bully to harm, and the victim’s recognition that harm is intended, is at the core of the concept of bullying. This excludes instances where bully-victims disregard their co-worker’s aggressive behavior, thinking it is the latter’s normal traits and personality. For this reason, incidents of bullying risk being chronically underreported (Agervold, 2007).

The existence of hidden bullying complicates the research matter. Some forms of bullying barely register to the victim. An instance of this is when an individual’s superior has an aggressive management style that would not seem right to be termed or accused as bullying. It becomes bullying only if the individual perceives it as personally directed at him. Because of this ambiguity, 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, 2007, p. 168). Based on all of these problems, Agervold 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 (Agervold, 2007).



ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Paperback)
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Institution / Hochschule
Northcentral University
2012 (August)
investigation aggression bullying workplace

Titel: An Investigation of Aggression and Bullying in the Workplace