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Harassment and bullying at work: A review of the Scandinavian approach

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A hostile work environment, in which insulting or offensive remarks, persistent criticism, personal abuse, or even physical abuse and threats prevail, is a reality for many employees in both public and private organizations. In Scandinavia, the term “mobbing” is commonly used to describe situations where a worker, supervisor, or manager is systematically and repeatedly mistreated and victimized by fellow workers, subordinates, or superiors. The term is widely used in situations where repeated aggressive and even violent behavior is directed against an individual over some period of time. Although some clinical and anecdotal accounts have been described by American authors, studies of this phenomenon have mainly been restricted to the Northern European countries. The aim of this study is threefold: (1) to present a framework for future research and theory development in this field, (2) to review the Scandinavian research tradition according to this framework, and (3) to provide some suggestions for future research.
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Aggression and Violent Behavior, Vol. 5, No. 4, pp. 379–401, 2000
Copyright 2000 Elsevier Science Ltd
Printed in the USA. All rights reserved
1359-1789/00/$–see front matter
PII S1359-1789(98)00043-3
HARASSMENT AND BULLYING AT WORK:
A REVIEW OF THE
SCANDINAVIAN APPROACH
Sta
˚le Einarsen
University of Bergen
ABSTRACT. A hostile work environment, in which insulting or offensive remarks, persis-
tent criticism, personal abuse, or even physical abuse and threats prevail, is a reality for many
employees in both public and private organizations. In Scandinavia, the term “mobbing” is
commonly used to describe situations where a worker, supervisor, or manager is systemati-
cally and repeatedly mistreated and victimized by fellow workers, subordinates, or superiors.
The term is widely used in situations where repeated aggressive and even violent behavior
is directed against an individual over some period of time. Although some clinical and
anecdotal accounts have been described by American authors, studies of this phenomenon
have mainly been restricted to the Northern European countries. The aim of this study is
threefold: (1) to present a framework for future research and theory development in this
field, (2) to review the Scandinavian research tradition according to this framework, and
(3) to provide some suggestions for future research. 2000 Elsevier Science Ltd. All
rights reserved.
KEY WORDS. Bullying, harassment, victimization
A HOSTILE WORK ENVIRONMENT, in which insulting or offensive remarks, persis-
tent criticism, personal or even physical abuse and threats prevail, is a reality for many
employees in both public and private organizations (Adams 1992a; Leymann, 1990; Ran-
dall, 1992; Wilson, 1991). A study of 480 men working in a Norwegian ship yard showed that
a high portion of both workers and supervisors felt humiliated, offended, and mistreated by
coworkers and supervisors during work hours (Einarsen & Raknes, 1997). Some 7% of
the men were, on a weekly basis, subjected to behaviors that may be labeled as personal
derogation, including exposure to gossip or rumors on their behalf, insulting teasing,
offensive remarks, or silence and hostility when entering a conversation. Others were
socially excluded from their work group, or they had their work and efforts constantly
devaluated. Others were repeatedly restricted from information they needed in order to get
Correspondence should be addressed to Dr. Sta
˚le Einarsen, Department of Psychosocial Science, Univer-
sity of Bergen, Christiesgt. 12, N-5015 Bergen, Norway.
379
380 S. Einarsen
their job done, or they were repeatedly deprived of work tasks and work responsibilities. A
few were even subjected to physical abuse, or threats of such abuse, from coworkers
or supervisors.
Although it has been advocated that violence and aggression at work are areas in
need of more research (Flannery, 1996; Leather, Cox, & Farnsworth, 1990), few studies
addressing aggression and violence among organization members are available. Indeed,
violence, aggression, and negative human interaction are rarely studied within an organiza-
tional context (Appelberg, Romanov, Honlasalo, & Kosenvuo, 1991; Kennan & Newton,
1984; Keashly, Trott, & MacLean, 1994) perhaps due to the rational and harmonious
framework dominating the research on organizational conflicts (Pondy, 1992).
The focus on sexual harassment, where a large body of research has emanated during
the last 20 years [see reviews by (Fitzgerald & Shullmann, 1993; Kreps, 1993; Terpstra &
Baker, 1991)] seems to be the only exception to this rule. In a relatively short time, sexual
harassment has been recognized as a serious social and organizational problem, affecting
a large part of the working woman population (Fitzgerald & Shullman, 1993). However,
in a pioneer work on harassment at work, Brodsky (1976) saw sexual harassment as only
one of five types of work harassment. Name calling, scapegoating, physical abuse, and
work pressure were claimed to be as frequent and as severe as the former. Harassment
in organizations was, therefore, seen as all those acts that repeatedly and persistently
aimed to torment, wear down, or frustrate a person, and all repeated behaviors which
ultimately would provoke, frighten, intimidate, or bring discomfort to the victim.
Such a broad concept of work harassment has lately been presented in a wide range
of scientific studies published by Swedish, Norwegian, Finnish and German researchers
(Bjo
¨rkqvist, 1992; Bjo
¨rkqvist, O
¨sterman, & Hjelt-Ba
¨ck, 1994; Einarsen, Raknes, Matthi-
sen, & Hellesøy, 1990, 1994, 1996; Einarsen, Raknes, & Matthiesen, 1994; Einarsen &
Raknes, 1997; Einarsen & Skogstad, 1996; Leymann, 1988, 1990, 1992, 1996; Leymann &
Gustafsson, 1996; Kile, 1990b; Matthiesen, Raknes & Røkkum, 1989; Niedl, 1995, 1996;
Raknes & Einarsen, 1995; Thylefors, 1987; Zapf, Knorz, & Kulla, 1996; Vartia, 1991,
1993, 1996). By using the term “mobbing,” harassment at work has been given a wider
connotation than those normally presented in American research on sexual harassment.
In Scandinavia, the term “mobbing” is commonly used to describe all situations where a
worker, supervisor, or manager is systematically and repeatedly mistreated and victimized
by fellow workers, subordinates, or superiors. The term is widely used in situations where
repeated aggressive and even violent behaviors are directed against an individual over
some period of time. In Scandinavia (in this case Norway, Sweden and Finland), sexual
harassment is seen as a specific form of bullying and work harassment in which sexuality
is utilized as a means of oppression (Bjo
¨rkqvist, O
¨sterman, & Hjelt-Ba
¨ck, 1994).
The Scandinavian interest in harassment at work builds on the assumption (and the
everyday observation) that other kinds of harassment exist in organizations which may
be as frequent and as severe as sexual harassment in terms of individual suffering and
organizational costs. It may even be true that incidents of non-sexual harassment at work
may have been reported as sexual harassment more as a consequence of this being the
only legitimate label for such problems, than as a consequence of the explicit sexual
nature of the conduct.
Although some clinical and anecdotal accounts of such a generic type of harassment
at work have been described by both English and American authors (Adams, 1992a;
Bassman, 1992; Wilson, 1991), studies of this phenomenon have so far been restricted to
the Northern European countries with a few exceptions (Brodsky, 1976; Gandolfo, 1995;
Baron & Neuman, 1996; Spratlan, 1995).
The aim of the present study is to review the existing literature on harassment and
381Harassment at Work
bullying at work, and to present the main findings of Scandinavian research in this field.
Second, the study presents a framework for future research and theory development in
this field. Research relevant to this framework is presented and discussed, and suggestions
for future research will be offered. The perspective on harassment at work presented
here has been developed in Sweden, Finland, and Norway during the late 1980s and early
1990s due to their national work environment legislation supporting the rights of all
workers to remain both physically and mentally healthy at work (Leymann, 1996). Both
culturally and economically, these countries are very similar, interrelated, and even inter-
woven. According to Hofstede (1980), organizations in these countries are characterized
by a low power distance, feminine values, and individualism, which places a high value
on the well-being of the individual worker and a negative attitude towards any sign of
power abuse. Even more, bullying in the school yard has been major research tradition
in all of these three countries during the last 20 years [e.g, (Olweus, 1994)].
DEFINITIONS OF BULLYING AND HARASSMENT AT WORK
Different terms and concepts have been used in the study of situations where coworkers,
superiors, subordinates, or even customers/clients systematically pick on, harass, or pester
an employee at work, such as “psychological terror” (Leymann, 1990), “scapegoating”
(Thylefors, 1987), “health endangering leadership” (Kile, 1990a, b), “work abuse” (Bass-
mann, 1992), and “victimization” (Olweus, 1994). However, mobbing seems to be the
surviving term in Scandinavia (Olweus, 1991). Origin and use of the term mobbing is
discussed by Olweus (1991). In England, the term “bullying” has been used (Adams,
1992a), while both “harassment” (Brodsky, 1976), “workplace trauma,” and “employee
abuse” (Wilson, 1991), “petty tyranny” (Ashforth, 1994), “bullies” (Marano, 1995) have
been used in Canada and the United States. The concept of “victimization from whistle
blowing,” as presented by the Australian researcher Lennane (1993), seems also to refer
to a related phenomenon. In the present study, the expressions “bullying,” “harassment,”
and “victimization” will be used synonymously with the Scandinavian concept of “mob-
bing.” Table 1 provides an overview of concepts and definitions used in the study of
“mobbing” at work.
The core dimension in these definitions is the term repeated and enduring negative acts.
Bullying and harassment is seen as systematic aggression and violence targeted towards
one or more individuals by one individual or by a group. In addition, some definitions
pinpoint the adverse negative effects this behavior may have on the victim. Existent
anecdotal and clinical accounts of bullying and harassment at work also comment on the
strong negative effects persistent harassment and bullying at work may have on the
victim’s health and well-being (Adams, 1992a; Brodsky, 1976; Kile, 1990b; Leymann, 1988;
Thylefors, 1987). Yet, the issue of potential negative consequences of such experiences
beyond the point that the acts are perceived or intended as negative, is most of all an
empirical issue.
To be consider a victim of bullying, it is argued by many that the person involved must
find it difficult to defend himself/herself in the actual situation. Well-known definitions
of bullying in the school yard (Olweus, 1978, 1991, 1993) stress that bullying and harassment
imply a difference in actual or perceived power and “strength” between the persecutor
and the victim. Typically, a victim of harassment and bullying is teased, badgered, and
insulted, and perceives that he or she has little recourse to retaliate (Brodsky, 1976).
Therefore, serious conflicts between parties of “equal strength” or isolated episodes of
conflict should not be considered bullying. This position is found in the definition presented
382 S. Einarsen
TABLE 1. Definitions and terms used by different researchers in describing
“mobbing” at work
Reference Term Definition
Brodsky (1976) Harassment Repeated and persistent attempts by a person to
torment, wear down, frustrate, or get a reaction
from another person; it is treatment which per-
sistently provokes, pressures, frightens, intimi-
dates or otherwise cause discomfort in another
person
Thylefors (1987) Scapegoating One or more persons who during a period of time
are exposed to repeated, negative actions from
one or more other individuals
Matthiesen, Raknes & Mobbing One or more person’s repeated and enduring neg-
Rro
¨kkum (1989) ative reactions and conducts targeted at one or
more persons of their work group
Leymann (1990) Mobbing/ Hostile and unethical communication that is di-
Psychological terror rected in a systematic way by one or more per-
sons, mainly towards one targeted individual
Kile (1990a) Health endangering Continuous humiliating and harassing acts of long
leadership duration conducted by a superior and expressed
overtly or covertly
Wilson (1991) Workplace trauma The actual disintegration of an employee’s funda-
mental self, resulting from an employer’s or
supervisor’s perceived or real continual and de-
liberate malicious treatment
Ashforth (1994) Petty tyranny A leader who lords his power over others through
arbitrariness and self aggrandizement, the belit-
tling of subordinates, showing lack of consider-
ation, using a forcing style of conflict resolution,
discoursing initiative and the use of non-contin-
gent punishment
Vartia (1993) Harassment Situations where a person is exposed repeatedly
and over time to negative actions on the part
of one or more persons
Bjo
¨rkqvist, O
¨sterman, Harassment Repeated activities, with the aim of bringing men-
& Hjelt-Ba
¨ck (1994) tal (but sometimes also physical) pain, and di-
rected towards one or more individual who, for
one reason or another, are not able to defend
themselves
Adams (1992b) Bullying Persistent criticism and personal abuse in public or
private, which humiliates and demeans a person
by Bjo
¨rkqvist et al. (1994), as well as being implicit in the definitions limited to behaviors
of managers and employers. When harassed by a superior, the imbalance in power obvi-
ously makes it difficult for the victim to defend himself/herself. An imbalance in power
between the parties is also emphasized in many definitions of sexual harassment
(Kreps, 1993).
Niedl (1995) elaborates on the imbalance in power between victim and offender as the
383Harassment at Work
core issue of the definition. According to Niedl, a person will be victimized by exposure
to repeated negative acts only if the person perceives himself to be unable to either defend
himself or escape the situation. This dependency on the part of the victim may be due
to social (e.g., hierarchical positions, power-relationship), physical (e.g., physical power),
economic (e.g., economic dependency, private economy, labor market) and psychological
(e.g., victim’s self-esteem, dependent personality, charismatic manager) circumstances.
Further, Niedl argues that the victim’s dependency must be seen in relation to the actual
situation. The victim’s inability to defend himself/herself may be a direct consequence of
either the formal or informal power relationship between the parties, the unequal status
of the parties, or an indirect consequence of the harassment itself. Harassment often preys
directly on the experienced inadequacies of the victim’s personality (Brodsky, 1976).
The Behaviors Involved
Even if a single serious episode (e.g., a physical assault) may be regarded as bullying and
harassment, most definitions emphasize the term “repeated negative acts” (Olweus, 1991).
A closer examination of the negative acts involved has both an empirical and a conceptual
aspect. Brodsky (1976) isolated five forms of harassment, namely scapegoating, name-
calling, physical abuse, work pressure, and sexual harassment. In research among school-
children, “direct bullying” with open verbal or physical attacks on the victim has been
distinguished from “indirect bullying,” which takes the form of more subtle acts, such as
excluding or isolating the victim from his or her peer-group (Bjo
¨rkqvist, Lagerspetz, &
Kaukiainen, 1992; Lagerspetz, Bjo
¨rkqvist, & Peltonen, 1988; Olweus, 1993).
Leymann (1990) divided the actions involved in bullying and psychological terror at work
into five different forms which include the manipulation of: (1) the victim’s reputation, (2)
his or her possibilities of performing the work tasks, (3) the victim’s possibilities of
communicating with co-workers, and (4) his or her social circumstances. The fifth cluster
of behaviors included physical coercion or assaults, or the threat of such. In a study of
destructive leadership, Ashforth (1994) distinguished six forms of tyrant behavior in
leaders and managers: arbitrariness and self-aggrandizement, belittling subordinates, lack
of consideration, a forcing style of conflict resolution, discoursing initiative, and non-
contingent punishment.
Among 137 Norwegian victims of bullying and harassment at work, social isolation and
exclusion, devaluation of one’s work and efforts, and exposure to teasing, insulting remarks
and ridicule, were the most commonly experienced negative acts (Einarsen et al., 1994).
Although some victims reported undesirable sexual attention or advances, this seemed
minor. Among 984 customers of Finnish health care units, six main types of bullying were
identified (Vartia, 1991): (1) slander, gossips and rumors spread about a person; (2) social
exclusion; (3) giving the person too few or overly simple tasks; (4) continuous criticism
of the person’s work and results; (5) physical violence or the threat of it; and (6) insinuations
about the person’s mental health.
The English author Andrea Adams (1992a, 1992b), who defined bullying as persistent
criticism and personal abuse in public or private (which humiliates and demeans a person),
emphasized that these tactics may be difficult to pinpoint. It may also be true that a
victim’s perceptions of a certain behavior may be more dependent on who the actor is,
than on the actual behavior involved [see also (Smeltzer & Leap, 1988)]. Therefore, the
difficulties of the victim in defending himself against these attacks may be a more important
conceptual element than the actual negative acts involved.
In short, bullying and harassment occurs when one or more individuals, repeatedly
over a period of time, are exposed to negative acts (be it sexual harassment, tormenting,
384 S. Einarsen
social exclusion, offensive remarks, physical abuse or the like) conducted by one or more
other individuals. In addition, there must exist an imbalance in the power-relationships
between parties. The person confronted has to have difficulties defending himself/herself
in this situation. It is not bullying if two parts of approximately equal “strength” are in
conflict or the incident is an isolated event.
FREQUENCY AND RISK GROUPS
Recent data indicate that bullying and harassment at work is a widespread problem, at
least in Scandinavian working life. In a study of 7986 Norwegian employees, encompassing
a broad array of organizations and professions, some 8.6% had experienced bullying and
harassment at work during the last six months (Einarsen & Skogstad, 1996). Many of the
victims had been victimized for an extended period of time. Mean duration of these
episodes was reported to be 18 months. Hence, bullying as reported by these victims was
not isolated episodes or short conflict intermezzos, but rather ongoing situations where
the victims repeatedly experience aggression from others at work.
In a survey of 726 Finnish university employees, 24% of the females and 17% of the
males were regarded as victims of harassment at work (Bjo
¨rkqvist, O
¨sterman, & Hjelt-
Ba
¨ck, 1994). Exposure to harassment was associated with elevated levels of depression,
anxiety, and aggression. According to the victims, these feelings were a direct consequence
of the harassment they had experienced. Among 99 nurses and assistant nurses in a
Norwegian psychiatric ward, 10% felt exposed to bullying at work (Matthiesen, Raknes, &
Røkkum, 1989). The same study showed that such bullying correlated significantly with
burnout, psychological complaints, and poor somatic health. In a study of 745 Norwegian
assistant nurses, 3% were bullied at the time being, while 8% had former experiences as
victims (Matthiesen, 1990). Leymann and Tallgren (1989), who defined bullying as the
exposure to one of 45 predefined negative acts on a weekly basis for more than six months,
found that 4% of the employees of a Swedish steelmaker company were victims of such
bullying at work.
According to the same definition, 3.5% of the Swedish working population were found
to be victims of bullying at work (Leymann, 1992). The latter conclusion was based on
a representative sample of the Swedish working population. Compared to Swedish esti-
mates of a frequency around 3.5% (Leymann, 1993), the Norwegian frequency seems to
be higher, yet clearly lower than findings in Finland where as many as 10% (Vartia, 1991)
and 16% (Bjo
¨rkqvist, 1992) have been considered victims of bullying. However, differences
in definitions and measurements as well as different types of samples do make these
national comparisons difficult.
Cross-Cultural Variations
To date, bullying and work harassment has mainly been studied within the Nordic countries
(Bjo
¨rkqvist, O
¨sterman, & Hjelt-Ba
¨ck, 1994; Niedl, 1995). It is, therefore, difficult to
conclude whether the frequency of bullying found in these studies is higher compared to
what may be the case in other countries. However, an Austrian and an English investigation
suggest this is not the case. In a study of employees at an Austrian public hospital, 26.6%
reported to be subjected to one or more hostile actions once a week during the last six
months (Niedl, 1995). In a sample of 1,137 part-time students in an English university,
50% reported that they were bullied at work (Rayner, 1997).
Conceptually, power inequalities between offender and victim are essential to the
385Harassment at Work
experience of being victimized (Niedl, 1995; Olweus, 1987). Power inequalities vary across
national cultures and have been studied in cross-cultural studies under the term “power
distance” (Hofstede, 1980). Power distance is defined as the interpersonal power or
influence difference between two persons as perceived by the least powerful of the two.
Norway, Sweden, and Finland have been identified as cultures with relatively small differ-
ences in power and status between individuals in different formal and informal positions.
These countries may, therefore, have a low frequency of harassment compared to nearby
countries found to have a larger power distance, such as France and Spain (Hofstede,
1980). The United States also appears to have a somewhat higher power-distance than
the three former countries and may thus be expected to have a high frequency of work
harassment. In his investigation of cultural differences in work-related values, attitudes,
and beliefs, Hofstede (1980) claims that the Scandinavian countries, in addition to being
egalitarian cultures, also are more feminine-oriented societies than the United States.
Feminine cultures prescribe its members not to be aggressive, dominating, and assertive
in social relationships. Further they value unisexual and fluid sex-roles as well as equality
between the sexes. Again, this may indicate less tolerance of aggressive behavior and
power abuse, and thus a low level of work harassment in these countries.
Empirical support for this notion has been provided. First, American studies indicate
that as many as half of the female working population have been exposed to sexual
harassment, while Scandinavian research indicates a much lower occurrence (Einarsen,
Raknes, & Matthiesen, 1993). In two separate American surveys on perceptions of abuse
or mistreatment among nurses, some 64% and 82% of the respondents reported being
verbally abused by physicians and supervisors (Cox, 1987; Diaz & McMillin, 1991). In an
American study of mistreatment at work among 59 young workers attending college
courses, all respondents reported exposure to some kind of mistreatment at their current
workplace. Approximately 14% reported experiencing at least 10 different kinds of abusive
events in their current work situation (Keashly, Trott, & MacLean, 1994). A survey of
806 employees at an American university revealed that at least 23% of the respondents
reported being mistreated at work during the prior 18 months (Spratlan, 1995).
A survey of cultural differences between the United States and Norway regarding the
occurrence of sexual harassment among women working in male-dominated industrial
organizations and the emotional reactions of victims to such conduct, showed some inter-
esting results (Einarsen, 1996; Einarsen & Sørum, 1996). Norwegian women working in
male-dominated industrial organizations were exposed less to unwanted sexual attention
compared to American women working in a comparable organizational setting. While
60% of the American women repeatedly felt exposed to such conduct by male colleagues
or supervisors, this was true for only 27% of the Norwegian women. Further, 36% of the
American women saw themselves as victims of sexual harassment, while this was true of
only 5% of the Norwegian women. American women also reported significantly more
anxiety and resentment following exposure to unwanted sexual behaviors. Thus, both the
perceived frequency and the perceived offensiveness of sexual harassment were lower
among Norwegian women (Einarsen & Sørum, 1996). Androgynous sex-roles and feminine
values may prescribe Norwegian men to be less sexually aggressive and dominating than
American men, while Norwegian women may feel free to stop, retaliate, or report a
certain behavior if experienced as unwanted. As members of an egalitarian culture, Norwe-
gian women may feel less threatened when faced with unwanted sexual behavior by male
colleagues or supervisors.
386 S. Einarsen
Risk Groups and Risk Organizations
Data from surveys of 7,986 Norwegian employees within 13 different organizational
settings (Einarsen & Skogstad, 1996) showed no differences in the prevalence of bullying
among men and women. On the other hand, more men were reported as offenders. While
49% of the victims reported men only as their perpetrator(s), 30% reported women to
be the offender(s) in their case. Another 20% were bullied by both men and women.
Further, men were mostly bullied by men, while women were bullied by both men and
women (most often by other women). These results are identical to findings from a
comparable Swedish study by Leymann (1996) who claims that the latter may be a
consequence of a gender-segregated labor market.
The findings on the perpetrators also correspond to a large degree with data concerning
schoolchildren (Olweus, 1991). Einarsen and Skogstad (1996) also found that older em-
ployees reported more exposure to victimization from bullying than younger employees.
However, younger employees have been found to experience more direct attacks and
negative treatment at work than their older colleagues (Einarsen & Raknes, 1997; Ley-
mann, 1996). Also, younger adult individuals are more likely to be both aggressors and
targets of aggression (Felson, 1992). At work, behavior labeled by older employees as
harassment, may be interpreted by younger employees as horseplay, a hazing ritual, or
as behavior to be expected and tolerated. As employees grow older, they may expect to
be treated with more dignity and respect, hence lowering their threshold for what they
regard as acceptable treatment (Einarsen & Skogstad, 1996).
Further, bullying seems to be more common in private enterprises, in large organizations,
in male-dominated organizations, and in industrial organizations. Among male workers
in a Norwegian shipyard, the prevalence of bullying was as high as 17% (Einarsen &
Skogstad, 1996). The latter findings may be highly related to male aggressiveness in
general. Competitive, unyielding, and aggressive strategies in interpersonal conflicts are
used more often by men than by women (Miller, 1991). Interaction among boys are also
generally tougher and more aggressive than interactions among girls [see (Olweus, 1991)].
Bjo
¨rkqvist, O
¨sterman, and Lagerspetz (1994) have proposed the “effect/danger ratio”
as a cost/benefit model that can explain variations in aggressive behavior. The ratio is an
expression of the individual’s estimation of the likely dangers and consequences of an
aggressive act. People normally seek behavior that is effective in harming others, while
at the same time offers a low danger to themselves. Since men more often than women
are in superior positions, and since leaders may experience less risk associated with
aggressive enacting, this may explain the gender differences in bullying described above.
According to the effect/danger ratio, the threshold of aggressive behavior may be lowered
in large and hierarchical organizations. The possibility of experiencing danger or social
condemnation because of aggressive behavior may be diminished as a consequence of
the size, the many layers of superiors, and the unequal distribution of power in these
organizations. In small and transparent organizations, both the perpetrators risk of getting
“caught” and the following potential social consequences, may be greater (Einarsen &
Skogstad, 1996).
CONSEQUENCES OF BULLYING AND HARASSMENT AT WORK
Harassment at work is claimed to be a more crippling and devastating problem for
employees than all other work-related stressors together (Wilson, 1991). Also Zapf, Knorz,
and Kulla (1996) and Niedl (1995) view bullying as a rather severe form of social stress
387Harassment at Work
at work. Others have claimed that work harassment is a major cause of suicide (Leymann,
1990, 1992). Based on clinical examinations, it has been observed that many victims suffer
from symptoms under the domain of post-traumatic stress syndrome (Leymann, 1992;
Wilson, 1991). Some preliminary research findings seem to support this notion (Bjo
¨rkqvist,
O
¨sterman, & Hjelt-Ba
¨ck, 1994; Leymann & Gustafsson, 1996). In an interview study of
17 victims of harassment employed in a Finnish university, Bjo
¨rkqvist et al. (1994) found
that all subjects reported insomnia, various nervous symptoms, melancholy, apathy, lack
of concentration, and socio-phobia. Clinical observations have also shown other grave
effects of exposure to work harassment, such as social isolation, stigmatizing, social malad-
justment, psychosomatic illnesses, depressions, compulsions, helplessness, anger, anxiety,
and despair (Leymann, 1990). In a theoretical overview of tyrant leadership, Ashforth
(1994) suggests the following effects on subordinates: (1) frustration, stress, and reactance;
(2) helplessness and work alienation; (3) lowered self esteem and productivity; (4) low
work unit cohesiveness.
On the basis of clinical observations and interviews with American victims of work
harassment, Brodsky (1976) identified three patterns of effects on the victims. Some
expressed their reaction by developing vague physical symptoms, such as weakness, loss
of strength, chronic fatigue, pains and various aches. Others reacted with depression and
symptoms related to depression (e.g., impotence, lack of self esteem, and sleeplessness).
A third group reacted with psychological symptoms, such as hostility, hypersensitivity,
loss of memory, feelings of victimization, nervousness, and avoidance of social contact.
However, the reaction of the victim, for example, to episodes of laughter and teasing,
was to a large extent dependent upon individual intellect and temperament. Therefore,
personality traits may be important moderators of the victim’s reaction to victimization
[see also (Einarsen et al., 1996)].
In my own study of male shipyard workers, I found a significant negative association
between exposure to victimization at work and measurements of psychological health
and well-being (Einarsen & Raknes, 1997). In fact, harassment explained 23% of the
variance in psychological health and well-being. The strongest relationship existed between
experienced personal derogation and psychological well-being. In another survey of 2,215
members of 6 different workers unions, significant relationships were found between
different measurements of experienced victimization and psychological, psychosomatic,
and muscle-skeletal health complaints (Einarsen et al., 1996). The strongest correlations
were found between harassment and psychological complaints where measurements of
experienced bullying predicted 13% of the variation. A total of 6% of the variation in
muscle-skeletal problems could be statistically predicted by measurements of exposure
to bullying.
These findings are also very much in line with those of Niedl (1995) and Zapf, Knorz,
and Kulla (1996). In the latter studies, mental health variables showed highly significant
differences between harassed and non-harassed respondents. Exposure to personal attacks
had especially strong correlation with mental health variables. In a comprehensive Finnish
cohort study, Appelberg et al. (1991) found a strong relationship between the experience
of interpersonal problems at work and life dissatisfaction, as well as experienced stress
in daily living.
The relationships between harassment and health found in our study of 2,215 Norwegian
labor-union members, were highly moderated by the victim’s personality (self-esteem and
anxiety on social settings) and lack of social support. Yet, significant relationships remained
between exposure to harassment and measures of both psychological and somatic health
complaints (Einarsen et al., 1996). Victims high on social support at work or off work
are probably less vulnerable when faced with aggression. Social support may also reduce
388 S. Einarsen
the emotional and physiological activation of the victim, hence reducing the health effects
of long-term harassment. Personality traits may be positively related to an individual’s
health by causing the individual to respond to a difficult situation in an optimistic, flexible,
and enduring manner (Rodin & Salovey, 1989). Victims who are not anxious in social
interactions, and victims with a positive self image, may cope better than others when
faced with interpersonal problems. They may be less vulnerable in such situations and
may possess a “hardiness” that prevents further impairment of their health (Kile, 1990a).
Organizational Effects
Negative effects of bullying and harassment at work may also be observed on an organiza-
tional level. Based on research in Sweden, Leymann (1990) claimed that the combination
of productivity loss by victim and work group, and costs regarding interventions by third
parties, may amount to between US$30,000 and 100,000 per year for each individual case
of harassment at work. Organizational costs of harassment may be lowered productivity,
increase in sick-leaves, turn-over as well as compensation claims and liability (Pryor,
1987). In the study of 2,215 Norwegian labor union members, 27% claimed that harassment
had negatively influenced the productivity of their organization (Einarsen et al., 1994).
Victims of long-term harassment at work may also strongly reduce their commitment and
may finally leave the organization (Niedl, 1996).
ANTECEDENTS OF BULLYING AND HARASSMENT AT WORK
Looking at the existing literature on bullying in Scandinavia, three causal models may
be distinguished, emphasizing personality traits of victim/offender, inherent and general
characteristics of human interaction in organizations, or organizational climate and work
environment specific to an organization. Based on case studies, Leymann (1996) claims
that four factors are prominent in probability of harassment at work: (1) deficiencies in
work design, (2) deficiencies in leadership behavior, (3) socially-exposed position of the
victim, and (4) low moral standard in the department. Yet, envy is considered by many
victims as the core reason behind the behavior of the offenders (Bjo
¨rkqvist et al., 1994;
Einarsen et al., 1994; Vartia, 1996). A weak superior; competition for tasks, status or
advancement; and competition for the supervisor’s favor and approval, are other explana-
tions given by the victims themselves.
Personality Traits
From two decades of research on bullying among school children, Olweus (1991) concludes
that the typical victim of bullying is more anxious and insecure than other pupils and are
often seen as cautious, sensitive and quiet. The victims react with withdrawal when attacked
and they have a more negative self-esteem than other students. The personality of the
victim may make them easy targets of aggression and scapegoating processes and may
make them vulnerable when faced with interpersonal aggression and conflicts. Moreover,
a victim may also elicit aggressive responses in others through his or her behavior. In
research among children, a small group of victims was characterized as “provocative”
victims (Olweus, 1978). Such victims were found to be both anxious and aggressive, and
were experienced by most other pupils as annoying.
Victims of bullying and harassment at work have also been shown to have low self-
esteem and to be anxious in social settings (Einarsen et al., 1994). Others have described
victims of work-harassment as conscientious, literal-minded, somewhat unsophisticated,
389Harassment at Work
and as overachievers with an unrealistic view both of their own abilities and recourses
and the demands of the situation (Brodsky, 1976). Persons who violate expectations,
who annoy others, perform less competently, violate social norms of polite and friendly
interactions, may easily elicit aggressive behavior in others (Felson, 1992).
Gandolfo (1995) compared the MMPI-2 profiles of a group of American victims of
work harassment claiming worker’s compensations with non-harassment complainers. The
victims of harassment were more oversensitive, suspicious, and angry than the other
claimants. Further, both groups showed a mixture of depression and a tendency to convert
psychological distress into physical symptoms. Yet, none of the studies on victims in work
settings have used a longitudinal design. Consequently, the observed personality of the
victims may both be an antecedent or a consequence of the victimization.
Psychological literature has yielded a host of constructs related to the adult offender
(Ashforth, 1994). Among others, these include the authoritarian personality (Adorno,
Frenkel-Brunswik, Levinson, & Sanford, 1950), the abrasive personality (Levinson, 1978),
the school yard bully (Olweus, 1978), the petty tyrant (Ashforth, 1994), and the proclivity
to sexually harass (Pryor, LaVite, & Stoller, 1993). The latter refers to men who cognitively
link social dominance and sexuality and who may engage in sexual harassment if the
situation allows for such behavior. Child bullies have been found to be self-confident,
impulsive, and to display a general tendency to react with aggression in many different
situations (Olweus, 1991).
The issue of personality traits in relation to harassment at work is a controversial one,
especially as far as the victim is concerned and the position on personality traits as
precursors of harassment has been seriously questioned (Bjo
¨rkqvist, 1992; Bjo
¨rkqvist,
O
¨sterman, & Hjelt-Ba
¨ck, 1994; Leymann, 1992, 1996).
Inherent Characteristics of Human Interaction in Organizations
Interpersonal conflicts are part of everyday life in all organizations and work-groups. In
some instances, the social climate at work turns more than sour and creates conflicts that
may escalate into harsh personified struggles (van de Vliert, 1984) and office wars (Kaye
1994), where the total destruction of the opponent is seen as the ultimate goal to be
gained by the parties (Glasl, 1980). In such highly escalated conflicts the parties often
deny the opponent’s human value, thus clearing the way for manipulation, retaliation,
elimination, and destruction (van de Vliert, 1984). If one of the parties acquires a disadvan-
taged position in this struggle, he or she may become the victim of harassment (Bjo
¨rkqvist,
O
¨sterman, & Hjelt-Ba
¨ck, 1994).
Interpersonal conflicts where the identity of the parties are at stake (e.g., when one of
the parties attacks or denies the other’s self-image) are often characterized by intense
emotional involvement. The latter includes feelings of being insulted, of fear, suspicion,
resentment, contempt, anger, etc. (Einarsen et al., 1994; van de Vliert, 1984). Current
measurements of conflict behavior have been criticized for lacking in these more demon-
strative responses to conflict, such as verbal and physical aggression, revenge, or regression
(e.g., crying) (Volkema & Bergmann, 1989).
Brodsky (1976) even claimed that harassment may be an inherent characteristic and a
basic mechanism within all human interaction, and, therefore, offers a pessimistic view
on the possibility of eliminating harassment in organizations. A similar view is presented
by Thylefors (1987), who regarded bullying as a scapegoating process found in most
organizations. A scapegoat may serve as a receptacle for projections of unacceptable
impulses, conflicts, and blame (Eagle & Newton, 1981). The displacement of aggression
on the scapegoat may relieve tension and conflict in the work group. A scapegoat may,
390 S. Einarsen
in fact, fulfill a social role necessary in organizations and work groups (Gemmill, 1989).
Moxnes (1993) argues that the scapegoat is an “archetype” role that is crucial to the
functioning of all organizations. However, both external persons, external groups, and
even objects may fulfill the role of an organizational scapegoat. To the degree that a sole
person or a few persons inside the organization takes on or fulfills this role over a longer
period of time, and to the extent that this role fulfillment is accompanied by negative
acts and sanctions, it may be perceived as bullying by the victim.
Both Leymann (1992) and Einarsen et al. (1994) have argued that long-term unresolved
interpersonal conflicts may escalate into harassment if proper interventions and conflict
management strategies are not implemented. Thus, harassment may in itself be an inherent
characteristic of human interaction in organizations or it may be a potential outcome of
some of the many conflicts that inevitably exist in organizations and work groups.
Social and Organizational Work Environment and Work Conditions
A third model of bullying and harassment at work has received most public attention in
Scandinavia, emphasizing the importance of organizational factors, such as a negative
social environment and a bad job content. This situational view of the problem describes
bullying and harassment episodes as primarily caused by work organization and social
environment problems within the organization. This view has been strongly supported
by Leymann (1992, 1996) who stresses that personality factors are irrelevant to the study
of bullying, and that work conditions are the primary cause of such victimization. According
to Leymann, coincidence and unlucky circumstances define who becomes the target of
work harassment.
The work environment hypothesis has been explored in a couple of studies. In a study
among 2,215 Norwegian members of 6 labor unions, Einarsen, Raknes, and Matthiesen
(1994) showed that the occurrence of bullying and harassment correlated significantly
with several aspects of the organizational and social work environment. Yet, statistical
analyses showed that leadership, role conflict, and work control were the factors that
were most strongly related to the occurrence of bullying at work. Work environments
where bullying exist had employees who reported an elevated level of role conflict and
who were dissatisfied with their social climate, their superior’s leadership behavior, and
the possibility of self monitoring one’s work. A high degree of ambiguity or incompatible
demands and expectations around roles, tasks, and responsibilities may have created a
high degree of frustration and conflicts within the work group, especially in connection
to rights, obligations, privileges, and positions.
The study reported above also showed that not only the victims suffered from an ill-
conditioned work environment, observers of bullying also reported an elevated level of
role conflict as well as dissatisfaction with the social climate at work, the leaders of
the organization, and the possibilities of self-monitoring one’s work. Work conditions
accounted for 10% of the variance in bullying, ranging from 7–24% in the different
organizational settings investigated (Einarsen, Raknes, & Matthiesen, 1994).
Comparable results were found in a Finnish survey of 949 municipal employees (Vartia,
1996). An authoritarian way of settling differences in opinions, a low influence in matters
concerning oneself, poor information flow, and lack of mutual discussions about tasks
and goals proved to be important characteristics of a work setting where bullying prospers.
Also, a study of German victims showed that organizational factors, such as job content
and social environment, may be potential causes of harassment at work (Zapf, Knorz, &
Kulla, 1996). The German victims of bullying reported having little control over their
own time and high cooperation requirements. A situation where people are forced to
391Harassment at Work
work closely together offers more possibilities for unresolved conflicts. As a consequence
of restricted control over their own time, unresolved conflicts may escalate into harassment,
particularly if the work group climate is characterized by “humor going sour” (Brodsky,
1976). Conflict management is time consuming. As discussed above, unresolved conflicts
may be a major risk factor of harassment.
In a Finnish study, Appelberg et al. (1991) found a relationship between work-related
factors (hectic and monotonous work) and the experience of interpersonal conflicts and
problems at work. Significant relationships between harassment/bullying and both work-
overload and monotonous and low challenging work were also found in the study of labor
union members reported by Einarsen et al. (1994). However, the latter study indicated that
it is not necessarily hectic and monotonous work in itself that causes serious interpersonal
conflicts at work. Rather, the lack of possibilities to monitor and control one’s own work,
the lack of clear and unconflicting goals, as well as the lack of constructive leadership
within this situation, may be even more important in the case of bullying at work.
The tension, stress, and frustration caused by a job situation characterized by high role
conflict, lack of self monitoring possibilities, and poor performing supervisors, may in
itself be perceived as harassment when attributed to hostile intentions (Brodsky, 1976).
Role-conflict and lack of work control may also be related to bullying and harassment
through its creation of elevated tension, stress, and frustration in the work group. This
situation may then act as a precursor of conflict and poor inter-worker relationships. The
experience of great work strain is generally found to have a negative impact on a person’s
relationships with colleagues (French & Caplan, 1972; Marcelissen, Winnubst, Buunk, &
deWolff, 1988).
Theoretically, at least two lines of arguments may account for the relationships between
work environment and bullying found in the studies presented above. According to the
revised frustration-aggression hypothesis (Berkowitz, 1989), a high-stress work situation
may lead to aggressive behavior through the production of negative affect. This implies
that harassment and bullying may flourish in ill-conditioned work environments, most
probably through environmental effects on aggressive behavior. Alternatively, a social-
interaction approach to aggression (Felson, 1992; Felson & Tedeschi, 1993) would argue
that stressful events will indirectly affect aggression through its effect on the victim’s
behavior. Distressed persons may violate expectations, annoy others, perform less compe-
tently, and even violate social norms describing polite and friendly interactions (Felson,
1992), and hence elicit aggressive behavior in others.
In general, the results reported so far suggest that it is unlikely that bullying and
harassment may be explained exclusively in terms of work conditions and thus hardly justify
Leymann’s position (Leymann, 1992) that psychosocial work environment conditions is
the sole cause of bullying and harassment at work. Yet, other organizational variables
may still be important. A wide range of organizational variables and group variables have
been found to be related to interpersonal conflicts at work, be it structural or cultural
aspects (van de Vliert, 1984). Some of these may influence the rise of conflicts, others
may influence the form, duration, and/or seriousness. For example, if group norms are
permissive regarding aggressiveness in social interaction, bullying and harassment may
be more likely to occur. Organizational and situational variables may also be interacting
with personal variables. Some people may be predisposed to performing harassing behav-
iors. It may also be the case that some people are more vulnerable and more easily
victimized than others. Bullying and harassment may also be more common in certain
organizational settings as well as in some social situations (Pryor, LaVite, & Stoller,
1993). Yet, actual harassment may only occur when facilitating personal variables and
392 S. Einarsen
organizational variables are present in combination. Therefore, more research is needed
on the impact of organizational variables on the occurrence of bullying at work.
DYNAMIC VIEW
By and large, the cross-sectional designs of most studies in this field and the extensive
use of survey methods, constitutes a static approach to the study of bullying at work.
However, some authors have treated bullying in a more dynamic way, describing harass-
ment as an escalating process (Bjo
¨rkqvist, 1992; Kile, 1990b; Leymann, 1988, 1992; Thyle-
fors, 1987). Based on empirical data from university employees, Bjo
¨rkqvist (1992) identi-
fied three phases in a typical harassment case. The first phase was characterized by
conducts that were difficult to pinpoint, by being very indirect and discrete. In the second
phase, more direct aggressive acts appeared. The victims were isolated, humiliated in
public by being the laughing-stock of the department, etc. In the third phase, both physical
and psychological means of violence were used. Victims of long lasting harassment are
also attacked more frequently than victims with a shorter history as victims. In early
phases of the conflict, the victims seems to be attacked only now and then. As the conflict
escalates, the frequency of the attacks comes more frequent and more harsh, and after some
time, the victims are attacked on a weekly or even daily basis (Einarsen & Skogstad, 1996).
Based on interviews with a large number of Swedish victims, Leymann (1990, 1992,
1996) claims that a typical case follows a very predictable pattern, the triggering situation
most often being a work-related conflict. Yet, in this escalating conflict, the person who
acquires a disadvantaged position in the following struggle starts to be the subject of
stigmatizing actions by colleagues or shop-floor management. The next phase is character-
ized by a situation where the disadvantaged persons are subjected to repeated and enduring
aggressive acts in a situation where victims cannot defend themselves or escape. As seen
above, the aggressive acts may be quite a number of different activities used with the aim
of humiliating, intimidating, frightening, or punishing the victim. The stigmatizing effects
of these activities and their escalating frequency and intensity make victims constantly
less able to cope with his or her daily tasks and the cooperation requirements of the job,
thus becoming continually more vulnerable and “a deserving target.” When management
steps in, the case becomes officially “a case.” Due to the previous stigmatization of the
victim, it is very easy to misjudge the situation and blame the victim for his or her
misfortune. Very often, management, union representatives, or the personnel administra-
tion representatives tend to accept the prejudices produced during previous phases, thus
blaming the victim. According the Leymann (1996), the most common strategies of conflict-
management in this phases is, therefore, to try to get rid of the cause of the trouble, the
victim. This may be due to the fact discovered by many Scandinavian researchers in this
field, that third-parties or managers seldom acknowledge the harm done to the victim as
in fact bullying and harassment, but rather a no more than fair treatment of a difficult
and neurotic person (Einarsen, et al., 1994; Leymann, 1990, 1992; Thylefors, 1987).
The fundamental attribution error (Jones, 1990) most certainly contributes to the
creation of personal characteristic explanations among colleagues and management. Ex-
pulsion of the victim is, therefore, the most common solution to the problem, be it long-
term sick-leave, no work provided (but still employed), relocation to degrading tasks, or
plain notice (Leymann, 1990). Due to Scandinavian legislation, the latter is, however,
seldom applicable. At this stage, many victims are seriously ill as described above and
are often sent to psychiatric treatment. Many victims may be incorrectly diagnosed with
paranoia, manic depression, or character disturbance (Leymann, 1996).
393Harassment at Work
All of these acts of expulsion give rise to further stigmatization of the victim; and new
employment may be difficult to find, especially in smaller communities. Interviews with
Norwegian victims seem to support the process described by Leymann in the case of
Swedish victims (Einarsen, Raknes, Matthiesen, & Hellesøy, 1994).
Investigating individual coping strategies of a group of German victims receiving treat-
ment in a six-week rehabilitation center and who had left their firm, Niedl (1995, 1996)
discovered that the victims did not use a simple “fight or flight,” but showed a more
complex sequence of reactions and coping strategies. Most victims started with a rather
constructive problem-solving strategy, including talking to their superior or informing
management. Some even increased their loyalty and efforts and started to work harder.
As this did not seem to help, they tried to neglect the situation and started waiting for
something to happen. As the situation deteriorated, the victims started to reduce their
commitment and finally decided to leave the company.
FUTURE DEVELOPMENTS NEEDED IN THE FIELD
A Theoretical Framework
Despite the proliferation of recent research in Northern Europe, the field is still in its
infancy. First of all, there is a considerable lack of both intervention studies as well as
research testing comprehensive conceptual-based models. Although some prevention and
intervention programs have been described (Adams, 1992; Einarsen et al., 1994; Kaye,
1994; Leymann, 1990, 1991, 1992; Resch & Schubinski, 1996), none have been based on
any testable model of bullying at work. The lack of sound conceptual and theoretical
models also makes the evaluation of intervention and training programs difficult.
A framework for future research and theory development in the field of bullying and
harassment at work is proposed in Figure 1. This framework identifies the main classes
of variables to be included in comprehensive theoretical models of bullying. Comparable
frameworks have been proposed by Lengnick-Hall (1995) and Terpstra and Baker (1991)
in relation to research on sexual harassment at work. Research efforts so far have only
to a limited degree included these issues in a systematic manner.
First, the causal factors and the antecedents underlying the occurrence of harassment
at work have so far only been investigated to a limited degree. Second, the various
behaviors used in bullying that may be exhibited by different offenders in disparate types
of organizational settings must be further addressed, as must the antecedents of various
kinds of harassive behaviors. A study by Zapf, Knorz, and Kulla (1996) suggested that
different organizational factors are related to the experience of different kinds of bullying
behaviors. Third, the victim’s perceptions and experience of exposure to different forms
of harassing behavior must be addressed, as must the immediate reactions of the victims
to this treatment. And finally, the individual, social, and work-related outcomes of exposure
to harassment must be scrutinized.
The latter part of the model has clearly an individual, subjective, and most of all, a
reactive focus. Violence and vulnerability may be seen as two sides of the same coin
(Painter, 1991). Any attempt to define and measure violence, aggression, and harassment
must thus take into account the victim’s perception of the seriousness of this incident
(Painter, 1991). Harassment at work may to a certain degree be a subjectively experienced
relationship in which the meaning assigned to an incident will differ, depending on both
the persons and the circumstances involved (Brodsky, 1976; Niedl, 1995; Painter 1991;
394 S. Einarsen
FIGURE 1. A Theoretical Framework for the Study of Bullying and Harassment at Work.
395Harassment at Work
Lengnick-Hall, 1995). Employees are probably not equally vulnerable or resilient to
work harassment.
Even if personality traits of the victims may be irrelevant in eliciting harassing behavior
in others, as proposed by Leymann (1990, 1996), personality and personal factors as well
as the social circumstances of the victim, most certainly should be included in a study of
victims’ vulnerability and victims’ perceptions. Studies of sexual harassment have shown
that an incident that is considered mildly offensive by one individual might be seen as
serious enough to warrant a formal complaint by others (Tersptra & Baker, 1991).
Brodsky (1976) claimed that although most of the victims in his study suffered from
either neuroses or personality disorders, for harassment to be established, the harassment
elements must occur within a culture that permits or rewards this kind of (mis)behavior.
Attention to such organizational response patterns and other contextual issues are yet
lacking [see also Fitzgerald & Shullman (1993) in the case of sexual harassment]. For
example, how do supervisors and colleagues react to episodes of harassment at work?
What actions do legal and human resource staff recommend managers and/or victims to
take? Such issues are clearly important to consider in studies of bullying at work, but has
so far been ignored.
FUTURE RESEARCH
Although a controversial issue in the field, future research has to address the issue of
personal factors in both victim and offenders as antecedents of harassment. Although
research on personality and conflict management has revealed some mixed results (Utley,
Richardson, & Pilkington, 1989), personality is seen as the prominent factor in a person’s
capability of operating in his or her social environment (Appelberg et al., 1991). Children
high on proactive aggression have, for instance, been shown to use power strategies to
dominate others and engage in bullying behavior, while children high on reactive aggres-
sion show a strong tendency to counteract when provocated and to overreact against
accidental irritations and annoyances. Children high on reactive aggression have a stronger
tendency than other children to attribute negative intentions and hostility to another
person’s behavior (Dodge & Coie, 1987). It should be tested whether these or other
personality differences also exist between adults and if so, what influence they may have
on bullying within organizations, alone or in interaction with work environment factors.
A person who is willing to use conflict responses that involve a lack of concern for the
needs of the other person and insisting on getting one’s own way, may in some situations
intentionally or unintentionally cause harm to another person. Thus, a person who employs
coercive power strategies, in general, would also be more likely to employ aggressive
behavior in interpersonal conflicts [see (Hammock & Rickardson, 1992)]. Such a “person
in situation” perspective has been proposed by Pryor, LaVite, and Stoller (1993) in the
case of sexual harassment. It may also be a relevant perspective when studying how
conflicts may escalate into bullying and work harassment.
Harassment as exhibited by the offenders, potential personality factors relating to
harassing behavior, and the demographic characteristics of the perpetrators are issues
that must be further addressed in order to gain insight into the phenomenon of bullying
in organizations. In studies published to date, offenders and their behavior are measured
mainly through the perceptions of the victims. Characteristics of the bullies are, therefore,
only investigated in terms of demographic data. Obviously, one can only go so far in
understanding the psychological characteristics of bullies from the victims’ descriptions
(Pryor et al., 1993). To address bullying as exhibited by offenders through self-report
396 S. Einarsen
measures also has some obvious flaws. People tend to underestimate their own aggressive-
ness (Bjo
¨rkqvist, O
¨sterman, & Hjelt-Ba
¨ck, 1994). Self-reports of potential bullies would
most probably be biased by defensive attributions, social desirability, etc. (Ashforth, 1994).
Peer nomination techniques, as used in research on bullying among children (Olweus,
1978), may be a preferable method for addressing the issues of the actual behaviors
exhibited by bullies (see Bjo
¨rkqvist, O
¨sterman, & Hjelt-Ba
¨ck, 1994; Frese & Zapf, 1988).
Yet, it is still important to investigate how the bullies themselves perceive and evaluate
their own behaviors and their interaction with others. Situations where someone offends,
provokes, or otherwise angers another person may be perceived and interpreted differently
by the two participants (Baumeister, Stillwell, & Wotmann, 1990). Thus, we must also
ask: to what extent is the bully aware of his or her behavior? How does the bully interpret
and justify this behavior?
Future research with the aim of studying how bullying is perceived by victims should
at least be of two kinds. First, further surveys of incidence and prevalence based on
self-report measurements should be conducted within a wide range of organizations,
investigating further the risk groups and risk organizations of harassment. Second, research
on the perceptions and attributions concerning bullying should be conducted concurrently
with such prevalence studies. These latter studies should try to answer the question: what
kinds of behaviors and interactions are perceived as bullying by what kinds of individuals
in what kinds of social settings?
The framework presented above acknowledges that bullying and harassment may have
both individual and organizational consequences. Therefore, both individual and organiza-
tional outcomes need to be further addressed in future studies, especially the issue of a
victim’s immediate reactions to the perceived offense. How do victims of harassment at
work react behaviorally and emotionally to instances of harassment and how effective
are different reactions in curtailing and reducing negative outcomes associated with such
experiences? The study by Niedl (1995) on patients undergoing a rehabilitation program
after exposure to bullying at work showed that the victims saw their coping process as a
complex sequence of reactions starting with constructive forms of coping, such as active
problem-solving or the passive hope for problem solving to occur, ending in destructive
modes such as reducing ones motivation and finally leaving the organization. The latter
study indicates the need for studies that addresses both initial and later reactions on part
of the victims.
One might also expect the effectiveness of various emotional and behavioral reactions
to vary with the seriousness and the specific form of harassment, characteristics of the
perpetrator, and the organizational setting. Further, personality characteristics, such as
self-esteem, locus of control, neuroticism, extroversion, and introversion, may both influ-
ence the reactions of the victims and the effectiveness of a particular coping behavior
(Rodin & Salovey, 1989). Thus, the following question needs to be addressed: what kinds
of victims react in which manner to which type of behaviors conducted by which group
of perpetrators with what kind of effect? Studies investigating how different subjects claim
they would react to different kinds of harassment and studies investigating victims report
from actual cases of harassment must be conducted as a first documentation.
If research is to contribute to the prevention and constructive management of bullying
and harassment in organizations, as well as the healing of individual and organizational
wounds resulting from such interaction, different kinds of information must be provided
(Hernes, 1979). The research questions addressed may be formulated as follows: who
does what to whom, why, where, when, for how long, and with what consequences? The
thorough documentation of the frequencies, risks groups, behaviors involved, and its
consequences has just started. However, research on harassment and bullying must also
go beyond problem documentation. The implementation of effective interventions may
397Harassment at Work
only be accomplished through the development of theoretical and empirically sound
models of the causes and effects involved. Thus, comprehensive models with specific
relations between multiple variables must be created and tested.
Research conducted by Olweus (1987, 1993, 1994) on bullying among children has
revealed personality traits among victims and bullies to be important causes of victimiza-
tion in schools. However, the intervention program developed by Olweus (1991) has a
strong focus on the school and the classroom as social systems, and involves all children,
teachers, and parents of each particular school. Not all possible causes of bullying at work
may be easily altered. Therefore, information must also be provided regarding possible
interventions and measures, and the cost-benefit of different strategies (Hernes, 1979).
In addition to causal theories, we need to develop theories of action. Empirical data on
the effectiveness of different measures must be provided. At last we need to address the
issue of possible side effects of interventions that may work contrary to our goal or some
other important parallel objective. At least as far as research is concerned, we also do need
to know to what degree the process of measuring subjects may change their perceptions due
to increased sensitization to bullying and harassment issues.
Harassment as a Subjective versus an Objective Phenomenon
The model and framework presented above (Figure 1), emphasizes a need to distinguish
between bullying as exhibited by the offender and bullying as perceived by the victim.
Except from some results on work environment perceptions made by observers of harass-
ment at work (Einarsen, Raknes, & Matthiesen, 1994; Vartia, 1996), studies conducted
so far focus mainly on victims’ self report of exposure to victimization. While Wilson
(1991) includes both perceived and real (objective) malicious treatment in his concept
of work abuse, Brodsky (1976) makes a distinction between subjective and objective
harassment. “Subjective harassment” refers to the awareness of harassment by the victim
and “objective harassment” to a situation where actual external evidence of harassment
is found. As evidence of objective harassment, statements from coworkers, employers or
independent observers may be used. In real life situations, many combinations of subjective
and objective harassment may be possible. In a study among children aged 10–13, Olweus
(1987) investigated whether self-report yielded an exaggerated picture of the frequency
of bullying problems by relating the self-reports of some 2,000 pupils with the reports of
their teachers. The agreement between teacher ratings and children’s self-reports was
striking, indicating that the perceptions of observers of bullying correspond closely to
victims’ self-report.
Frese and Zapf (1988) argued for more use of objective measurements of work-related
stress. An objective stressor is defined as not being influenced by an individual’s cognitive
and emotional processing, while a subjective stressor is highly influenced by individual
cognitions and affect. However, to have a psychological effect on the individual, a poten-
tially harassing behavior has to be perceived and evaluated. To produce a stress reaction,
with potential short- or long-term reactions, a certain situation must be appraised as
something that taxes the capacity of the person, or otherwise be appraised as threatening
or aversive (Lazarus & Folkeman, 1986). It may not necessarily be the nature of the
harassing conduct in itself that makes the victim suffer. The frequency of the acts, situation
factors relating to power differences or inescapable interactions, or the victim’s attributions
about the offender’s intentions may cause as much anxiety, misery and suffering as does
the actual conduct involved (Einarsen et al., 1994; Niedl, 1995).
According to most definitions of bullying (Bjo
¨rkqvist, O
¨sterman, & Hjelt-Ba
¨ck, 1994;
Niedl, 1995; Olweus, 1991; O’Moore & Hillery, 1989), it is important to differentiate
between negative behaviors that are tolerated and behaviors that are not tolerated, and
398 S. Einarsen
between situations that can be handled and situations in which the victims find it difficult
to defend themselves. The measurement of specific actions and behaviors as exhibited
by an offender may not in itself differentiate between such situations. Therefore, attempts
to define and measure violence, aggression, and harassment must incorporate the appraisal
of the victim about the seriousness of this incident (Painter, 1991). Niedl (1995) even
claimed that the conceptual core of the term bullying at work rests on the subjective
perception made by the victim that these repeated acts are hostile, humiliating, or intim-
idating and that they are directed at oneself. Following Niedl, subjective harassment is
important not only as a perception of a very real pain suffered by the target. It is also
an expression of how the victim perceives his or her interaction with significant others in
the workplace. As such, the subjective measurement of exposure to bullying may be the
only “objective” measure of bullying at work.
Yet, we need more information on both subjective and objective harassment at work.
The above proposed framework requires us to clarify our use of the construct before
conducting further substantive research. In the case of sexual harassment, Lengnich-Hall
(1995) has proposed that objective harassment will be a deficient measure for explaining
the variance in victims’ individual responses as well as organizational responses, while
subjective harassment will be deficient if the aim is to predict legal outcomes. Of course,
in real-life conflict management objective fact finding must occur. Objective fact-finding
may reveal that the alleged victim is not treated differently than others or even more
preferentially than others. Treating bullying as a pure subjective phenomenon meaning
different things to different people may make it difficult to develop practical interventions
for controlling or eradicating the problem. Thus, both kinds of phenomenon must be
addressed and taken into account, both in research and in organizations conflict manage-
ment strategies.
CONCLUSIONS
The growing research field of sexual harassment (Tersptra & Baker, 1991), as well as
research in the field of bully/victim problems in schools (Olweus, 1994), pinpoint the
importance of identifying bullying and harassment at work for explicit research and
scrutiny. Phenomena that are not acknowledged are rarely studied (Wood, 1993). At
present, bullying and workplace harassment is to a great extent a “taboo,” and rarely
studied, at least outside of Scandinavia (Bjo
¨rkqvist et al., 1994; Niedl, 1995). Before the
late 1960s and early 1970s, this was also the case of bullying among children, as well as
the sexual harassment of working women. However, extensive research and documentation
in these areas during the last decades, have given them recognition and attention as
important social problems.
The challenges of future research in bullying and harassment are many. First, we need
to develop designs where the problems of common method variance are avoided. Second,
theoretical models and theoretically-driven designs must be developed. Third, a strong
focus on construct validity is needed, especially in the beginning of this effort. Moreover,
future research should try to avoid convenience samples for survey research and the use
of college students samples for experimental research. Since actual workplace environ-
ments must be the focal point of these studies, methodological developments must also
direct some attention to the potential reactivity of the methods and measurements used.
399Harassment at Work
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... ej. Suecia, Noruega, Dinamarca) (Einarsen, 2000). Este interés se fue trasladando a los países centroeuropeos durante los años noventa y a finales de esa década a los países más meridionales del viejo continente como España. ...
... Así por ejemplo, en España, el acoso laboral ha sido definido desde el Instituto Nacional de Seguridad e Higiene en el Trabajo (INSHT) como una situación en la que una persona ejerce una violencia psicológica extrema, de forma sistemática y recurrente (como media una vez por semana) y durante un tiempo prolongado (como media unos seis meses) sobre otra persona o personas en el lugar de trabajo con la finalidad de destruir las redes de comunicación de la víctima o víctimas, destruir su reputación, perturbar el ejercicio de sus labores y lograr que finalmente esa persona o personas acaben abandonando su lugar de trabajo (Martín-Daza et al., 1998). Aunque resulta evidente que el estudio del mobbing necesita de un mayor desarrollo (Einarsen, 2000;Moreno-Jiménez y Rodríguez-Muñoz, 2006), las investigaciones desarrolladas hasta la fecha se han focalizado en intentar conocer la etiología del acoso psicológico laboral y han procurado precisar las distintas variables que intervienen en su dinámica, centrándose los principales estudios en tres líneas de investigación: 1) las características del acosador y la víctima; 2) las características inherentes a las relaciones interpersonales dentro de las organizaciones de trabajo; y 3) los riesgos psicosociales existentes en el entorno laboral. En cuanto a las líneas de investigación desarrolladas se puede decir que los datos alcanzados han resultado muy heterogéneos debido a las dificultades en la definición conceptual del constructo mobbing, los diferentes instrumentos de medida utilizados (p. ...
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Chapter
Esta publicación aborda algunos de los retos y las oportunidades que actualmente enfrenta la gestión del talento humano en las organizaciones. Los autores han considerado los elementos teóricos, conceptuales, metodológicos y legales que permiten la evaluación, identificación e intervención de los factores de riesgo psicosocial en el trabajo. Los factores psicosociales protectores o de riesgo tienen una incidencia significativa a nivel organizacional, grupal e individual sobre los niveles de productividad, absentismo, rotación de personal, clima laboral, motivación laboral y bienestar, entre otros. Por ello, se concibe como una contribución para el campo de la psicología organizacional y áreas afines. Cada uno de los capítulos que se aborda en esta obra aporta, desde diferentes perspectivas y variables inmersas en el riesgo psicosocial, herramientas que permiten evaluarlo, diagnosticarlo y algunas propuestas para realizar una intervención. En este sentido, se hace énfasis en que la aplicación de estas propuestas se debe enmarcar en la realidad de la organización y en su cultura organizacional.
... Psiko-sosyal yapıya sahip örgütlerde farklı şekillerde ortaya çıkan ve ciddi bir maliyet unsuru oluşturan olumsuz davranışları bilim insanları uzun süredir araştırılmaktadır. Hershcovis'in (2011) işaret ettiği gibi, işyeri baltalama kavramsal olarak diğer işyeri kabalığı (Andersson ve Pearson, 1999), işyeri zorbalığı (Einarsen, 2000;Rayner, 1997), mobbing (Leymann, 1996) ve tacizci yönetim (Tepper, 2000) kavramlarından farklı olmakla beraber iş yerindeki şiddetin, niyetin ve davranışların odak noktasını ifade etmektedir. ...
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ÖZET Amaç-Bu çalışmanın amacı sosyal baltalama, iş stresi, profesyonel etik standartlar ve kategorik değişkenlerden olan cinsiyet değişkenin arasındaki ilişkileri ortaya koymaktır. Yöntem-Araştırmada nicel araştırma yöntemlerinden yapısal eşitlik modellemesi kullanılmıştır. Araştırmanın verileri Türkiye'nin doğusunda yer alan bir devlet üniversitesinde halen görev yapmakta olan 229 akademik personelden online anket yöntemiyle elde edilmiştir. Elde edilen veriler orijinal SPSS 22.0, SPSS uzantısı olan Process Macro ve AMOS 25.0 paket programları yardımı ile analiz edilmiştir. Bulgular-Araştırma sonucunda sosyal baltalama ile iş stresi arasında pozitif ve anlamlı bir ilişki bulunmuştur. Sosyal baltalama ile profesyonel etik standartlar arasında negatif ve anlamlı, profesyonel etik standartları ile iş stresi arasında pozitif ve anlamlı bir ilişki olduğu tespit edilmiştir. Bunun yanı sıra sosyal baltalama ile iş stresi arasındaki ilişkide profesyonel etik standartların kısmı aracılık rolü bulunduğu sonucuna varılmıştır. Ayrıca kategorik değişken olan cinsiyet değişkeninin, sosyal baltalama ile profesyonel etik standartlar aracılığıyla iş stresi üzerindeki aracılık etkisinde düzenleyici bir rol üstlendiği tespit edilmiştir. Tartışma-Çalışmada sosyal baltalamanın neden olacağı olumsuz sonuçlara dikkat çekilmiştir. Örgütlerde sosyal baltalamanın engellenmesi için gerekli önemler alındığı taktirde ortaya çıkması muhtemel problemlerin önlenmesi sağlanabilir. Alan yazında sosyal baltalama, iş stresi ve profesyonel etik standartlar konularını birlikte ele alan başka bir çalışma ulaşılamadığından alana ciddi bir katkı sunması beklenmektedir. ABSTRACT Purpose-The aim of this study is to reveal the relationships between social undermining, job stress, professional ethical standards and gender, which is one of the categorical variables. Design/methodology/approach-Structural equation modeling, one of the quantitative research methods, was used in the research. The data of the research were obtained from 229 academic staff who are still working at a state university located in the east of Turkey by online survey method. The obtained data were analyzed with the help of the original SPSS 22.0, SPSS extension Process Macro and AMOS 25.0 package programs. Findings-As a result of the research, a positive and significant relationship was found between social undermining and job stress. It has been determined that there is a negative and significant relationship between social undermining and professional ethical standards, and a positive and significant relationship between professional ethical standards and job stress. In addition, it was concluded that professional ethical standards have a partial mediating role in the relationship between social undermining and job stress. In addition, it was determined that the categorical variable, gender, played a moderator role in the mediating effect of social undermining and professional ethical standards on job stress. Discussion-In the study, attention was drawn to the negative consequences of social undermining. If necessary measures are taken to prevent social undermining in organizations, possible problems can be prevented. Since there is no other study in the literature that deals with social undermining, work stress and professional ethical standards together, it is expected to make a serious contribution to the field.
... Mobbing ifadesi tekrarlanan saldırgan ve hatta şiddet içeren davranışların belirli bir süre boyunca bir bireye yönelik olduğu durumlarda yaygın olarak kullanılmaktadır. Mobbing terimi, bir işçinin, amirinin veya yöneticinin sistematik olarak ve tekrar tekrar kötü davranışlara maruz kaldığı ve astları, amirleri veya iş arkadaşları tarafından mağdur edildiği tüm durumları tanımlamak için yaygın olarak kullanılmaktadır (5). Mobbing kavramı ilk defa, hayvan davranışlarını inceleyen Avusturyalı bilim adamı K. Lorenz tarafından 1960'lı yıllarda kullanılmıştır. ...
Article
This research was conducted to determine the relationship between the level of anxiety of nursing students in the clinical practice environment and their exposure to mobbing. The research was carried out as a descriptive study with 406 nursing department students of Health Sciences Faculty and Health School of a state university in the Southeastern region of Turkey between November 2019 and January 2020. Research data were collected face to face with personal information form, mobbing scale and state anxiety inventory. SPSS 18.0 package program was used in the analysis of the data. In the analysis of the data, descriptive statistics number, frequency, mean and standard deviation were used. Mann Whitney U and Kruskal-Wallis tests were used for analyzes between groups. The relationship between the mean scores of the scales was determined by Spearman correlation analysis. The average age of the students is 20.86+1.55. It was found that 51.2% of the students were exposed to mobbing in the clinic and 33.7% of them were exposed to mobbing by nurses. The students' state anxiety scale mean score was 45.16±10.34 and the mobbing exposure scale mean score was 0.62±0.74. While there was a moderate positive correlation between the students' mobbing scale and the sub-dimensions of isolation from work, assault on professional status, attack on personality, and direct negative behavior, a low level of positive correlation was found between the mobbing scale and state anxiety scale (p). <0.05). It was found that more than half of the nursing students practicing in the clinic were exposed to mobbing in the clinic and the state anxiety levels of the students who were exposed to mobbing were found to be high in the clinic. In line with these results, it is recommended to ensure and maintain school-hospital cooperation, to maintain effective communication with nurses working in the clinic, and to support nurses in order to prevent nursing students from being exposed to mobbing during clinical practice.
Chapter
Bullying is one of the most common problems in educational setups. Research in the areas of bullying and victimization has been ongoing for the last 40 years. During the school years, it is one of the most violent acts manifested among peers. However, the impact of such a harsh act can be long-standing in case of children as some of these experiences cause long-term psychological distress. Traumas, phobias, fear, and anxiety are commonly manifested mental health conditions for anyone who has experienced bullying. Additionally, a respectable workplace is what every working professional aspires to be a part of. Other than adding value to the job profile leading to job satisfaction, it is also the most sought-after indicator by a professional while joining an organization. Workplace bullying has become one of the highly researched topics across the globe. It has been linked with poor professional productivity and financial crisis for someone who feels pressured to call it quits. This chapter aims to compile research conducted over the years and highlights the aspects, causes, and impact of victimization at school and workplace across the globe.
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Bullying is a pervasive problem faced by immigrants that negatively impacts their health and well-being. Understanding the factors that contribute to bullying and the prevalence of bullying victimisation may help to develop strategies to prevent bullying. Using a mixed-method approach, this study explored the perceptions and prevalence of bullying of South Asian immigrants living in Australia. Five focus group discussions (FGDs) were conducted to explore bullying experiences and to inform an online survey. The online survey included the California Bullying Victimisation Scale-Retrospective (CBVS-R) to measure prevalence, types, and places of bullying victimisation. Data collected from FGDs were thematically analysed while survey data were examined to identify factors associated with bullying. The main contributing factors reported by participants during FGDs were ethnic attire (clothing), religion, accent, workplace achievement, skin colour, and body shape. The online survey collected responses from 313 participants that included females (44%) and males (56%) with a mean age of 41.0 (SD ± 10.3) years. Almost 31% of participants surveyed experienced multiple bullying incidents per month with no differences observed between gender (32% in males, 31% in females). Males were mostly bullied (63%) in their workplaces while females were mostly bullied (56%) at bus or train stations. Country of birth, employment status, educational qualification, and English proficiency significantly associated with bullying experience (p < 0.001). These findings show that bullying affects male and female immigrants in different forms and settings; therefore, a large national assessment is needed to evaluate the magnitude of bullying and its consequences on immigrant health and well-being.
Article
This paper reports on a survey into workplace bullying carried out at Staffordshire University in 1994. The 1137 respondents were part time students at the University. Approximately half the sample reported they had been bullied during their working lives. Apart from the gender of the bully, there were no significant differences in the bullying experience between men and women in the parameters examined in this paper. Many people reported being bullied in groups, which is contrary to the current anecdotal evidence. Those who had not been bullied anticipated a more assertive reaction to the situation than those who had been bullied actually took. Data are presented and the findings are discussed, and future research potential identified. © 1997 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.