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Organizational, team related and job related risk factors for bullying, violence and sexual harassment in the workplace: A qualitative study

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Most research in the realm of risk factors of negative acts at work—such as bullying, violence and sexual harassment—is based on the experiences of victims. In this qualitative research, a different approach was chosen by performing in-depth interviews of organizational insiders with experience in negative acts at work. The research focus was to detect job, team and organizational risk factors which may lead to victimization or perpetration and to furthermore understand their role in the process of negative acts. Based on a list of possible risk factors detected in previous research, 126 semi- structured interviews were performed. On the level of the job, various aspects of work content, work conditions, work relations and work environment appear to cause or sustain negative acts. On the team and organizational level, lack of balance concerning (1) organizational goals versus employees' well-being, (2) social atmosphere, or (3) hierarchy may cause and sustain negative acts. Balance regarding each of these aspects appears to prevent as well as terminate negative acts. The results furthermore reveal four processes in which the risk factors may encourage negative acts at work. Firstly, job, team and organizational factors may elicit frustrations or personal strain and may moderate the employee's coping with this situation. Secondly, job, team and organizational factors may encourage conflicts and may influence the employee's conflict management style. Thirdly, characteristics of the team and the organization (e.g., a culture of gossip) may directly encourage or enable negative acts. Finally, negative acts as such can influence and change job, team and organizational factors. This, in turn, can promote new frustrations or strains, causing additional bullying, sexual harassment and violence at work.
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ORGANIZATIONAL, TEAM RELATED AND JOB RELATED RISK
FACTORS FOR BULLYING, VIOLENCE AND SEXUAL
HARASSMENT IN THE WORKPLACE: A QUALITATIVE STUDY
1
.
Elfi Baillien
Inge Neyens
Hans De Witte
ABSTRACT
Most research in the realm of risk factors of negative acts at work—such as bullying,
violence and sexual harassment—is based on the experiences of victims. In this
qualitative research, a different approach was chosen by performing in-depth interviews
of organizational insiders with experience in negative acts at work. The research focus
was to detect job, team and organizational risk factors which may lead to victimization
or perpetration and to furthermore understand their role in the process of negative acts.
Based on a list of possible risk factors detected in previous research, 126 semi-
structured interviews were performed. On the level of the job, various aspects of work
content, work conditions, work relations and work environment appear to cause or
sustain negative acts. On the team and organizational level, lack of balance concerning
(1) organizational goals versus employees’ well-being, (2) social atmosphere, or (3)
hierarchy may cause and sustain negative acts. Balance regarding each of these aspects
appears to prevent as well as terminate negative acts. The results furthermore reveal
four processes in which the risk factors may encourage negative acts at work. Firstly,
job, team and organizational factors may elicit frustrations or personal strain and may
moderate the employee’s coping with this situation. Secondly, job, team and
organizational factors may encourage conflicts and may influence the employee’s
conflict management style. Thirdly, characteristics of the team and the organization
(e.g., a culture of gossip) may directly encourage or enable negative acts. Finally,
negative acts as such can influence and change job, team and organizational factors.
This, in turn, can promote new frustrations or strains, causing additional bullying,
sexual harassment and violence at work.
Keywords: Bullying, mobbing, violence, sexual harassment, negative acts
INTRODUCTION
Social interaction in the job and within the organization is important for both the employees’
as well as the organization’s well-being. Poor interpersonal relationships—which are reflected
in negative acts such as workplace bullying, violence and sexual harassment—will decrease
job satisfaction, lower job motivation, affect organizational commitment, and results in an
expensive cost for the organization (Hoel, Zapf, & Cooper, 2002). Inspired by the work
environment hypothesis which relates bullying to the work environment (Leymann, 1996),
numerous researchers have investigated potential environmental risk factors on the level of
the job, the team and the organization (e.g., Einarsen, Raknes, & Matthiesen, 1994; Hauge,
Skogstad, & Einarsen, 2007; Vartia, 1996). However, due to the rather high threshold of
Elfi Baillien (Elfi.Baillien@psy.kuleuven.be) and Hans De Witte are with the
Research Group Work,
Organizational en Personnel Psychology, KULeuven, Belgium; Inge Neyens is from the Research Group
Personnel and Organization, KULeuven, Belgium
1
Study conducted with the support of Research Foundation Flanders, G.0321.08.
International Journal of Organisational Behaviour, Volume 13(2), 132-146 ISSN 1440-5377
© E Baillien, H De Witte and I Nevens
International Journal of Organisational Behaviour Volume 13(2)
admitting one is a perpetrator of negative acts, most information about risk factors is based on
the experience of victims (Zapf & Einarsen, 2003). Accordingly, the current study aims to
detect risk factors that may lead to victimization or perpetration of negative acts by means of
in-depth interviews of organizational insiders with experience in negative acts at work.
Moreover, the study aims at gaining a better insight in their role in the process of bullying,
violence and sexual harassment at work. First, we present a brief outline of various studies
which have revealed job related, team related and organizational risk factors of negative acts
at work. These findings form a first base for our research design, which is described in the
second part of the paper. We present a survey of our results and develop a model concerning
the association between job, team and organizational risk factors and negative acts at work.
Literature review
Numerous studies in the realm of negative acts at work have revealed potential risk factors on
the level of the job, the team and the organization. On the level of the job, various scholars
have linked negative acts to job characteristics such as low autonomy (Einarsen et al., 1994;
O’Moore, Lynch, & Daéid, 2003; Vartia, 1996; Zapf, Knorz, & Kulla, 1996), role conflict
(Einarsen et al., 1994; Hauge et al., 2007; Notelaers & De Witte, 2003; Neyens, Baillien, De
Witte, & Notelaers, 2007), role ambiguity (Leymann, 1996; Fils & Notelaers, 2002; Vartia,
1996), job insecurity (Hoel & Cooper, 2001; Hoel & Salin, 2003; Neyens et al., 2007;
Notelaers & De Witte, 2003), high workload (Einarsen & Raknes, 1997; Vartia, 1996; Zapf,
1999), low skill utilization (Einarsen et al., 1994) and lack of feedback (Hubert & Van
Veldhoven, 2001; Zapf & Einarsen, 2003). Negative acts at work have also been linked with
various physical characteristics such as high temperatures (Bell, 1992), crowdedness
(Lawrence & Leather, 1999) and noisy work environments (Hoel & Salin, 2003). Moreover,
negative acts appear to be encouraged by high co-worker interdependence (Zapf et al., 1996),
especially when combined with a competitive wage policy (Collinson, 1988; Hoel & Salin,
2003).
Risk factors on the level of the team and the organization can be divided in four categories. In
line with Brodsky (1976), who stated that ‘for harassment to occur, the harassment elements
must exist within a culture that permits and rewards harassment’ (p. 83), the first category
refers to the culture of the organization or the team. In this context, scholars have associated
negative acts with a hostile work environment (Seigne, 1998, O’Moore et al., 2003), low
social support (Hubert, Furda, & Steensma, 2001; Zapf et al., 1996), a strong tendency
towards conformism (Archer, 1999; Hoel & Salin, 2003), high competition amongst the
employees (Björkvist, Österman, & Hjelt-bäck., 1994; Seigne, 1998), bad communication
(Vartia, 1996, Notelaers & De Witte, 2003; Zapf et al., 1996) and lack of a policy against
negative acts (Einarsen, 1999; Rayner, Hoel, & Cooper, 2002; Van Amstel & Volkers, 1993).
The second category contains organizational structure, which has been related to negative acts
in terms of a strong hierarchy or high power differences between the various layers within the
organization (Mikkelsen & Einarsen, 2001; Opdebeeck, Pelmans, Van Meerbeek, &
Bruynooghe, 2002), and large and bureaucratic organizations (Einarsen et al., 1994;
Opdebeeck et al., 2002). Sexual harassment has particularly been related to gender ratio (i.e.,
the amount of male employees as compared to female employees). When employed amongst
mainly male co-workers, female employees tend to be more easily and frequently victimized
(Opdebeeck et al., 2002).
With regard to the third category—leadership—studies revealed relationships between
negative acts and leadership deficiencies (Einarsen et al., 1994; Einarsen & Raknes, 1997;
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E Baillien, H De Witte & I Nevens Organisational, Team Related and Job Related Risk Factors for Bullying,
Violence and Sexual Harassment in the Workplace: A Qualtiative Study
Leymann, 1996), helpless management (O’Moore et al., 1998), lack of social leadership
(Hubert et al., 2001), authoritarian or autocratic leadership styles (Lee, 2000; Hoel & Cooper,
2000; O’Moore et al., 2003; Seigne, 1998; Vartia, 1996) and laissez-faire leadership (Hoel &
Cooper, 2000; Leymann, 1996). The fourth and last category refers to organizational changes
such as restructuring, down-sizing or mergers. In this context, organizational change has been
successfully associated with violence and aggression (Baron & Neuman, 1996) and workplace
bullying (Hoel & Cooper, 2000; Rayner, 1997). Various scholars, however, assume an
indirect relationship between organizational change and bullying through the increase of
autocratic and authoritarian leadership practices (Hoel & Cooper, 2000; McCarthy, 1996;
Sheehan, 1996), increased competition (Kräkel, 1997; Salin, 2003), interpersonal conflicts,
increased workload and job insecurity (Hoel et al, 2002).
METHOD
Sample
In 2004, various organizations were asked to participate in a qualitative study investigating
risk factors of negative acts at work. These organizations were chosen based on the ‘NACE-
BEL’ codes, which provide a classification of sectors and branches within Belgium as well as
the number of citizens they employ. We made a list of sectors to be included in the current
study, together with a list of organizations belonging to these sectors. Nineteen organizations
agreed to cooperate. Within these organizations, ‘subject matter experts’ regarding bullying,
sexual harassment and/or violence were interviewed. Inspired by the Belgian law on negative
acts at work (2002 and 2007), these subject matter experts included prevention advisors on
psychosocial issues, union representatives, employees of the social service, or human
resource managers.
Method
Data were gathered by means of semi-structured interviews. First, we provided a definition of
subsequently bullying, violence, and sexual harassment; we checked whether the
interviewees knew of an actual incident within the organization. Then, we asked the
interviewees to retrospectively analyze which environmental risk factors could have triggered
or influenced the incident. In order to collect information on broad range of risk factors, we
made a checklist including risk factors from previous studies in the realm of negative acts at
work (see Table 1). By means of this list we checked for certain risk factors that had not been
spontaneously mentioned by the interviewees because these factors were not related to the
negative act or because they slipped the interviewee’s mind. A total of 126 interviews were
conducted.
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Table 1: Risk factors included in the check list
Risk Factors
Level
Job
Workload
Autonomy
Job ambiguity
Promotion
Job insecurity
Physical work environment
Job stress
Team and organization
Culture
Leadership
Conformacy
General social atmosphere
Justice
Social support
Gender ratio
Hierarchy
Communication
Organizational change
Analyses
We entered every interview into a structured Word file in the form of an index card. For each
of the interviewees, the index card mentioned whether a given risk factor from the checklist
(1) had or had not been associated with the incident, (2) had been mentioned spontaneously
by the interviewee or had been asked about by the interviewer based on the checklist, (3) was
said to have caused, sustained, prevented, or terminated the negative acts, and (4) had been
related to the perpetrator or to the victim. This information was completed with the
interviewee’s literal quote discussing the particular factor (5). Additionally, the index card
provided space for ‘new’ risk factors that had not been included in the checklist. Regarding
these new factors, we provided the same information (i.e., five points) as the checklist factors.
All index cards were combined into an Excel file; each worksheet represented the interviews
within one organization. As we noticed that various quotes did not refer to an incident, the
final file additionally reported if the interviewee’s opinion regarding each of the risk factors
had been based on a incident (i.e., ‘incident related’) or had been mentioned without reference
to an actual incident (i.e., ‘hypothetical’). An Excel search function was used to further
investigate each risk factor. For each factor we examined (a) the specific negative acts (i.e.,
bullying, violence or sexual harassment) it had been related to, and (b) in what way and for
whom the factor played a role. Next, we counted how many times each of the risk factors (i.e.,
the checklist factors as well as the new factors) had been mentioned both spontaneously and
incident related. This sum offered an indicator of the most significant and important risk
factors (‘importance indicator’).
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Violence and Sexual Harassment in the Workplace: A Qualtiative Study
RESULTS
In line with research in the realm of negative acts, the analyses revealed risk factors on the
level of the job, the team, and the organization. Furthermore, we collected information
regarding 211 incidents, which allowed us to develop three models regarding the role of the
risk factors in the processes of violence, bullying and sexual harassment.
Job factors
Overall, the results regarding job related risk factors referred to four important features of the
work situation, namely: work content (i.e., characteristics of the concrete tasks such as
complexity), working conditions (e.g., hazardous working conditions), employment
conditions (i.e., characteristics related to the employment contract such as, promotion), and
work relations (such as contact with clients). Table 2 gives a more detailed overview of job
related risk factors for each of the negative acts. As for violence and sexual harassment the
results appear rather similar. Contact with ‘third parties’ and the infrastructure were the most
important risk factors. First, (frequent) contact with third parties such as clients or patients
encourages victimization of violence by others. This is especially the case when the job
includes tasks that may be perceived as threatening (e.g., having to maintain order as a
policeman). Physical contact with the third party (e.g., nurses taking care of patients)
increases the risk of becoming sexually harassed. Second, unpleasant and even irritating
working conditions (e.g., elevated temperatures and excessive noise) stimulate enactment of
workplace violence. Unsafe working conditions will also increase the risk of becoming a
victim of violence. Security measures (e.g., a guard or an alarm bell), however, will
discourage violence. Similarly, social control (e.g., landscaping offices) prevents violence and
sexual harassment. Yet, there are few differences between the risk factors for violence and
those for sexual harassment. High workload, for instance, was quite often related to violence,
but only sporadically to sexual harassment. Job ambiguity was relative frequently related to
sexual harassment, whereas this factor was only sporadically mentioned for violence.
With respect to workplace bullying, the most important risk factors that emerge are workload,
job ambiguity, job complexity and autonomy (= job content), followed by job insecurity and
promotion (= employment conditions). The interviewees also related bullying to working in a
stressful condition or an infrastructure that allows little social control. Contact with third
parties was less often mentioned. High or increasing workload was named both as a trigger
and moderator of the bullying process. High workload of the victim was considered a
sustaining factor. An unclear allocation of tasks, an absence of clear job descriptions and role
ambiguity were all factors which caused bullying. The interviewees further described -in a
lesser degree- low autonomy and bad employment conditions (e.g., being passed over for
promotions, unclear and/or subjective criteria for promotions and high job insecurity) as
factors whereby people start to bully their colleagues. Also the common use of equipment,
and working in an unpleasant and irritating environment (e.g., high temperatures and crowded
spaces) were mentioned as causes. Absence of social control, high autonomy and low job
insecurity in the job of the perpetrator were seen as factors that stimulate and sustain bullying.
In summary, relations at work (contact with third parties) and work conditions (infrastructure)
are identified as the major risk factors for violence and sexual harassment. With regard to
bullying, the job content (workload, job complexity, job ambiguity and autonomy) and
employment conditions (job insecurity and promotion) emerge as important risk factors.
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Table 2: Most important job related risk factors of violence, bullying and sexual
harassment at work
Importance Indicator
Violence Bullying Sexual harassment
Job Risk Factors
Third Party Contact 72 4 17
Infrastructure 38 20 21
Workload 18 30 1
Autonomy 6 18 2
Job insecurity 5 20 6
Job complexity 1 20 1
Promotion 1 19 1
Job ambiguity 1 25 5
Monotonous work 0 2 1
Team and organizational factors
In line with the literature, the results reveal four categories of team related and organizational
risk factors: organization culture and organization climate (i.e., norms and values,
communication, social climate, social support, competition and favouritism), organization
structure (i.e., hierarchy, size of the organization, gender ratio and general structure),
leadership, and organizational changes. In contrast with previous research, we also detected
factors in the area of personnel policy (i.e., training, recruitment and selection, and
evaluation). Table 2 briefly summarizes the main results regarding the more global team and
organizational risk factors belonging to each of these four categories.
In order to avoid an exhaustive view of the specific factors belonging to these categories, the
long list of factors is clustered by means of 3 underlying mechanisms that explain the
connection between the risk factors and violence, bullying and sexual harassment at work.
The first cluster refers to the organization’s or team’s goal. Within this cluster, risk factors
appear to take a position on a continuum between the extreme goals ‘merely focusing on
organizational needs’ and ‘merely focusing on employee related needs’. Focusing too much
on company’s needs (e.g., a result oriented culture, task oriented leadership…) may stimulate
and sustain negative acts. Similarly, focusing too much on the expectations and wishes of the
employees (e.g., a manager who is too tolerant) may stimulate negative acts. Balancing
organization’s and employees’ needs was considered to prevent as well as discontinue
violence, bullying and sexual harassment at work. Examples of this balance are a supportive
culture and a people and task oriented leadership.
The second central cluster refers to the social atmosphere within the organization or the team.
Again, the risk factors position themselves at a continuum, which distinguishes between a
very bad versus a too informal atmosphere. Risk factors belonging to the poles of this
continuum will encourage and sustain negative acts. A ‘healthy’ balance between both
extremes counters the negative acts. A very informal atmosphere seems to increase negative
acts, whereas solidarity seems to stop it.
The third cluster refers to power relations and hierarchy (too much versus too little) within the
organization or the team. In line with the previous dimensions, the risk factors referring to the
poles will encourage or sustain negative acts (e.g., a strict hierarchy, multiple levels, and a
power vacuum). Balance between too much and too little hierarchy was associated with less
negative acts (e.g., a flexible hierarchy, and empowering the teams).
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Violence and Sexual Harassment in the Workplace: A Qualtiative Study
However difficult to differentiate the large number of team and organizational risk factors for
each form of negative acts, results reveal some marked differences (see Table 3). Violence
was more specifically related to ‘organizational changes’ as compared to the other team- or
organizational factors. We further noticed ‘gender ratio’ (i.e., the number of male versus
female employees in the organization) as a top important factor for sexual harassment. The
interviewees described a higher risk for sexual harassment in organizations with relatively
more employed men. This was not the case for violence and bullying. These findings suggest
that workplace violence might be a reaction to frustrations. Sexual harassment, on the other
hand, might be determined by the prevailing culture within the organization and the team. For
this reason, ‘a sex oriented climate’ and ‘a sex oriented culture’ were often mentioned during
conversations with the interviewees. In the case of bullying, both frustrations and culture
played an equally important role. In this respect, leaders who are ‘too much people oriented’
and ‘too tolerant’ cause a lot of frustrations. At the same time, the interviewees identified ‘a
culture of bullying’, ‘a culture of complaining’ and ‘a gossip culture’ as factors that
encourage workplace bullying at work by promoting this kind of acts in the team or the
organization.
Table 3: Most important team related and organizational risk factors of violence,
bullying and sexual harassment at work
Importance Indicator
Violence Bullying Sexual harassment
Risk Factors global
Norms and values 41 109 81
Communication 33 98 23
Social Climate 32 82 29
Leadership styles 29 120 30
Organizational Change 29 46 3
Training 25 10 2
Hierarchy 14 62 28
Recruitment and selection 10 12 7
Social support 8 47 6
Size of the organization 8 10 6
Gender ratio 5 8 41
General structure 5 13 2
Competition 2 18 1
Favoritism 2 33 2
Evaluation 1 12 1
How do the risk factors influence violence, bullying and sexual harassment?
Based on 211 incidents and the literal quotes regarding incident related (spontaneous
mentioned by the interviewer as well as asked by the interviewee), four models were
developed describing the role of job, team and organizational risk factors in the processes of
violence, bullying, and sexual harassment. First, we discussed a global model for negative
acts at work. Then specifications regarding each form of negative acts in the workplace (i.e.,
violence, bullying and sexual harassment) were given. All these models provide a framework
for risk factors and the actions of one individual employee. Group reactions are situated at the
level of the team and organization.
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Global model for negative acts at work (see Appendix: Figure 1)
Steps to negative acts - In line with the numerous incidents revealed during the interviews,
negative acts at work can result from three processes (see Figure 1). First, negative acts may
arise from frustrations and ‘strains’
3
. Whether or not these strains and frustrations lead to
negative acts is determined by the frustrated employee’s coping strategy. Facing strains in a
constructive way (e.g., by solving the problem) will reduce the likelihood of becoming
perpetrator or victim of negative acts. Reducing strains in a destructive way, however,
continues the development of negative acts. More specifically, handling strains in an active-
destructive way by projecting them on another employee, adopting a negative attitude towards
this employee and behaving negatively towards this person will encourage becoming a
perpetrator. Handling strains in a passive-destructive way by distancing oneself from the
straining work situation, will gradually lead to violation of social and work related norms
(e.g., performing badly, or withdrawing oneself from the rest of the work unit). This, in turn,
may induce a negative attitude amongst other employees towards their frustrated colleague,
which leaves the latter more open to becoming victimised.
Secondly, negative acts may result from personal conflicts. Whether or not these conflicts
evolve into negative acts is determined by the employees’ conflict management. Good
conflict management (e.g., reaching a solution) lowers the chances of becoming perpetrator or
victim of negative acts. Bad conflict management (e.g., persistent fights about who’s right and
who’s wrong) will continue the development of negative acts. In this context, the level of
(formal or informal) power becomes important: powerful employees become perpetrators,
whereas powerless employees tend to become victims. This second process is, however,
strongly associated with the frustration process. Frustrated employees may hold someone else
responsible for their problems, which can lead to new conflicts. On the other hand, most
conflicts are accompanied by frustrations and strains.
Thirdly, negative acts may result from specific features of the organization or the team that
directly elicit negative acts, regardless of frustrations, strains, or conflicts. These features
particularly refer to the way people deal with each other in the organization or team (for
instance, a gossip culture).
Role of the risk factors - In this global model, the risk factors can play three different roles:
(a) they form the initial basis for frustrations, strains and conflicts, (b) they determine coping
with frustrations, strains and conflicts and (c) they determine the gravity of the negative acts.
Firstly, the risk factors may initiate negative acts in an indirect way by leading to frustrations,
strains, or conflicts. Examples are role ambiguity and work load, which have been identified
as factors that foster strains. Role ambiguity may, moreover, increase conflicts with
colleagues or supervisors as the expectations are not met. Risk factors located on the poles of
the three organizational dimensions (i.e., goals, social atmosphere and hierarchy) may also
cause frustrations, strains and conflicts. Examples are poor communication regarding new
policies within the organization and a competitive atmosphere.
Secondly, the risk factors may affect how employees deal with frustrations, strains and
conflicts. In this context, especially high job insecurity was described as a job related factor
which influences employees’ reactions to strains by strengthen the perception to be rather
weak or helpless (i.e., passive coping). Low workload or high autonomy encourages
3
‘Job stress’ as such has not been mentioned by the interviewees. Instead, they referred to ‘feeling frustrated’,
‘being annoyed’ and ‘feeling tensed’.
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E Baillien, H De Witte & I Nevens Organisational, Team Related and Job Related Risk Factors for Bullying,
Violence and Sexual Harassment in the Workplace: A Qualtiative Study
constructive conflict management styles. On the level of the team and the organization, the
extreme poles of the three dimensions (goals, social atmosphere and hierarchy) could
influence the way employees confront their frustrations and strains. Task oriented leadership,
strict hierarchy and little social support can contribute to a perceived helplessness within the
frustrated employee and encourage passive-destructive coping or discourage efficient conflict
management.
Thirdly, job, team and organizational risk factors may influence the gravity of the negative
acts. At the job level, one will less rapidly enact sexual harassment when other employees
might witness these negative acts. On the organizational level, the knowledge that you’re
superior will intervene when you behave in a negative way, will keep you from bullying or
harassing others. Conversely, one is more likely to bully, sexual intimidate or commit an act
violence if the supervisor did not firmly end those acts in the past.
Negative acts continue. The incidents moreover revealed that the initiated bullying, sexual
harassment and violence in turn becomes a social stressor that may substantially increase the
number of frustrations and strains for the victim. Additionally, such actions may generate a
change in job related, team related, or organizational features, which in turn could increase
frustrations, strains, and conflicts. This process can instigate repetitive and more serious
negative acts at work.
Specifications for each form of negative acts at work
With regard to violence, the global model needs to be adjusted concerning the process of
personal conflict: inefficient conflict management will invariably increase the probability to
become a perpetrator, regardless relative power differences between the parties involved.
Moreover, the results reveal various specific risk factors. Aside from causing frustrations and
strains, job aspects can also elicit feelings of being threatened. Work relationships (e.g.,
contact with threatening third parties) and working conditions (e.g., working in dangerous
districts) may not only result in frustrations and strains, but may also contribute to a feeling of
being threatened, which can ultimately escalate into violence. At the job level, especially the
work environment leads to an escalation of aggression and conflicts into acts of violence. This
risk factor exerts an influence on the escalation of aggression and conflicts via social control.
As social control increases the visibility of aggressive acts, it reduces the possibility that the
employee will actually continue these acts. As for the team and organizational factors,
interviewees repeatedly referred to a male predominance, which was said to stimulates a
macho-culture and encourage violent and aggressive behaviour. Accordingly, the features
influencing process 3 of the global model are somewhat different.
The global model for negative acts at work entirely fits the results concerning workplace
bullying. With regard to the risk factors, bullying seems to be more sensitive to feelings of
jealousy and injustice (e.g., an employee feels passed for a promotion or the wages are not
related to the amount of work that he must perform) in comparison with violence or sexual
harassment. Like violence, process 3 from the global model contains specific bullying related
aspects such as an ‘atmosphere of complaints’ and ‘bullying culture’. The presence of such
climates amongst staff members makes it easier for to give in to bullying.
According to the qualitative findings only two processes emerge on the basis of the sexual
harassment. In contrast with the global model, work related frustrations and strains do not
play a crucial role. Due to the personal and integrity-related nature of sexual harassment,
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these frustrations or strains can only influence sexual harassment when they are translated
into a personal conflict with another employee. At the job level, working relations (e.g.,
travelling together and performing tasks of a more intimate nature) often lay the foundation of
these conflicts. Furthermore, the work content (e.g., job ambiguity, unclear allocation of tasks
and job performance) can cause conflicts that in time escalate in sexual harassment. As was
the case for violence and bullying, the factors defining process 3 from the global model differ
from the other negative acts. A male predominance at the top of the organization might
encourage a sexual oriented macho ideology which, in turn, facilitates acting in a sexually
harassing way.
CONCLUSIONS
Summary
The current study aimed at identifying job related, team related and organizational risk factors
for negative acts at work (i.e., bullying, violence and sexual harassment) and to reveal the
negative acts process. Therefore, 126 organizational insiders with a large amount of
experience with and knowledge about negative acts at work were interviewed by means of a
semi-structured interview design. At the job level, work relations, aspects related to job
content, employment conditions and working conditions appeared as important factors in
causing and sustaining negative acts. At the team and organization level, the occurrence of
negative acts is stimulated by aspects that refer to an imbalance in (1) focussing on the
organizational needs versus the needs of the employees, (2) the social atmosphere, and (3) the
hierarchy. Based on 211 incidents of negative acts, we developed a model to advance an
understanding of the role of those risk factors in the processes of negative acts in general (i.e.,
global model) and we specified it for bullying, sexual harassment and violence at work. Job,
team, and organizational aspects can result in negative acts through (process one) frustrations
and strains, or (process two) conflicts. Additionally, they may influence coping with
frustrations and strains and the adequacy of conflict management. In a third process risk
factors may directly elicit negative acts regardless of developing frustrations or conflicts by
encouraging or enforcing negative behavior. Moreover, negative acts in turn can change the
original job, team, and organizational factors. This may lead to new or more frustrations,
strain and conflict, influence how they are managed, or reinforce direct stimulation of
negative acts at work. This may eventually evolve in more violence, bullying or sexual
harassment. With respect to the three forms of negative acts at work, the second process of
interpersonal conflicts is adjusted for violence, as inefficient conflict management will by
definition increase the probability to act violent. Regarding sexual harassment, work related
frustrations and strains do not play a crucial role. They will only influence sexual harassment
when translated into an interpersonal conflict. The global model for negative acts at work
entirely fits the results concerning workplace bullying.
Implications for theory
The global model aligns with earlier work in the realm of negative acts at work. In the first
track, negative acts may be caused by frustrations and strains. When the employee handles the
frustrations and strains in an active-destructive way by responding aggressively, he or she
reacts according to the principles of the Revised Frustration Aggression Theory (Berkowitz,
1989), which claims that a stressful work environment can lead to aggression towards others
through negative affects. On the other hand, coping with frustrations and strains in a passive-
destructive way aligns with the ‘social interactionist theory’ (Felson & Tedeschi, 1993),
which stated that experiencing stress increases the probability of violating work-related
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E Baillien, H De Witte & I Nevens Organisational, Team Related and Job Related Risk Factors for Bullying,
Violence and Sexual Harassment in the Workplace: A Qualtiative Study
expectations and social norms. This, in turn, will increase the probability that direct
colleagues or other members of the organization react negatively towards the violating person
(Lawrence & Leather, 1999). Secondly, negative acts may result from interpersonal conflict.
This idea was initially proposed by Leymann (1996), who formulated a four-stage bullying
model based on 800 case studies. The first stage refers to an escalated conflict. In the second
stage, the weak party is stigmatized in his or her role as looser or victim. In the third stage
management adopt the prejudices about the victim, which further reinforces the victim’s role.
This is likely to result in stage four, where the victim leaves the organization because of
absence due to illness, dismissal or turnover. Introducing the power concept within process
two corresponds to the bullying definition of Einarsen and Skogstad (1996), which considers
powerlessness as an explicit aspect of victimization: “A conflict cannot be called bullying if
the incident is an isolated event or if two parties of approximately equal ‘strength’ are in
conflict” (p. 15). Finally, negative acts may be directly encouraged by specific aspects of the
team or the organization. This aspect has not received much attention within literature. Only
few studies refer to a specific team- or organizational climate that directly encourages
bullying (e.g., Archer, 1999). At last, the initiated negative acts may become a social stressor
and give rise to repetitive and more serious negative acts at work, which fits Lazarus’ and
Folkman’s (1984) Transactional Stress Process Model. It describes how stressors are
appraised and distinguishes between primary appraisal (i.e., a person’s judgment about the
harm of an event) and secondary appraisal (i.e., an assessment of what one can do about the
situation). Negative acts influence both primary appraisal as a stressful event and secondary
appraisal by eliminating various coping alternatives when victimized. Accordingly, negative
acts can give rise to repetitive and more serious negative behaviour.
Implications for practise
Negative acts at work are related to numerous negative consequences for the organization
(e.g., turnover, decreased productivity, decreased organizational citizenship behavior) as well
as the individual employee (e.g., Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome and General Anxiety
Disorder)(see Hoel & Cooper, 2000; Mikkelsen & Einarsen, 2002; Zapf & Gross, 2001).
Preventing or putting a stop to negative acts requires a good and throughout insight in how
these negative acts develop and sustain over time. The results of the current study reveal a list
of environmental risk factors as well as a model that may help practitioners to combat
negative acts. Working on job, team and organizational factors which may stimulate
frustrations and conflict, influence coping or conflict management, or directly encourage
bullying can serve as a preventive measure to stop negative acts. Moreover, our model may
serve as a guide for better understanding what is actually going on when confronted with a
real life incident. By comparing reports from victims and bystanders with our model,
practitioners may more easily understand what actually happened. In turn, this could help
them to formulate specific measures to solve these problems in a more efficient way.
Limitations and future research
Although the models tempt to capture as much relevant information as possible, they focus
on the role of the job, team and organization in the process of negative acts. Next to
organizational aspects, there are still many other factors that increase or decrease the risk of
bullying, sexual harassment and violence. Social and economical situations or the personality
of victims and perpetrators, e.g., are not discussed here. Furthermore, this study does not
differentiate between risk factors for upward bullying (from the employee to the leader),
downward (from the leader to the employee) and mutual bullying (from employees to each
other). Future research could make a distinction between these kinds of workplace bullying
142
International Journal of Organisational Behaviour Volume 13(2)
and investigate whether there are different task-, team- and organizational risk factors
involved.
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Violence and Sexual Harassment in the Workplace: A Qualtiative Study
APPENDIX
JOB, TEAM, ORGANIZATION.
FRUSTRATIONS
STRAINS
CONFLICTS
DIRECT
ENCOURAGEMENT
JOB
TEAM
ORG.
FRUSTRATION
AGRESSION
VIOLATING
THE NORMS
ESCALATED
CONFLICTS
NEGATIVE ACTS AT WORK
P
P
Power
V
P
Conflict
management
Passive Active
Self
Others
No Power
V
P = Perpetrator
V = Victim
Figure 1
The global model for negative acts based on the findings in the qualitative study
146
... En las últimas décadas se han publicado numerosos estudios que abordan el papel de las variables organizacionales en el acoso laboral. En términos generales tanto los testigos como las víctimas indican unas peores condiciones laborales en comparación con trabajadores que no han sufrido acoso (Baillien et al., 2008;Hauge et al., 2007). ...
... En relación al diseño de las tareas, numerosos estudios señalan que el conflicto y la ambigüedad de rol, la existencia de expectativas difusas e impredecibles, las ordenes contradictorias y la falta de metas claras y definidas son características del trabajo que correlacionan con el acoso (Baillien y De Witte, 2009;Baillien et al., 2008;Moreno-Jiménez et al., 2009). ...
... Dinámicas caracterizadas por un bajo control sobre la tarea y elevadas presiones en el tiempo correlacionan con procesos de mobbing (Einarsen et al., 1994), sobre todo en la medida en que generan conflictos o reducen la posibilidad de resolverlos . Las características ambientales, como el calor y el ruido favorecen el incremento de sentimientos y actitudes de hostilidad (Baillien et al., 2008;Matthisen et al., 2008). ...
... Brodsky states that "for harassment to occur the harassment elements must exist within a culture that permits and rewards harassment" (cited in Baillien et al. 2008). Baillien goes on to cite some of the risk factors for violence and specifically sexual violence in the workplace. ...
... It is explained that this can occur in two ways, the first is that frequent contact with others (clients or patients) increases victimization by others. The second is physical contact with others (such as with nurses) increases the risk of being sexually harassed (Baillien et al. 2008). Unpleasant working conditions and unsafe working conditions stimulate the occurrence of sexual violence, as well as ambiguity around job description (Baillien et al. 2008). ...
... The second is physical contact with others (such as with nurses) increases the risk of being sexually harassed (Baillien et al. 2008). Unpleasant working conditions and unsafe working conditions stimulate the occurrence of sexual violence, as well as ambiguity around job description (Baillien et al. 2008). In a study conducted around the experience of nursing students in Korea, it was found that the most common perpetrators of sexual harassment were men (97,9%) that were patients (96,9%) (Lee 2011). ...
... Further, a study in long-term care workplaces point at building a good leadership and communication may be an up-stream method to minimize turnover (Chu et al. 2014). Poor psychosocial and physical work environment plays a significant role for both men and women in reporting workplace bullying (Baillien et al. 2008;Salin 2015). Also social interaction in the job and within the organization is important for both the employees' as well as the organization's well-being (Baillien et al. 2008). ...
... Poor psychosocial and physical work environment plays a significant role for both men and women in reporting workplace bullying (Baillien et al. 2008;Salin 2015). Also social interaction in the job and within the organization is important for both the employees' as well as the organization's well-being (Baillien et al. 2008). Poor psychosocial working environment is of importance in the development of workplace bullying and provides focus on the importance of self-reported organizational social capital (Pihl et al. 2017). ...
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Aim This study investigates if non-bullied employees in Work units (WUs) where bullying occur, are more prone to leave the WUs than employees in WUs with no bullying, and if the prevalence of workplace bullying had an impact on leaving the WUs. Leaving the workplace was defined by unemployment or change of workplace at follow-up. Methods We had data from 8326 Danish public health invited employees from 302 WUs. Of these 3036 responded to a questionnaire on working conditions and health in 2007. WUs were classified into three categories of WUs: (1) no bullying (0% bullied), (2) moderate prevalence of bullying (< 10% bullied), and (3) high prevalence of bullying (≥ 10% bullied). Bullied respondents were used to classify the WUs and excluded in the analyses. Results We found odds ratios (ORs) for unemployment 1 year later of 1.27 [95% CI 0.69–2.37] in WUs with moderate prevalence of bullying and 1.38 [95% CI 0.85–2.23] among employed in WUs with high prevalence of bullying, adjusted for size of WUs, age, sex, and job category. For turnover 1 year later the ORs were 1.27 [95% CI 0.78–2.15] and 1.46 [95% CI 0.99–2.15] in WUs with moderate and high prevalence of bullying, respectively. Conclusion We did not find that non-bullied employees leave the WUs with moderate and high prevalence of bullying more than employees in WUs with no bullying behaviour 1 year later. Leaving the workplace tended to be higher among employees in WUs with high prevalence of bullying compared to no and moderate bullying.
... This is because Van den Brande et al. (19) identified role conflict, role overload, and role ambiguity as precursors of workplace harassment in their systematic review. Furthermore, high and increasing role overload is recognized as both the trigger and moderator of the work harassment process in the workplace (20). ...
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Purpose: The purpose of this study is to determine the effects of role ambiguity and role conflict on workplace harassment and the intermediary role of role overload in this effect. The literature includes no research on the relationship between nurses’ workplace role ambiguity, role overload, role conflict and workplace harassment. The study used role overload as a mediating variable, which adds to the originality of the study. Methods: The study used a cross-sectional research design and surveyed 260 nurses working in a public hospital in Turkey. The data were analyzed using descriptive statistical methods , Pearson correlation analysis and Hayes Macro regression. Result: Role ambiguity has no direct or indirect effect on workplace harassment. On the other hand, role conflict affects workplace harassment directly and indirectly through role overload. Conclusion. In line with these results reveal that nurses who are harassed in the workplace should take precautions against role conflict and increased role load. The results of the research reveal that nurses who experience workplace harassment in particular need to take precautions against increased role conflict and role overload.
... Management structures that are extremely hierarchical and formalized, often in protective services and public sector organizations, have been associated with heightened risk of workplace bullying (Archer, 1999). Leadership style can be an antecedent of workplace bullying where leaders are tyrannical, or too tolerant or laissez-faire in their approach (Baillien, Neyens, & De Witte, 2008;Hoel, Glaso, Hetland, Cooper, & Einarsen, 2010;Hauge et al., 2011). Similarly, employees are more likely to speak up if they see their managers as accessible, interested and not abrasive, abusive or ambiguous (Edmondson, 1999(Edmondson, , 2002Ryan & Oestreich, 1998). ...
Chapter
Workplace bullying complaints are commonly utilized as the primary intervention approach for organizations where employees seek to stop inappropriate behaviour or gain redress. No single agreed-upon approach has been forwarded as a best practice for organizations to adopt. Instead, complaints can be viewed as disciplinary matters, health and safety concerns or public disclosures that can be raised through whistleblowing. These different conceptualizations adopt differing terminology and assumptions, which in turn has implications for how bullying is tackled. A critical concern in this area is the high prevalence of bullying reported in academic literature and staff surveys. In contrast, the number of complaints is often much lower indicating significant under-reporting. A range of organizational and individual factors are discussed that may enable and inhibit the efficacy of a complaint process. The means by which the complaint process may act as a negative influence as a form of undermining through raising vexatious complaints, with the intent of undermining the accused perpetrator, are also discussed. A review of these factors will ultimately contribute towards a consideration of what constitutes a successful complaint process and what practices and strategies organizations can adopt to ensure the effective handling of workplace bullying complaints. Finally, future directions for research are also proposed.
... Dans la même veine, l'intensification, la surcharge de travail et le stress qui en découle ont été identifiés, dans plusieurs enquêtes quantitatives, comme de potentiels facteurs de harcèlement (Einarsen, 1999 ;Baillien et al., 2008 ;Salin, 2015). Une revue de la littérature sur les antécédents du harcèlement professionnel réalisée par Clémentine Bourgeois et ses collègues (2016) met en évidence le fait que l'intensification des rythmes de travail ne laisse pas suffisamment de temps pour endiguer les conflits naissants qui peuvent, par conséquent, dégénérer en processus de harcèlement. ...
Thesis
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Bullying or mobbing is used for systematically harassing a person for a long time. In the context of stress theory, bullying is a severe form of social stressors at work, whereas in terms of conflict theory, bullying signifies an unsolved social conflict having reached a high level of escalation and an increased imbalance of power. Based on a qualitative study with 20 semi-structured interviews with victims of bullying and a quantitative questionnaire study with a total of 149 victims of bullying and a control group (N = 81), it was investigated whether bullying victims use specific conflict management strategies more often compared with individuals who are not bullied, and whether coping strategies used by successful copers with bullying differ from those of the unsuccessful copers. Successful copers were those victims who believe that their situation at work has improved again as a result of their coping efforts. The qualitative data showed that most victims started with constructive conflict-solving strategies, changed their strategies several times, and finally tried to leave the organization. In the interviews, the victims of bullying most often recommended others in the same situation to leave the organization and to seek social support. They more often showed conflict avoidance in the quantitative study. Successful victims fought back with similar means less often, and less often used negative behaviour such as frequent absenteeism. Moreover, they obviously were better at recognizing and avoiding escalating behaviour, whereas in their fight for justice, the unsuccessful victims often contributed to the escalation of the bullying conflict.
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Given the pioneering role of Scandinavian research in the field of bullying at work, it is surprising that Danish researchers have largely ignored this problem. Presumably, this has led to a situation where many Danish company managers and unions ignore the high individual and organizational costs of workplace bullying. An additional effect of this lack of research is that it has been difficult to estimate the extent to which the prevalence of bullying varies in different sectors of Danish work-life. Furthermore, the scarcity of research has impeded us from determining whether a low prevalence of bullying is a general characteristic of Scandinavian work-life as indicated by previous Swedish and Norwegian studies. Yet again, making such between-nations comparisons in the prevalence of workplace bullying is difficult given the tendency amongst researchers to employ different ways of measuring bullying. The aims of the present study were: (1) to assess the prevalence of bullying in Danish work-life; (2) to investigate if exposure to bullying behaviours at work is related to self-reported psychological and psychosomatic stress symptoms; (3) to examine potential differences in the prevalence of bullying in various work sectors; (4) to explore the hypothesis that, generally, Scandinavian work-life is characterized by low levels of bullying; and (5) to investigate the extent to which using different criteria for assessing bullying results in disparate prevalence estimates. Results showed that 2-4% of the respondents reported being victims of bullying, in most cases only occasionally. Compared to self-reported bullying, prevalence levels based on an operational definition of bullying (i.e., weekly exposure to one act for at least 6 months) were higher in all the samples, between 8% and 25%. When using a more strict criterion of two acts a week, these figures were significantly reduced. Exposure to bullying was found to be associated with increased self-reported strain reactions.