BULLYING AND ETHICS IN PREPARING SPECIALISTS IN HIGHER
EDUCATION. QUO VADIS?
Jolita Vveinhardt 1, Raimonda Minkute-Henrickson2, Rizwan Raheem Ahmed3
1 Department of Management, Vytautas Magnus University (LITHUANIA)
2 Kaunas University of Technology (LITHUANIA)
3 Department of Business Administration & Commerce, Indus University (PAKISTAN)
Research relevance and problem: The authors state that although much research has been done on
workplace aggression and bullying over the past two decades, academics have paid relatively little
attention to bullying in their own institutions. In this article, we discuss what is currently known about
bullying in academia, with a particular focus on faculty behaviour, and apply empirical and conceptual
findings from research on aggression and bullying in other work settings and the significant literature
on conflict management in higher education. We begin by describing the nature and prevalence of
aggression and bullying in higher education. In recent years a lot of researches have been performed;
however, they orient to narrow specific-professional fields.
Aim of the research: Having performed the analysis of researches on bullying on ethics discourse at
higher education institutions, to define directions of new researches that make the possibility to
expand the preparation of specialists in different fields of bullying crises emerging in work
environment. In order to find the answer to the set research problem and to attain the research aim the
following objectives are formulated: to perform analysis researches on bullying in ethics discourse at
higher education institutions; to identify new research directions creating the possibility to expand
preparation of specialists in different fields of crises emerging in work environment.
Conclusions: Though in the latter years researches on bullying intensify knowledge about
dissemination and particularity of the phenomenon at higher education institutions as well as how to
manage possible crises of employees’ interrelationship on specialists’ training is limited enough.
Several directions of researches on bullying in higher education should be distinguished. Firstly, it is
necessary to evaluate social and cultural conditions of the actions, which can be accepted as ethical
or unethical. More comprehensive and broader ethical context of actions’ evaluation can create
conditions to reduce possibilities to interpret negative actions in the cases of bulling and bullying.
Secondly, one of the methods has been still applied in researches performed, namely: qualitative and
quantitative; thus the application of several different methods can help not only to state the spread of
the phenomenon but also to explain deep reasons as well as to distinguish the particularity of actions,
relationship of individual and organizational conditions. In addition, considering the particularity of
institutions’ activity, it is important to evaluate outcomes of bullying upon the activity – both of research
and influence upon study processes and training of future specialists. In this context students should
be involved as concerned subjects. Thirdly, more comprehensive researches and discussion how
bullying reflects / should reflect in study programmes of different professions in the context of ethics
should be performed. In this case both study programmes and the competence acquired by the
specialists who graduated from the studies realized in the workplace should reflect this.
Keywords: bullying, ethics, ethical dysfunction, higher education institutions, training of professionals.
JEL Classification: M19, I29.
Research relevance and problem. Irrespective of whether organizations having principles of
employees’ interrelations discussed in codes of ethics or other internal documents, whether they are
not institutionalized can face the specific phenomenon of bullying (Leymann, 1993) when a person is
‘driven’ into a hopeless situation by not violating ethical norms and forced to leave the organization.
The ethics applied in organizations’ activity usually refers to general moral principles; however, in the
case of bullying the deceptive ‘atmosphere’, which is hard to be understood both by managers and
Proceedings of INTED2016 Conference
7th-9th March 2016, Valencia, Spain
colleagues of the same state as well as the chosen victim can lack competence acquired at different
level training stages, is created.
Different results performed in different countries show that bullying is significantly prevalent in the
range of professional activity, in which employees face requirements of higher education. For
example, it occurs in such fields as education, health care and so on. Specialists having acquired
higher education most often are appointed to lower or higher level managing positions at organizations
of different activity fields; in addition, they act as leaders in teams. Thus these specialists face not only
objectives of their professional activity but also systematic questions of organizing personnel activity
as well as of prevention and intervention of conflict situations when it is also necessary to get deeper
into employees’ interrelations not necessarily related to direct assignments, to analyse organizational
reasons and to solve them. The decision success depends on whether the organization will keep or
lose the specialist, how mutual psycho-social climate of the subdivision or the entire organization will
form because employees observe decisions and react to them.
Thus can specialists trained at higher education institutions identify unethical behaviour, single
interpersonal conflicts and bullying, which at the primary stage cannot differ from ‘ordinary’
disagreement, ‘antagonism’ of several employees and be the systematic problem? Do employees
prepared at higher education institutions acquire enough competence both to react to bullying and to
solve these conflicts at individual and / or organizational levels? They are relevant questions, which in
the context of this discourse are addressed to higher education institutions that train specialists. On
the one hand, considerable attention is paid to ethics in higher education study programmes: both of
management and employees’ interrelations and relations with customers as well as other aspects.
Also bullying being multiple phenomenon based on mistakes of organizational system and
manipulation in interrelations highlights problems of employees’ interrelationship ethics and their
On the other hand, depending on how higher education institutions (as organizational systems)
prepare specialists make actual the problem actualize the problem in their activity, the viewpoint to
programmes of specialists’ training programmes can depend. For example, the performed review of
researches by L. Keashly and J. H. Neuman (2010) shows that the higher education institutions in the
internal context of bullying / bulling problems’ researches have been passive enough. The authors
state although much research has been done on workplace aggression and bullying over the past two
decades, academics have paid relatively little attention to bullying in their own institutions. In this
article, we discuss what is currently known about bullying in academia, with a particular focus on
faculty behaviour, and apply empirical and conceptual findings from research on aggression and
bullying in other work settings and the significant literature on conflict management in higher
education. We begin by describing the nature and prevalence of aggression and bullying in higher
In recent years a lot of researches have been performed; however, they orient to narrow specific-
professional fields. Thus the research problem is formulated by the questions: what directions of
bullying as ethical dysfunction are at education institutions and how they should be extended in
preparing professionals in different field for the labour market.
Aim of the research: having performed the analysis of researches on bullying on ethics discourse at
higher education institutions, to define directions of new researches that make the possibility to
expand the preparation of specialists in different fields of bullying crises emerging in work
In order to find the answer to the set research problem and to attain the research aim the following
objectives are formulated: to perform analysis researches on bullying in ethics discourse at higher
education institutions; to identify new research directions creating the possibility to expand preparation
of specialists in different fields of crises emerging in work environment.
Research methods: scientific literature analysis and synthesis, secondary data analysis.
2 BULLYING IN ETHICS DISCOURSE: ANALYSIS OF HIGHER EDUCATION
Bullying is the specific psychological terror and unethical behaviour at the workplace; thus it is
possible to state that those who experienced bullying also experienced psychological terror. But not all
of them, who experienced psychological terror and lived to see the unethical behaviour of colleagues,
undergo bullying. The term of bullying as destructive phenomenon of social relations at the workplace
was introduced by Leymann (1993) in the eighties of the last century; his formula to diagnose the
phenomenon is actually used up till now. That is the harassment of a victim, which lasts for not shorter
than six months (it might last longer as well) and attacks take place at least once per week, is called
bullying. Such combination of intensity and duration breaks resistance of a victim by evoking harmful
psychological, health, professional outcomes, force the victim to leave his / her job, or the victim is
fired by employer’s volition when he / she was wrongly accused: human dignity is violated, and
reputation of the employee is ruined in the eyes of colleagues and managers. Thus the system of
negative and unethical behaviour defined by Leymann is analysed in the narrower aspect than single
cases of bulling and harassment, psychological pressure not having systematic character as well as
intensive and long lasting destructive dynamics of social relations in work environment.
Both the researches by Leymann and later researches broadened and deepened the conception of
reasons, evolution of relations, consequences on an individual, organization and society. However,
basically bullying is the phenomenon characteristic for social systems when members of a system
organize themselves against one person striving to eliminate him / her from their system. Not by
accident the term has been borrowed from researchers of animal behaviour, and later in the seventh
decade of the last century Heinemann (1972) used it in investigating destructive behaviour of pupils
when a group of pupils begins to terrorize a victim. Despite the evidences that when a pupil or a
person who terrorizes him / her moves to another class (as well as when a bullying victim moves to
another workplace), attacks against a victim cease; the latest researches show that the psychological
terror that lasted long leaves long-term negative outcomes both for a victim and a person who
terrorized the victim. This has been proved by the research of Stuart and Jose (2014), conclusions of
which referred the investigation of the employees at 39 years age. Both the victims terrorized at the
school and the persons who initiated the terror were interviewed. Of course, there are no clear
reasoned evidences that any damage for the health of victims and persons who terrorized the victims
arose due to other reasons; however, the mentioned research is significant in broader context in the
context of this discourse. On the one hand, social behaviour models form when a personality matures,
and later their change is the complicated problem. On the other hand, both the victims who
experienced terror and persons who terrorized victims get to their workplace, where they apply
mastered social behaviour models. According to this viewpoint, one of the most important critical
moments might be the period of learning at a higher education institution when one acquires
professional and management, human resources management knowledge. Both university and non-
university higher education institutions prepare specialists, who in future will organize the activity of
organizations in different fields, will determine and control how norms of ethical relations are followed,
will solve conflicts of different character. Ethics discourse usually refers to general moral criteria and
most often do not separately analyse such mechanisms of unethical behaviour as bullying though its is
included in some fields of professional activity (Fowler and Davis, 2013); our discussed context,
conversely, highlights the knowledge on bullying, its reasons, expression, process mechanism and so
on by not avoiding to narrow ethical discourse to instrumentality as this problem remains relevant in
approaches of researches both for practice of higher education institutions’ activity and researches.
Though Keashly and Neuman (2010) stated that (considering the period to the performed research)
the knowledge on bullying at higher education institutions is missing and pointed out possible
directions for researches, for example, by involving students; however, having reviewed the
researches performed later, it is possible to state that the broader outbreak is not observed in this
When comparing the researches, which generally have been performed at educational institutions, the
attention to higher science institutions is much lower. This number additionally decreases when
separating researches on bullying and bullying. Though by the latter term (bullying) the unethical
actions, which should be attributed to the bullying category, are named interchangeably, that is,
bullying often involves bullying as well; however, bullying not necessarily discusses systematic and
intensive actions of bullying, harassment against a victim. That is, it might mean more general,
disorganized context of colleagues’ unethical behaviour, individual verbal abuse, impolite behaviour
and alike. Some authors consider bullying and bullying as identical phenomenon and vice versa. The
premise that this often happens not only due to tradition but also due to linguistic issues might be
In summarizing the researches at higher education institutions several groups, which are partly inter-
related, should be distinguished; thus it is possible to name them as conditional. Firstly, researches
are selective, that is they are oriented only to inter-relationship of employees at higher education
institutions or only to students’ inter-relationship or only to the study content. Secondly, the
researches, which analyse problems of future specialists’ inter-relationship and ethical behaviour, only
some areas of specialist training are involved. Thirdly, – bullying or ethical problems of interrelations
are analysed separately, thus the systemic viewpoint to the analysed discourse is still insufficient.
Fourthly – researches are performed within boundaries of one country; thus this burdens possibilities
to compare the situation internationally – broader international researches are lacking.
As Fowler and Davis (2013) pointed out, we can begin to address some of these issues more
effectively if faculty were to communicate and collaborate internationally to develop research-informed
moral policies and standards for the academy that can be shared between and among schools of
nursing internationally. Shared issues can be amenable to shared solutions.
Table 1 presents researches in the field of higher education institutions – by evaluating the relation to
ethics, discussing the topic, the research object, the country, where the research was carried out, and
bibliographic references. The empirical researches that characterize the problematic question of last
several years are included into this table.
Table 1. Bullying researches at higher education institutions.
Discussion of ethics
The research has been
performed at higher education
institutions training nursing
specialists. The academic
personnel that experienced
bullying pointed out negative
psychological and physiological
Only bullying actions
were analysed by not
problems of ethics
Yildirim et al.
The need for consultation to
persons affected by bullying in
Lithuanian organisations is
analysed, the methods of aid to
mobbing victims applied in
foreign organisations and the
possibilities of the application
thereof are discussed, and the
necessity of specialized
mobbing consultants is
emphasized in the research.
Bullying in educational
demand for consulting
Ethical context is
touched only indirectly
It is pointed out that bullying in
higher education is
characterized by relatively
subtle and indirect forms of
hostile behaviour which,
nevertheless, have devastating
impact on its targets, as well as
on educational institutions
Ethical context is
touched only indirectly
Reflection upon the ethical
issues that arise within nursing
education and our concern for
of the nursing literature on these
issues gives rise to specific
Ethical problems, in the
context of which
bullying as well as
bullying is discussed,
The reasons of destructive
behaviour at work are analysed.
It is identified that bullying has a
positive relationship with stress
and leads to negative employee
behaviour at workplace.
Stress at work caused
Attention focused on
hostile relations by not
analysing in the
context of ethics
Qureshi et al.
Discussion of ethics
It is identified that bullying
affected victims psychologically,
physically, and economically
and posed problems in terms of
job performances and family life.
The views on preventing
bullying were examined within
the frame of ethics institutions,
rectorship election system,
authority of rectorship, and
training of instructors.
Bullying reasons and
Attention is focused on
bullying outcomes, as
well as reasons
In the interview 19 persons were
involved. The bullying was
divided into three types:
and unintentional conspirative
positional. One orients to racial
and homophobia reasons
Unethical actions are
analysed, ethics is
The model presented by the
authors integrates emotional
intelligence and victims' and
bullies' personality as
Sexuality and bullying
at a higher education
Ethics is considered
Flores at al.
The stories and experiences of
three white women who were
victims of bullying and bullying
in academic settings
experienced actions of
Unethical behaviour of
colleagues is fixed
Dentith et al.
The assault experienced by the
victims of bullying goes beyond
the relations between
employees (horizontal and
vertical) and involves third
parties, i.e. clients/students of a
higher education institution.
High moral imperatives of
victims that appeal to adequate
peer behaviour, but are not
responded, should be noted as
Bullying and single
cases of harassment
Unethical behaviour of
colleagues is fixed
Thus in brief summing up it should be noticed that the number of the researches carried out at higher
education institutions, especially analysing in the context of ethics, is much less than of the researches
performed in other organizations of public and private sector. On the other hand, despite broad
enough geography of the researches, most often researches focus on one country’s population by
applying different methodologies and instruments; thus it becomes complicated to compare the data
obtained in different countries.
3 DIRECTIONS OF NEW RESEARCHES: PREPARATION TO OVERCOME THE
CRISES EMERGING IN WORK ENVIRONMENT
The analysis of researches on bullying at higher education institutions allows distinguishing of several
directions of new researches, which would provide more knowledge about spread of the phenomenon,
the specificity of expression as well as would create conditions to plan possible inter-relationship
crises at work environment. One of the most relevant problems to be solved – is internationality of
researches. The more so that generally the bullying researches (not only in the field of higher
education) have been developed not evenly in different countries (Saglam, 2008). This is particularly
relevant in the context of ethics as due to different cultural and legal regulation systems; due to
knowledge and cognition of bullying differences, the problem of evaluation of actions in employees’
inter-relations exists. In other words, in the countries, in which other standards of behaviour
transparency and ethics are raised, the same actions can be treated differently in other countries. For
example, only in some European countries bullying is institutionalized in legal system of employees’
protection from negative influence of colleagues (Switzerland, Scandinavian countries); and this again
accentuates the problem of negative behaviour evaluation. Therefore, when analysing the situation,
one should pay attention to greater regulation of bullying at the levels both of the state and separate
organizations (Weber et al., 2007; Saglam, 2008). In this case institutionalisation of bullying would be
relevant in internal documents of higher education institutions (for example, in books of ethical
standards) by evaluating both systematic attacks ongoing for long time and intensively is called
bullying (Leymann, 1993; Zabrodska, 2011; Marin Ioana, 2014), but also single ways of unethical
behaviour. However, in different researches by stating the existence of bullying in education system
more comprehensive data on how this regulation problem is solved at higher education institutions of
different countries are missing as it has been mentioned in this field broader and more comprehensive
researches are still missing.
However, it is necessary to admit that regulation – is only one of the aspects to solve bullying problem
because deeper individual reasons of the phenomenon, such as the lack of empathy, emotional
intellect and alike exist (Flores et al., 2014). In addition, as Zabrodska (2011) points out, bullying in
higher education is characterized by relatively subtle and indirect forms of hostile behaviour which,
nevertheless, have devastating impact on its targets, as well as on educational institutions. In this
respect the field of higher education is not exceptional as not only direct but also deceptive, hidden
action against a victim is one of the main features of the phenomenon in any area of professional
activity (Šoljan et al., 2008; Zabrodska, 2011; Celep, Konakli, 2013); however, higher education
possessed by employees might create premises to search for more sophisticated, more hidden ways
to influence a victim. Yildirim et al. (2007), Fowler and Davis (2013) disclose how important
discussions are in the context of bullying and ethics when preparing specialists at higher education
institutions as well as developing teachers’ understanding about bullying. However, such researches
are not numerous and affect only some professional fields, and this is relevant problem to be solved.
The directions of the researches of bullying performed at higher education institutions show that
similarly as in other fields of professional activity most often it is oriented to reasons and outcomes of
the phenomenon. In spare researches the sparse researches usually distinguish organizational
reasons (Šoljan et al., 2008; Zabrodska, 2011; Celep, Konakli, 2013) and negative psychological,
physiological, professional outcomes for victims of the caused stress (Weber et al., 2007; Saglam,
2008; Qureshi et al., 2013; Jose, 2014). Basically these researches also prove general reasons of
bullying, individual and organizational outcomes. However, both individual and organizational reasons
are hardly dissociated from one another and are related to broader social context. Thus, as Šoljan et
al. (2008) point out, bullying can be averted by joint forces that would involve employees and
management, medical and legal professionals, and even community as a whole. The more an
organization pursues excellence based on trust and ethics, the higher the probability that bullying will
be averted or stopped.
Thus in summing up it should be pointed out that researches show the relevant problem – in contexts
of bullying researches and ethics researches the attention to situation analysis and broader
discussions of academic community is particularly missing. On the one hand, bullying and bulling as
destructive phenomenon of employees’ inter-relations are based on unethical actions; on the other
hand, the analysis of this problem in training specialists of different professional fields yet remains very
little analysed. Thus multiple dangers exist: firstly, the existence of unethical relations in
interrelationship of employees at higher education institutions both in direct and hidden forms;
secondly, insufficient sophistication of higher education students in fields of bullying and ethics.
Though in the latter years researches on bullying intensify, knowledge about dissemination and
particularity of the phenomenon at higher education institutions as well as how to manage possible
crises of employees’ interrelationship on specialists’ training (to organize preventive and intervention
means) is limited enough. Several directions of researches on bullying in higher education should be
distinguished. Firstly, it is necessary to evaluate social and cultural conditions of the actions, which
can be accepted as ethical or unethical. More comprehensive and broader ethical context of actions’
evaluation can create conditions to reduce possibilities to interpret negative actions in the cases of
bulling and bullying. Secondly, one of the methods has been still applied in researches performed,
namely: qualitative and quantitative; thus the application of several different methods can help not only
to state the spread of the phenomenon but also to explain deep reasons as well as to distinguish the
particularity of actions, relationship of individual and organizational conditions. In addition, considering
the particularity of institutions’ activity, it is important to evaluate outcomes of bullying upon the activity
– both of research and influence upon study processes and training of future specialists. In this
context students should be involved as concerned subjects. Thirdly, more comprehensive researches
and discussion how bullying reflects / should reflect in study programmes of different professions in
the context of ethics should be performed. In this case both study programmes and the competence
acquired by the specialists who graduated from the studies realized in the workplace should reflect
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