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Abstract

This study assesses the prevalence of workplace bullying in a sample of US workers, using a standardized measure of workplace bullying (Negative Acts Questionnaire, NAQ), and compares the current study's prevalence rates with those from other bullying and aggression studies. The article opens by defining bullying as a persistent, enduring form of abuse at work and contrasting it with other negative workplace actions and interactions. Through a review of the current literature, we propose and test hypotheses regarding bullying prevalence and dynamics relative to a sample of US workers. After discussing research methods, we report on the rates of bullying in a US sample, compare these to similar studies, and analyse the negative acts that might lead to perceptions of being bullied. Based upon past conceptualizations, as well as research that suggests bullying is a phenomenon that occurs in gradations, we introduce and provide statistical evidence for the construct and impact of bullying degree. Finally, the study explores the impact of bullying on persons who witnessed but did not directly experience bullying in their jobs. Copyright Blackwell Publishing Ltd 2007.
Burned by Bullying in the American Workplace:
Prevalence, Perception, Degree and Impact*
Pamela Lutgen-Sandvik, Sarah J. Tracy and Jess K. Alberts
University of New Mexico; Arizona State University; Arizona State University
abstract This study assesses the prevalence of workplace bullying in a sample of US
workers, using a standardized measure of workplace bullying (Negative Acts Questionnaire,
NAQ), and compares the current study’s prevalence rates with those from other bullying and
aggression studies. The article opens by defining bullying as a persistent, enduring form of
abuse at work and contrasting it with other negative workplace actions and interactions.
Through a review of the current literature, we propose and test hypotheses regarding bullying
prevalence and dynamics relative to a sample of US workers. After discussing research
methods, we report on the rates of bullying in a US sample, compare these to similar studies,
and analyse the negative acts that might lead to perceptions of being bullied. Based upon past
conceptualizations, as well as research that suggests bullying is a phenomenon that occurs in
gradations, we introduce and provide statistical evidence for the construct and impact of
bullying degree. Finally, the study explores the impact of bullying on persons who witnessed
but did not directly experience bullying in their jobs.
INTRODUCTION
Right now, there’s two open positions under [the bully], and whoever gets them is
doomed. That’s all we know...whoever gets those positions are doomed. (Witness to
co-workers’ bullying in a large US restaurant chain)
Targets of bullying at work anticipate the workday with dread and a sense of impending
doom. They steal through the workplace on a state of high alert, in anticipation of the
next attack. Privately, they are profoundly ashamed of being victimized and are confused
at their apparent inability to fight back and protect themselves (Randall, 2001). Work-
place bullying is a type of interpersonal aggression at work (Neuman and Baron, 2005)
that goes beyond simple incivility (Andersson and Pearson, 1999) and is marked by the
characteristic features of frequency, intensity, duration, and power disparity (Einarsen
et al., 2003; Rayner and Keashly, 2005; Rayner et al., 2002). Due to the hammering
Address for reprints: Pamela Lutgen-Sandvik, Department of Communication and Journalism, University of
New Mexico, Albuquerque, NM 87131-0001, USA (plutgen@unm.edu).
© Blackwell Publishing Ltd 2007. Published by Blackwell Publishing, 9600 Garsington Road, Oxford, OX4 2DQ, UK
and 350 Main Street, Malden, MA 02148, USA.
Journal of Management Studies 44:6 September 2007
0022-2380
away described in these situations, targets often find themselves isolated, demoralized,
and unable to escape or prevent the bullies’ terrorizing tactics (Einarsen et al., 2003).
Specifically, bullying at work means
repeated and persistent negative actions towards one or more individual(s), which involve a
perceived power imbalance and create a hostile work environment. Bullying is thus a form of
interpersonal aggression or hostile, anti-social behavior in the workplace. (Salin, 2003,
p. 1214; emphasis in original)
The negative ramifications of bullying are widespread. Targets suffer long-term,
sometimes permanent, psychological and occupational impairment (Crawford, 2001;
Leymann and Gustafsson, 1996). Considerable evidence suggests that bullying is a
‘crippling and devastating problem’ (Adams and Crawford, 1992, p. 13) with the poten-
tial to damage targets’ self-esteem, physical health, cognitive functioning, and emotional
health (Brodsky, 1976; Einarsen and Mikkelsen, 2003; Keashly and Harvey, 2005).
Abused employees are at increased risk of depression (Namie, 2003), prolonged duress
stress disorder (Scott and Stradling, 2001), alcohol abuse (Richman et al., 2001;
Rospenda, 2002), post-traumatic stress disorder (Leymann and Gustafsson, 1996), and
even suicide (Leymann, 1990). Some are so damaged they cannot reintegrate into the
workforce, or can do so only after intensive, specialized rehabilitation therapy (Leymann
and Gustafsson, 1996; Scott and Stradling, 2001). Recent medical research indicates that
recurrent perceptions of injustice at work – no doubt experienced by targets of bullying
– are associated with chronic stress, high blood pressure, and increased risk of coronary
heart disease (Kivimäki et al., 2005). An audience of co-workers suffer, live in fear of
being the next targets, and report higher stress levels and intentions to leave than
non-exposed workers (Vartia, 2001). Bullying also can have disastrous effects on inter-
personal relationships and family functioning ( Jennifer et al., 2003; Rayner et al., 2002;
Tracy et al., 2006).
Although US researchers have studied a wide variety of negative acts at work (Fox and
Spector, 2005; O’Leary-Kelly et al., 2000), scholars have given the bullying phenom-
enon, as conceptualized in international studies, less attention. Exceptions include studies
of employee emotional abuse, which is quite similar to bullying (Keashly, 1998, 2001;
Keashly and Harvey, 2005), analyses of the communicative nature of bullying (Lutgen-
Sandvik, 2003a, 2006; Tracy et al., 2006), assessments of the legal protections against
bullying ( Yamada, 2000), target self-reports to the Workplace Bullying and Trauma
Institute (Namie, 2000, 2003), and the framing of bullying as a form of aggression at work
(Keashly and Neuman, 2005; Neuman, 2000; Neuman and Baron, 2005). Generalized
workplace harassment/abuse (Richman et al., 2001; Rospenda et al., 2000) and mis-
treatment (Price Spatlan, 1995) might also be classified as bullying, when the experience
is repetitive, frequent, enduring, and involves a perceived power imbalance.
The purposes of the current study are to investigate the defining features of bullying,
assess its prevalence and dynamics in a US sample, and compare prevalence in a US
sample with Scandinavian studies utilizing the same measure. Based upon past concep-
tualizations and research that indicates bullying occurs in gradations, we introduce the
construct of bullying ‘degree’ and provide evidence of the impact of degree on work
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quality outcomes. Finally, we suggest that employees who see their co-workers bullied
experience higher levels of negativity and report reduced work quality outcomes than do
non-exposed workers. We begin with a brief history of the bullying research, including its
origins.
THEORETICAL BACKGROUND
Research on workplace bullying began in Sweden in the 1980s, following the country’s
groundbreaking research on schoolyard bullying (reviewed in Olweus, 2003). Heinz
Leymann (1990), a German-born physician and psychiatrist, is considered by many to be
the pioneer in this work (Rayner et al., 2002). His initial interest in school bullying
subsequently expanded to include bullying at work (what he termed ‘mobbing’), when he
recognized similar dynamics in adult patients. A few years later, researchers from both
Norway (Einarsen et al., 1994) and Finland (Björkqvist et al., 1994) conducted studies on
mobbing and work harassment. In 1990, a British freelance journalist named Andrea
Adams (Adams and Crawford, 1992) brought the issue to public attention through a
series of BBC broadcasts; she labelled the phenomenon ‘bullying’. As a result of Adams’
work, a number of UK scholars have conducted and published bullying research (e.g.
Hoel et al., 1999, 2001; Rayner, 1997). Since the initial Scandinavian/UK work, bul-
lying research has emerged in Australia (Sheehan and Jordan, 2003), South Africa
(Marais-Steinman and Herman, 1997), Austria (e.g. Niedl, 1996), The Netherlands
(Hubert and van Veldhoven, 2001), Germany (Zapf, 1999), Bangladesh (Ahmed and
Braithwaite, forthcoming), and numerous other countries (Zapf et al., 2003). There
continues to be considerable interest in the topic internationally, particularly in the fields
of organizational psychology and business/management.
Carroll Brodsky, a US psychiatrist who interviewed over 1000 persons filing workers’
compensation claims in California and Nevada, published The Harassed Worker (1976).
This book is one of the earliest examinations of workplace harassment, but it stirred little
interest at the time of its publication. Brodsky’s (1976) research was revived in the early
1990s, however, when interest surged in Britain, and it is now considered a central,
germinal piece of scholarship on the subject. In the early 1980s, nursing professor Helen
Cox (1991) began studying nurses’ experiences of verbal abuse when one of her most
gifted students threatened to quit school as a result of continued abuse. At about the same
time, Sheehan and colleagues explored medical students’ experience of abuse (Sheehan
et al., 1990). Since this time, US researchers have explored a wide range of ‘hostile
workplace behaviors [that] can be found in a variety of literatures...and under a
variety of names’ (Keashly and Jagatic, 2003, p. 31). The US interest in workplace
negativity and hostility has grown since the early 1990s, in part due to workplace violence
(reviewed in Baron and Neuman, 1996), and is studied under a variety of terms. Due to
the differing terminology and definitions, as well as the broad range of disciplines
represented, this US body of work is less cohesive than international bullying research.
Workplace Bullying in Relation to Other Negative Workplace Phenomena
To understand where workplace bullying fits within the body of US research that
examines harmful communication and behaviour at work, it is helpful to frame these
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phenomena hierarchically (see Table I for phenomena and associated author/
researchers). The hierarchy of phenomena, and associated terminology, is organized to
include superordinate, intermediate, and subordinate types of negative communication
and conduct. Superordinate phenomena are overarching, general behaviours that span
a wide range of harmful workplace actions and interactions, of which bullying is only
one. Key phenomena at this level include workplace aggression, counterproductive
workplace behaviours, workplace injustice, antisocial work behaviour, workplace devi-
ance, and, broadly defined, workplace violence.
Intermediate phenomena fall under superordinate constructs and include terms for
both general and specific forms of workplace abuse. General forms of workplace abuse
include phenomena such as bullying, emotional abuse, generalized harassment, and
mistreatment – highly similar phenomena. Specific forms of workplace abuse include
Table I. Terminology and hierarchy of phenomena
Superordinate phenomena
Counterproductive workplace behaviour (Fox and Spector, 2005; Fox et al., 2001)
Organizational injustice (Cropanzano and Randall, 1993; Harlos and Pinder, 1999)
Organizational misbehaviour (Vardi and Weitz, 2004)
Workplace aggression (Baron and Neuman, 1998; Neuman and Baron, 2005; Schat et al., 2006)
Workplace deviance (Bennett and Robinson, 2000)
Antisocial work behaviours (O’Leary-Kelly et al., 2000)
Workplace violence (broadly defined) (Kelloway et al., 2006)
Intermediate phenomena
General forms of workplace abuse Specific forms of workplace abuse
Emotional abuse (Keashly, 1998, 2001;
Lutgen-Sandvik, 2003b)
Discrimination (multiple authors) [race, age,
religion, ethnicity, disability]
Mobbing (Leymann, 1990; Zapf and
Einarsen, 2005)
Ethnic harassment (Schneider et al.,
2000)
Social undermining (Duffy et al.,
2002)
Sexual harassment (Dougherty and Smythe,
2004; Pryor and Fitzgerald, 2003)
Workplace bullying (Adams and Crawford,
1992; Rayner et al., 2002)
Abusive supervision (Tepper, 2000)
Workplace harassment (Richman et al., 2001)
Workplace mistreatment (Meares et al., 2004)
Subordinate phenomena
Incivility (Pearson et al., 2004)
Petty tyranny (Ashforth, 1994)
Social ostracism (Williams and Sommer, 1997)
Verbal abuse (Cox, 1991)
Verbal aggressiveness (Infante and Rancer, 1996)
Victimization (Aquino and Bradfield, 2000)
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phenomena such as sexual/ethnic harassment and particular types of discrimination (e.g.
age, race, disability, etc). In actual workplace experiences, overlap usually occurs with
general and specific types of abuse. That is, sexual harassment frequently includes
abusive acts that are not explicitly sexual or gendered, and, at times, the aetiology of
bullying can be gendered or discriminatory. For example, persons might be targeted for
failure to perform within accepted sex roles or targeted because they are different from
the rest of the workgroup (Einarsen, 1999; Lee, 2002).
Finally, subordinate phenomena are usually forms and types of intermediate behav-
iours or are characteristic elements of intermediate behaviours. These include victim-
ization, incivility, and verbal aggressiveness. That is, bullying and sexual harassment
usually include acts of incivility and a sense of being victimized. Phenomena in each level
of the hierarchy, for the most part, subsume those below it. For example, workplace
bullying, categorized as an intermediate phenomenon, is one type of the superordinate
construct ‘workplace aggression’. Bullying could also be classified as a type of antisocial
work behaviour that includes verbal/physical and active/passive dimensions and pro-
duces harm or injury (O’Leary-Kelly et al., 2000).
Features of Bullying
As a unique phenomenon, adult bullying at work has four specific features: intensity,
repetition, duration, and power disparity. First, bullying involves a pattern of multiple
negative acts (Mikkelsen and Einarsen, 2001), and the majority of targets report being
subjected to numerous forms of abuse (Einarsen, 1999; Keashly and Harvey, 2005). We
use the term intensity to specify the number of different negative acts targets report.
Researchers often estimate bullying by counting these acts, which include isolation,
humiliation, and intimidation, among others. Initially, Leymann (1990) operationalized
mobbing as one negative act, although others believe that a minimum of two negative
acts is a more accurate measure (Mikkelsen and Einarsen, 2001; Salin, 2001) – a position
with which we concur. Second, to constitute bullying, these negative acts must occur
frequently, usually weekly or more often. Since bullying is conceptualized as a repetitive
‘hammering away’ at targets (Tracy et al., 2006), most researchers explicitly disregard
one-time incidents as instances of bullying (Einarsen and Hoel, 2001; Leymann, 1990;
Rayner et al., 2002; Salin, 2001). Third, not only must two or more negative acts occur
weekly, they must occur over a duration or period of time. Researchers usually apply a
six-month duration criterion to differentiate bullying from lower-level negativity (Hoel
et al., 2001; Leymann, 1990; Mikkelsen and Einarsen, 2001; Zapf et al., 1996).
Finally, power disparity between perpetrator and target is ‘central to the definition of
bullying’ (Einarsen et al., 2003, p. 21). Although some of the most recent research
suggests that resistance to bullying is common (Lutgen-Sandvik, 2006), the majority of
definitions for workplace bullying suggest that the target must, for one reason or another,
feel unable to stop or prevent abuse. That is, in bullying situations, a power disparity
either exists at the onset of bullying or develops over time (Keashly and Nowell, 2003).
Based on this body of research, we operationalize bullying as occurring when an indi-
vidual experiences at least two negative acts, weekly or more often, for six or more months in situations
where targets find it difficult to defend against and stop abuse. We believe that two or more
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negative acts is an appropriate baseline indicator of bullying, since bullying is nearly
always comprised of numerous negative acts (Mikkelsen and Einarsen, 2001; Salin,
2001).
Prevalence Comparisons across Studies
Although international scholars have compared prevalence rates across national
samples, these comparisons usually do not include US data and often compare studies
that have used different measures for bullying, which makes clear comparisons challeng-
ing (Zapf et al., 2003). To date, we have found no US studies that have measured the
prevalence of the persistent, enduring phenomenon of bullying using a tool specifically
designed to measure bullying. There are, however, several US studies of similar inter-
mediate and superordinate phenomena. These include Keashly and collaborators’
Michigan studies (Burnazi and Keashly, 2005; Keashly and Jagatic, 2000), the US
Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) research that pilots use of the Workplace Aggres-
sion Research Questionnaire (WAR-Q) (Keashly and Neuman, 2002, 2005; Neuman,
2004; Neuman and Keashly, 2004), and a US nationwide study of workplace aggression
(Schat et al., 2006).
HYPOTHESES
In order to assess US workers’ experiences of bullying in a way that allowed comparisons
to international studies using comparable methods, we conducted the present study using
the Negative Acts Questionnaire (NAQ). Moreover, a review of the current bullying,
emotional abuse, and workplace aggression literature guided our assumptions about
bullying in a sample of US workers.
Bullying Prevalence
Studies of bullying typically have used one of two methods to determine prevalence.
Researchers have identified bully targets by: (a) counting the occurrence of various
negative acts over a specified period of time using a behavioural checklist; and (b)
participants’ self-identification as a target (for an in-depth discussion of workplace bul-
lying measurement issues, see Cowie et al., 2002). However, these measures have pro-
duced decidedly different prevalence rates (Rayner, 1999; Salin, 2001). Prevalence based
on the number of negative acts ‘is higher...than is suggested by the self-reports of
bullying’ (Mikkelsen and Einarsen, 2001, p. 405). For example, a British study found that
only half of respondents who reported experiencing persistent, enduring negative acts
also self-identified as bullied (Rayner, 1999). Similarly, a Finnish study comparing the
two methods found higher prevalence with negative act counts, but considerable overlap
between the two methods. Specifically, ‘of those classifying themselves as bullied on a
daily or weekly basis, all were identified using the list of different negative acts’ (Salin,
2001, p. 433). As is true with self-labelling in sexual harassment (Magley et al., 1999),
there are a number of reasons one might eschew identifying as a bullying target. Some
targets may not perceive their treatment as bullying, while others may simply avoid
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self-labelling as a target/victim because being bullied connotes weakness or childishness
(Rayner et al., 2002). As a result, assessing bullying prevalence based on perceptions of
being targeted likely results in a level of underreporting. What is more, self-identification
may be less important than the prevalence of persistent negativity, since workers report-
ing persistent workplace hostility experience negative health effects regardless of whether
or not they label themselves as bullied (Hoel and Cooper, 2000). Therefore, we hypoth-
esized the following:
Hypothesis 1: Bullying prevalence based on the number of negative acts will be higher
than bullying prevalence based on self-identification as targets.
Related to the issue of self-identification, it is likely that certain negative acts, or a
combination of such acts, discriminate between respondents who do and do not self-
identify as targets. Einarsen (1999) points out that the features of bullying (e.g. frequency,
power disparity) ‘cause as much anxiety, misery and suffering’ (p. 18) as its forms
(negative acts). Thus, as well as exploring the impact of intensity and frequency, we
assume that particular types of negativity are likely to create the perception that one is
being bullied. Current research tells us which negative acts target experience at higher
rates than non-targets (Hoel and Cooper, 2000), and there is evidence that particular
negative acts – false allegations, hostile communication, intimidation, threats of violence
– are significantly related to a wide range of target self-defence responses, while others –
work overload, working below one’s competence, excessive work monitoring – show
no significant relationships to self-defence responses (Alberts et al., 2005). Thus, we
hypothesized:
Hypothesis 2: Certain negative acts, particularly threats to identity, economic stability,
and physical safety, will discriminate between those who self-identify as targets and
those who do not.
Bullying prevalence also varies by national culture and ‘appears to be less widespread
in Scandinavia than in countries such as the UK’ (Mikkelsen and Einarsen, 2001, p. 407).
Based on Hofstede’s (1980) theory regarding national differences and the impact of those
differences on workplace values, research suggests that lower rates of bullying in Scan-
dinavia may be due to the low power distance and feminine/egalitarian cultures (Ein-
arsen, 2000; Mikkelsen and Einarsen, 2001; Salin, 2001). In low power distance cultures,
smaller differences in power and status exist between people in different positions
(Hofstede, 1980). Since perceived power disparity is a feature of bullying, one might
expect to find lower levels of bullying in Scandinavia than in UK or US studies
(Mikkelsen and Einarsen, 2001; Zapf et al., 2003). Furthermore, since Scandinavian
cultures are more feminine/egalitarian, people in these cultures might generally be more
concerned with the quality of interpersonal relations (Newman and Nollen, 1996). As
such, ‘aggressive behaviour, bullying or other forms of power abuse are likely to be less
tolerated’ in Scandinavia than in masculine cultures, such as the UK and USA, ‘in which
there is a greater focus on individual assertiveness and achievement’ (Mikkelsen and
Einarsen, 2001, p. 408).
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Hofstede’s (1993) examination of American management theories is informative and
suggests that US companies stress market processes, individualism, and the importance
of managers over workers. Central to these is that the ‘ideal principle of control...is
competition between individuals’ (p. 91). Stressing competition and individual achieve-
ment and reward de-emphasizes collaborative efforts. Moreover, the focus on manage-
ment rather than workers, which is likely ‘the result of the combination of extreme
individualism with fairly strong masculinity’ (p. 91), may also enable powerful organi-
zational members to bully others with relative impunity. Thus, our third hypothesis is as
follows:
Hypothesis 3: Bullying prevalence in the current US sample will be higher than in
Scandinavian samples.
Bullying Degree
Past research suggests that bullying occurs in gradations, what we call degrees, depending
on frequency, intensity, and duration (Davenport et al., 2002; Lutgen-Sandvik, 2003a).
We conceptualize bullying degree as a cumulative score reflecting the intensity, fre-
quency, and duration of negative acts that constitute workplace bullying. The intensity of
bullying is most often a cluster of hostile strategies rather than a single negative act. For
example, in a Danish study, ‘all self-reported victims also reported exposure to a wide
range of...bullying behaviors’ (Mikkelsen and Einarsen, 2001, p. 405). Moreover,
frequency and duration appear to be linked; targets ‘who are frequently bullied also
report a longer duration of their problem’ (Einarsen and Skogstad, 1996, p. 192). The
sheer number of different negative acts associated with bullying and the impact of
frequency and duration on targets’ experiences indicate that bullying is not a dichoto-
mous, ‘yes or no’, experience.
Some scholars have made the case that bullying should be conceptualized as occurring
on a continuum of negativity. Davenport and colleagues (2002), for example, argue that
bullying could be characterized by degrees of harm, similar to first, second and third
degree burns, a model further explicated by Lutgen-Sandvik (2003a). More importantly,
intensity, frequency and duration – what we calculate as degree – are also linked to targets’
negative outcomes. US workers persistently exposed to aggression showed greater signs
of harm than those occasionally exposed, and those exposed to five or more persistent
negative acts demonstrated greater damage than those exposed to fewer than five
(Keashly and Neuman, 2002). This research led to our fourth hypothesis:
Hypothesis 4a: Bullying degree will be positively correlated with stress.
Hypothesis 4b: Bullying degree will be negatively correlated with job satisfaction and
overall job rating.
Witnessing Workplace Bullying
Bullying results in a ripple effect indicating that the phenomenon does not involve just a
few ‘problem’ employees (Coyne et al., 2000), but rather is a dynamic process that
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negatively impacts everyone in the workgroup. Barling’s (1996) discussion of primary and
secondary victims of workplace violence suggests that secondary victims are ‘employees
who themselves were not violated but whose perceptions, fears and expectations are
changed as a result of being vicariously exposed to violence’ (Barling, 1996, p. 35). As
such, witnesses of bullying could be considered secondary targets, especially since wit-
nesses report increased levels of ‘destabilizing forces at work, excessive workloads, role
ambiguity and work relationship conflict’ ( Jennifer et al., 2003, p. 495). That is, in
bullying work environments, witnesses probably also experience more negative acts,
more frequently, than non-exposed workers. Thus, we hypothesized the following:
Hypothesis 5: Witnesses of bullying will report overall workplace negativity at rates
lower than targets but higher than non-exposed workers.
Research also suggests that bullying not only negatively impacts targets’ work quality
outcomes (e.g. satisfaction, stress), but also adversely affects those outcomes for non-
bullied witnesses ( Jennifer et al., 2003; Vartia, 2001, 2003). Witnessing co-workers have
‘significantly more general stress and mental stress reactions’ than non-exposed workers
(Vartia, 2001, p. 65). Additionally, co-workers who see their colleagues abused more
often ‘leave their jobs as a result of their contact with bullying’ than do non-exposed
workers (Rayner et al., 2002, p. 56). As such, our final hypothesis is as follows:
Hypothesis 6: Witnesses of bullying will report work quality outcomes that are better
than target outcomes but worse than non-exposed worker outcomes.
METHOD
Data Collection and Sample
The current study was conducted via an online survey (administered through Survey
Monkey) with the intent of hearing from a variety of US workers spanning age groups,
industries, and locales. To avoid drawing a skewed sample of abused workers, all
communication, including verbiage on the website or conversations regarding the
project, referred to the project The American Workplace Survey and simply asked respondents
to ‘Tell us about your job’. We used a number of social network, online, and advertising
techniques to draw US workers to the website (n =469). These included extra credit
to undergraduates who sent the link to adult, working, non-student acquaintances
(n =248); network sampling of researchers’ contacts outside higher education (n =118);
work-related online chat rooms and a web search engine ad (Google) (n =25); and print
ads (n =5). Seven respondents did not provide data regarding how they learned about
the study.
Participants. Four hundred and sixty-nine people responded to the survey. We used zip
codes to ensure that participants were US workers; 18 non-US respondents were deleted
from the data. Of those remaining, 403 surveys were sufficiently complete to be usable
in analyses. Two hundred and sixty-six respondents were women and 134 were men
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(three were missing this information). They worked in 18 industries, lived in 33 states,
and ranged in age from 18 to 57 (mean 35.8, SD 9.46). The majority of respondents (76
per cent) worked in the following industries: administration, health and social services,
education, service sector, professional and scientific fields, finance and insurance, and
public administration. When comparing the current sample to Department of Labor
(DOL) statistics, we find that women, persons aged 35–44 years, and white-collar
industries are somewhat over-represented, and 6 of the 17 DOL industry categories
are somewhat under-represented (accommodation/food, construction, manufacturing,
public administration, retail, transportation) (US Department of Labor, 2006). On the
other hand, the sample is representative of all other age groups, five industries (agricul-
ture, arts, information, real estate, utilities), and includes workers from more than
two-thirds of the 50 states.
Similarities and differences of samples. Since we compared findings in this study to interna-
tional bullying studies, it is important to note how our sample compares to the of other
NAQ studies. The current sample was weighted towards white-collar professions, as
might be expected in an online format, and is similar to Salin’s (2001) sample of Finnish
professionals with business degrees and a significant portion of Mikkelsen and Einarsen’s
Danish sample (2001). Participants represented a wide range of ages, as was the case in
the Scandinavian studies to which we compared our findings (Mikkelsen and Einarsen,
2001; Salin, 2001). The broad spectrum of industries represented in the current sample,
however, may be less comparable to the Danish study that focused on only four orga-
nizations (Mikkelsen and Einarsen, 2001). Finally, women were over-represented in the
current sample, but this sex characteristic was also apparent in the Salin (2001) and
Mikkelsen and Einarsen (2001) studies. In sum, the current sample is similar in age and
sex distribution to the studies to which it is compared. It also reflects a similar industry
distribution to the Finnish (Salin, 2001) and Norwegian (Einarsen and Skogstad, 1996)
studies.
Measures
The study’s measures included operationally-defined and self-identified bullying preva-
lence, frequency and intensity of negative acts, bullying degree, an assessment of whether
participants had witnessed others being bullied, and work-related outcomes. In addition,
the online survey, which comprises an extensive study of bullying at work, included
numerous other items not explicitly reported in this article.
Operationally-defined bullying. Respondents were asked how often they experienced 22
(behaviourally defined) negative acts over the past six months. Response categories for
each negative act were: 0, never; 1, occasionally (less than monthly); 2, monthly; 3,
weekly, and 4, daily. The list of negative acts came directly from the NAQ, a standard-
ized tool measuring workplace bullying (Einarsen and Hoel, 2001). None of the NAQ
items specifically referred to ‘bullying’. The NAQ was selected for its established reli-
ability and comparison potential due to its use in a number of previous bullying studies
(Einarsen and Hoel, 2001; Hoel and Cooper, 2000; Hoel et al., 2001; Mikkelsen and
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Einarsen, 2001; Salin, 2001). Research using the NAQ has demonstrated high internal
consistency, with Cronbach’s alpha ranging from 0.81 to 0.92 (Mikkelsen and Einarsen,
2001; Salin, 2001). Cronbach’s alpha for NAQ in this study was 0.92. We changed one
NAQ item that asked respondents about ‘coventry’, a common British term associated
with the silent treatment. The original wording, ‘Being ignored, excluded or being “sent
to Coventry” ’ was altered to read ‘Being ignored, excluded or isolated from others’.
Self-identified bullying. In addition to the negative act inventory, we measured respondents’
perceptions of being bullied at work. Perceived bullying was measured by asking respon-
dents to state whether they had been a target of workplace bullying based upon the
following definition (taken verbatim from the NAQ):
We define bullying as a situation where one or several individuals perceive themselves
to be on the receiving end of negative actions from one or more persons persistently over
a period of time, in a situation where the targets have difficulty defending themselves
against these actions. We do not refer to a one-time incident as bullying.
Response categories were: No; Yes, but only rarely; Yes, now and then; Yes, several
times per week; Yes, almost daily.
Intensity and frequency. To determine the number of negative acts and the regularity of
those acts, we assessed two continuous measures related to bullying: intensity and
frequency. Intensity scores were the cumulative number of different negative acts expe-
rienced – calculated by adding the total number of reported negative acts, regardless of
frequency. Frequency, on the other hand, specifically examined the magnitude of nega-
tive acts occurring weekly or daily. That is, frequency was the cumulative number of
negative acts reported to happen on an extremely frequent basis. We used frequency to
categorize operationally-defined targets (e.g. two negative acts at least weekly); both
frequency and intensity were also components of our bullying degree construct.
Bullying degree. Past research suggests that as frequency, number of negative acts (inten-
sity), and duration of bullying increase, so do harmful results (Einarsen, 1999; Keashly
and Neuman, 2002). Therefore, we calculated bullying degree using duration and
the interrelated measures of intensity and frequency (positively correlated, r=0.69,
p<0.01). Thus, a mid-range bullying degree score could reflect two different possibili-
ties: a high number of negative acts at a relatively low frequency or a limited number of
negative acts at a relatively high frequency. For example, for a respondent reporting five
negative acts monthly (intensity =5) and eight negative acts weekly/daily (frequency =8)
over the past six months (duration =6), we would calculate the bullying degree score as
5+8+6=19. (The NAQ asks about negative acts ‘over the past six months’, so all
respondents in the current study had duration scores of 6. We address this issue in the
discussion.)
Witnessed bullying. Respondents who did not identify as bullying targets were provided
with the definition for bullying and asked if they had witnessed bullying at work during
the past six months. Answers choices were ‘yes/no’.
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Workplace outcomes. We measured three outcomes related to respondents’ work experi-
ence over the past six months: job satisfaction, overall job rating, and perceived stress.
Job satisfaction was measured using the single item, ‘Overall, how satisfied are you in
your job?’. Answer choices were arranged along a Likert-type scale ranging from 1, very
dissatisfied to 5, very satisfied. Overall job rating/ranking was measured using the single
item, ‘Overall, how would you rank your experiences at work?’. Answer choices ranged
from 1, very negative to 5, very positive. Job stress was measured using a single item,
‘How stressful do you find your work environment?’. Answers choices ranged from 1,
very unstressful to 5, very stressful.
We used single item scales to measure job satisfaction, overall ranking of work expe-
riences, and work environment-related stress since considerable research indicates that
single-item measures are strongly correlated with multiple-item measures of the same
concept (Cunny and Perri, 1991; Loo, 2002; Nagy, 2002; Wanous et al., 1997). This is
the case for single-item measures of job satisfaction (Nagy, 2002; Wanous et al., 1997),
work-related stress and health (Hasson and Arnetz, 2005), and health-related quality of
life (Cunny and Perri, 1991). Moreover, since single-item measures are shorter, more
efficient, and may encompass more of the facet under analysis (Nagy, 2002), the single-
item approach was well suited to our analysis.
Other survey measures. The overall study from which these data are taken explored a wider
range of workplace dynamics than frequency of negative acts and perceptions of bullying/
witnessing. The NAQ, embedded in the online survey, was one aspect of the overall study.
Other measures, not reported herein, included frequency of positive acts, responses to
being bullied, and in-depth, open-ended items about self-identified target and witness
experiences. The reader should note that, similar to any other study that uses multiple
scales (e.g. Keashly et al., 1994), the findings may have been different if the scales had been
used on their own and not combined. It is possible that the findings from our embedded
NAQ may differ from comparative studies in which the NAQ was used on its own.
RESULTS
Correlations and descriptive statistics for all continuous measure dependent and inde-
pendent variables are summarized in Table II. As indicated in Table II, continuous
Table II. Descriptive statistics and correlations
Variable Mean SD 1 2 3
1. Bullying degree 8.99 6.70
2. Job satisfaction 3.82 1.10 -0.589*
3. Job rating 3.91 0.96 -0.621* 0.829*
4. Job stress 3.51 1.01 0.341* -0.345* -0.310*
Notes: Degree scores ranged from 0 to 41.
Means for satisfaction, ranking, and stress range from 1 to 5, with higher scores
indicating greater intensity of the variable.
*p<0.001.
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measure variables are significantly related. The research question and individual hypoth-
eses were tested using chi-square, discriminant factor, and one-way ANOVA analyses.
Tables III, IV, and V present these results.
The results section begins with prevalence data based on our operationalization of
workplace bullying and then makes comparisons between the current study and other
studies employing the NAQ. Since NAQ studies operationalize bullying in two differ-
ent ways (one versus two negative acts), we compare prevalence rates from the current
study with multiple prevalence measures. Thus, although we define bullying as two
negative acts at least weekly for six or more months, we compare our findings to the
reported measures in other studies, which may not adhere to the same operational
criteria.
Prevalence Rates with Two Measures
Hypothesis 1 stated that ‘Bullying prevalence based on the number of negative acts
will be higher than bullying prevalence based on self-identification as targets’. Our
operationalization of bullying was at least two negative acts, weekly or more often, for at least
six months. Based on this definition, nearly a quarter of the respondents (n =113, 28 per
cent) were classified ‘bullied’ and met the operationalized criteria; however, only 38
(9.4 per cent) of these respondents self-identified as bullied – a little over one-third (see
Table III). The distribution was statistically different from equality, c2(1) =9.25,
p<0.01. Although the two methods resulted in highly different prevalence rates, as
with Salin’s (2001) study, the two methods were consistent in the sense that those who
had self-identified as bullied also reported significantly higher exposure rates to all but
one of the negative acts in the NAQ. Furthermore, of those who classified themselves
as bullied, all but two (95 per cent) were also identified operationally. The two who
self-identified but were not operationally identified reported one negative act at least
weekly rather than two. Thus, Hypothesis 1 was supported. That is, in this study,
bullying prevalence based on persistent negative acts was significantly higher than
prevalence based on self-identification.
Self-Identification as Bullied
Hypothesis 2 stated that ‘Certain negative acts, particularly threats to identity, economic
stability, and physical safety, will discriminate between those who self-identify as targets
and those who do not’. To explore differences in the experiences of self-identified targets
and non-targets, we initially compared the frequency of the 22 negative acts respondents
reported encountering regularly (monthly/weekly/daily) for the two groups. We con-
trasted the frequently reported negative acts for self-identified targets (38) and non-
targets (n =365). Table IV provides comparisons between the two groups and indicates
that self-defined targets reported higher frequencies of all negative acts than did non-
targets. A one-way chi-square test resulted in significant distribution differences between
the two groups for all negative acts, except for violence or threats of violence – a rare
occurrence for members of both groups. This comparison indicated that self-identified
targets reported nearly all negative acts at higher rates but did not discriminate among
acts.
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To determine what combination of 22 negative acts significantly discriminated
between those who self-identified as targets of bullying and those who did not, we entered
the 22 negative acts into a multiple discriminant analysis using stepwise entry, with Wilks’
lambda as the significance test. The stepwise discriminant analysis produced one signifi-
cant discriminant function, which included six negative acts: being humiliated or ridi-
culed in connection with your work (discriminant weight 0.64); having important
information withheld (discriminant weight 0.58); being faced with threatening behaviour
(e.g. finger-pointing, invasion of personal space, shoving, blocking/barring the way)
(discriminant weight 0.54); being pressured not to claim something to which entitled (e.g.
sick leave, vacation pay) (discriminant weight 0.50); being ignored or faced with hostility
when approaching others (discriminant weight 0.47); and hints to quit your job (discrimi-
nant weight 0.46). The function significantly discriminated between self-identified targets
Table III. Prevalence comparisons: workplace bullying and aggression at work
Population (sample size) NAQ
1 neg/act weekly
past 6 months
2 neg/acts weekly
past 6 months
Self-identified
last 6–12 months
Self-identified
work history
%% % %
Current study: US (403) 46.8a,b 28c9.4d29.8e
1. Danish workers (765) 15.8a4.8c3.2 8.8e
2. Finnish workers (377) 24.1b1.6d
3. UK workers (5288) 10.6
Population (sample size) WAQ-R and other measures
1 neg/act weekly
past 6–12 months
6 neg/acts weekly
past 6–12 months
Self-identified
work history
%% %
Current study (NAQ) 46.8 7.7 29.8
4. US Michigan workers (689) 18.4 42
5. US Michigan workers (433) 14 56
6. US VA WAQ-R (4801) 36 6
7. US workers, National Survey
of Workplace Health and Safety (2508)
41.4
Notes: Same subscript (a,b,c,...
) in the same column indicates distribution significantly different from equality (c2,p<0.05).
1. Mikkelsen and Einarsen (2001).
2. Salin (2001).
3. Hoel and Cooper (2000); Hoel et al. (2001).
4. Keashly and Jagatic (2000; cited in Keashly and Jagatic, 2003); Keashly and Neuman (2005).
5. Burnazi and Keashly (2005); Keashly and Neuman (2005).
6. Keashly and Neuman (2002, 2005); Neuman (2004).
7. Schat et al. (2006).
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and non-targets (Wilks’ lambda =0.461, c2(6) =157.84, p <0.001) and classified 92.6
per cent of the cases.
Current Study Prevalence Compared to Scandinavian Prevalence
Hypothesis 3 stated that ‘Bullying prevalence in the current US sample will be higher
than in Scandinavian samples’. To compare prevalence at as many points as possible
with studies employing the NAQ, we calculated all levels of intensity. In this way, we
were able to contrast our findings with Scandinavian research that operationalized
bullying as one negative act at least weekly, in addition to our operationalization of two
negative acts (see Table III). Comparisons were made using one-way chi-square tests.
The Danish study (Mikkelsen and Einarsen, 2001) reported prevalence of both one and
two negative acts at least weekly; the Finnish study (Salin, 2001) reported prevalence
based on the occurrence of one negative act at least weekly. Among these NAQ studies,
we found that the US sample had a significantly higher prevalence of bullying for nearly
all points of comparison. For example, 46.8 per cent of the US, 15.8 per cent of the
Table IV. Negative acts compared: self-identified targets and non-targets
Negative acts associated with workplace bullying Percentage reported monthly, weekly, daily
Target Non-target c2
1. Had information withheld that affected your performance 59.5 18.3 21.8
2. Been exposed to an unmanageable workload 56.8 27.6 10.1
3. Ordered to do work below your level of competence 51.4 27.1 7.5
4. Given tasks with unreasonable/impossible targets/deadlines 48.7 16.7 15.7
5. Had your opinions and views ignored 46.0 11.8 20.2
6. Had your work excessively monitored 40.5 12.8 14.4
7. Reminded repeatedly of your errors or mistakes 40.5 7.9 22.0
8. Humiliated or ridiculed in connection with your work 40.5 3.8 30.4
9. Had gossip and rumours spread about you 37.8 6.6 21.9
10. Had insulting/offensive remarks made about you 35.1 3.6 25.6
11. Been ignored, excluded or isolated from others 32.4 7.9 14.9
12. Received hints or signals from others that you should quit job 29.7 3.0 21.8
13. Been intimidated with threatening behaviour 27.0 2.2 21.1
14. Experienced persistent criticism of your work and effort 27.0 3.6 17.9
15. Been ignored or faced hostile reactions when you approached 27.0 3.8 17.5
16. Had key tasks removed, replaced with trivial, unpleasant tasks 27.0 4.1 16.9
17. Had false allegations made against you 24.3 3.6 15.4
18. Subjected to excessive teasing and sarcasm 24.3 4.9 12.9
19. Been shouted at or targeted with spontaneous anger (or rage) 24.3 4.6 13.4
20. Pressured into not claiming something to which entitled 16.2 3.6 8.0
21. Been subjected to practical jokes 8.1 0.6 6.5
22. Experienced threats of violence or abused/attacked 2.7 0.6 1.3
Notes: Self-identified targets and non-targets differed significantly from equal distribution for all negative acts (c2,
p<0.01), except violence/threats of violence.
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Danish, and 24.1 per cent of the Finnish respondents reported experiencing one negative
act at least weekly. Chi-square analysis revealed a significant deviation from an equalized
distribution: current study vs. Danish (c2(1) =15.35, p <0.01); current study vs. Finnish
(c2(1) =7.27, p <0.05).
Comparison with the Danish study (Mikkelsen and Einarsen, 2001) for the occurrence
of two negative acts at least weekly – the benchmark used in the current study – also
indicated significant differences between the two groups. Specifically, 28 per cent of US
and 4.8 per cent of Danish respondents reported experiencing two negative acts at least
weekly. This difference deviated significantly from an equal distribution (c2(1) =24.6,
p<0.001). For self-identification as a target over the past six months, 9.4 per cent of US,
3.2 per cent of Danish, and 1.6 per cent of Finnish respondents reported that they had
been bullied. This result also revealed a significant deviation from an equalized distri-
bution between the US and Finnish samples (c2(1) =5.53, p <0.05) but produced a
non-significant result comparing the US and Danish samples (c2(1) =3.05, p >0.05). In
a final comparison point with Scandinavian NAQ studies, 29.8 per cent of US and 8.8
per cent of Danish respondents self-identified as bullied sometime during their
work history. Chi-square results indicated a significant deviation from an equalized
distribution (c2(1) =11.42, p <0.01). Taken together, we found substantial support for
Hypothesis 3.
Bullying Degree and Work Quality Outcomes
Hypotheses 4a and 4b stated that ‘Bullying degree will be positively correlated with stress
and negatively correlated with job satisfaction and overall job rating’. To test the idea
that increased degree is related to negative job outcomes, we correlated respondents’
degree scores with work quality outcomes (stress, overall job ranking, job satisfaction)
using two-tailed Pearson correlations. Bullying degree positively correlated with stress
(r(398) =0.341, p <0.001), and was inversely related to job satisfaction (r(401) =-0.589,
p<0.001), and overall job ranking/rating (r(400) =-0.621, p <0.001) (see Table II).
These findings are consistent with previous research indicating that as there are increases
in the number of bullying events occurring weekly, there are also increases in the
degree of negative impact (Keashly and Neuman, 2002). Thus we found support for
Hypothesis 4.
Witnessing Bullying
Hypothesis 5 stated that ‘Witnesses to bullying will report overall workplace negativity
at rates lower than targets but higher than non-exposed workers’. The indicator of
overall workplace negativity used in this study was bullying degree. Since all respon-
dents reported frequency of the NAQ’s negative acts over the past six months, regard-
less of self-identified categories, we calculated a measure of bullying degree for all
respondents. Using bullying degree as an indicator of overall workplace negativity, we
compared negativity levels among three self-identified categories: bullied workers
(n =38), witnesses to bullying (n =44), and non-exposed workers (n =321) with a one-
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way ANOVA. This produced a significant result, and LSD post-hoc analyses resulted
in significant differences for bullying degree among groups. Self-identified targets
reported the highest bullying degree scores (mean =19.6, SD 8.1), followed by wit-
nesses (mean =12.1, SD 7.2) and then non-exposed workers (mean =7.6, SD =5.8)
(F(2, 403) =64.89, p <0.001; see Table V). This suggests that even when workers do
not self-identify as targets, if they work in an environment where they see others being
abused, they also experience higher levels of negativity than do non-exposed workers.
Thus Hypothesis 5 was supported.
We further hypothesized (H6), ‘Witnesses to bullying will report work quality out-
comes that are better than target outcomes but worse than non-exposed worker out-
comes’. Again, using self-identification as the grouping criterion, we analysed levels of job
satisfaction, job stress, and rating of overall job experience with a one-way ANOVA.
This produced a significant result, and LSD post-hoc analyses indicated significant
differences for all three work quality outcomes among all three groups (see Table V). Job
satisfaction was highest for non-exposed workers (mean =4.0, SD 1.0), followed by
witnesses (mean =3.1, SD =1.3), and then targets (mean =2.9, SD =1.2) (F(2,
400) =26.19, p <0.011). Similarly, non-exposed workers ranked their overall work expe-
riences highest (mean =4.1, SD =0.87), followed by those who saw others being bullied
(mean =3.5, SD =1.1), and then targets (mean =2.9, SD =0.95) (F(2, 399) =30.77,
p<0.001). The same pattern was evident in reported stress levels; targets reported the
highest stress levels (4.1, SD =0.92), followed by witnesses (mean =3.6, SD =0.76), and
then non-exposed workers (mean =3.2, SD =1.0) (F(2, 397) =5.71, p <0.05). Thus, we
found support for Hypothesis 6.
DISCUSSION
The central contributions of this study include (a) assessing the prevalence of bullying in
a US sample, (b) exploring US workers’ perceptions of being bullied, (c) introducing the
bullying degree construct, and (d) examining the impact of witnessing others being
bullied. According to our analyses, based on an operational definition of bullying as
Table V. Workplace negativity (degree) and work quality outcomes for three self-identified groups
Worker group Degree Stress Satisfaction Ranking
Targets (38) 19.6 (8.1)d4.1 (0.92)a2.9 (1.2)b2.9 (0.95)c
Witnesses (44) 12.1 (7.2)d3.6 (0.76)a3.1 (1.3)b3.5 (1.1)c
Non-exposed (321) 7.6 (5.8)d3.2 (1.0)a4.0 (1.0)b4.1 (0.87)c
F statistic 64.89** 5.12* 26.19** 30.77**
Notes: Degree scores ranged from 0 to 41.
Means for satisfaction, ranking, and stress range from 1 to 5, with higher scores indicating greater intensity of the variable.
Standard deviations are in parentheses.
Means with same subscript (a,b,c,...
) in the same column differ significantly from each other, per LSD tests.
*p<0.01, ** p <0.001.
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being composed of two or more negative acts occurring at least weekly for six months or
longer, one quarter of respondents in this study were bullied at work. Of potentially more
interest is the fact that only one-third of this group (and only 9.4 per cent of the entire
sample) self-identified as targets. This suggests that although US workers in this study
reported persistent negativity in the workplace, they did not always equate that negativity
with the concept of bullying. Although we cannot say definitively why this difference
occurred, it could be that respondents have naturalized bullying as a normal part of the
job, that ‘bullying’ terminology has not made its way into popular American language,
or that US workers in this study associated the term with weakness or passivity and
therefore avoided self-labelling. Indeed, the competitiveness of the US culture may
contribute to perceptions that being bullied reflects weakness. It also is possible that
respondents successfully defended themselves against negative acts and thus believed
their experiences fell outside the global definition that indicated bullying was a ‘situation
where the targets have difficulty defending themselves’. As noted, international studies
show the same pattern of differences between operationally-defined and self-identified
bullying prevalence (Rayner, 1999; Salin, 2001).
Comparing bullying prevalence across samples is complicated, because the phenom-
enon has been measured in varied ways over different periods of time. Despite the use of
different measurements and time frames, evidence suggests that prevalence of bullying
and aggression in different US studies of aggression (Keashly and Jagatic, 2000; Keashly
and Neuman, 2005; Schat et al., 2006) and a UK bullying study employing the NAQ
(Hoel and Cooper, 2000; Hoel et al., 2001) are comparable to our findings (see
Table III). Given that the USA and UK share many cultural similarities (Hofstede,
1998), this perhaps should not be surprising. Similar rates of bullying to the current study
were evident based on self-identification as bullied (Hoel and Cooper, 2000) and number
of persistent negative acts (Keashly and Jagatic, 2000; Keashly and Neuman, 2005; Schat
et al., 2006). This same similarity was not present between the current study and
Scandinavian research, however.
Comparisons indicate that persistent workplace negativity is significantly higher in the
US sample than in Scandinavian samples. Given the data available, we can speculate
that approximately 35–50 per cent of US workers experience one negative act at least
weekly in any 6–12 month period, and nearly 30 per cent experience at least two types
of negativity frequently. Thus, reported negativity levels for US employees are 20–50 per
cent higher than those reported by Scandinavian workers. This suggests that people in
the US sample perceived their workplaces as filled with more negative acts than did
Scandinavian employees, which could indicate that their workplaces actually were more
negative, that they were more likely to perceive actions as negative, or both.
Workers who perceived they were bullied reported all negative acts, except physical
attack, at significantly higher frequencies than non-bullied workers. What is potentially
more revealing is that there appears to be a cluster of negative acts associated with
perceived bullying and subsequent self-labelling. Unlike work overload and impossible
deadlines – ubiquitous realities in the modern workplace – behaviours that discriminate
between self-identified targets and non-targets represent serious threats to identity
(humiliation and ridicule), economic stability (information withheld and hints to quit),
and physical safety (threatening behaviour, faced with hostility). These behaviours are
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more egregious ruptures of civil discourse at work, seriously transgress norms of appro-
priate workplace behaviour, and go further to fundamentally threaten essential life
domains (professional/personal identity, ability to provide for oneself, security of physi-
cal safety). As such, they are more likely to incite fear, dread, and fight-responses (Alberts
et al., 2005).
In addition to negative target impact, this study underscores that even non-bullied
witnesses report elevated negativity and stress and, in contrast, indicate decreased work
satisfaction and overall rating of their work experiences. This is an important insight that
is consistent with past literature exploring the impact of bullying on witnessing
co-workers ( Jennifer et al., 2003; Vartia, 2001, 2003) and reminds organizational
members, managers, and researchers to look beyond the dyadic interaction between
bully and target to the broader negative impact of bullying on workgroups and organi-
zations. Thus, bullying is not simply an interpersonal issue but is an organizational
dynamic that impacts all who are exposed – whether primarily or secondarily (Barling,
1996).
Finally, by exploring the features of bullying (intensity, frequency, duration), it is
possible to construct gradations or degrees of bullying. Findings suggest that bullying is
a complex phenomenon most effectively conceptualized on a continuum. Using the
metaphor of being burned by degree, the current study provides statistical evidence that
as bullying degree increases, so do negative outcomes. Low levels of abuse, something we
might term ‘pre-bullying’, can be compared to first-degree burns (e.g. sunburn). Like
sunburn, low levels of bullying can cause damage over time, but are common, potentially
superficial, and usually quick to heal. More intensive, frequent and persistent levels of
bullying are similar to second-degree burns, because this level of abuse is more painful
and often requires professional treatment and intervention to heal. Last, extremely
escalated cases of bullying are similar to third-degree burns. Such serious burns often
result in deep scarring and permanent damage. Likewise, high degree bullying may result
in permanent psychological damage, post-traumatic stress disorder, increased risk of
heart disease, and even suicide (Kivimäki et al., 2005; Leymann, 1990; Mikkelsen and
Einarsen, 2001). Our analyses suggest that bullying degree impacts workers’ experiences
in fundamental ways and that being bullied is not unitary, but rather is a varied
experience that occurs on an escalating continuum.
This study of a sample of US workers builds on current understanding of abuse and
harassment at work. It expands the workplace sexual and racial harassment literature
to include more common forms of abuse and mistreatment (Richman et al., 1999;
Rospenda et al., 2000) that embrace the experiences of workers outside of statutorily-
protected worker groups in the USA ( Yamada, 2000). The study is one of the first to
examine specifically the prevalence of bullying in a US sample using the internationally-
utilized NAQ.
Limitations and Future Research
In this investigation, the self-identification prevalence measurement indicated that 28 per
cent of respondents felt they had been bullied sometime during their work history.
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However, qualitative responses, at times, alluded to abuse that lasted less than six
months. This suggests that although the NAQ stipulates, ‘during the past six months,
how often have you experienced the following . . .’, some respondents may report acts
that have occurred for less than six months. Regardless of survey wording, this implies
that workers may have different conceptualizations of bullying than do researchers (as
argued by Liefooghe and MacKenzie-Davey, 2003).
Only for those who self-identified as ‘bullied’ do we have a continuous measure for
duration beyond the six-month frame measured by the NAQ. Considerable evidence
suggests that bullying usually lasts longer than six months. Self-identified targets in the
current study reported an average duration 18.6 months, and Namie (2000) report an
average duration of 16.5 months. Longer durations increase the level of hostility and
related harm associated with bullying (Keashly and Neuman, 2002). Longitudinal
research has found that those exposed to chronic abuse, at least two years in duration,
show deeper and more far-ranging effects, particularly for more distal outcomes like
substance abuse (Richman et al., 2001). In this study too, self-identified targets’ qualita-
tive responses suggest that the longer bullying continues, the greater the cumulative
harm. Future research might consider asking for each negative act: ‘How many months
did this continue?’. This would provide a more accurate and continuous duration
variable for each negative act and thus avoid measuring bullying with reported negative
acts that may have been short-lived.
Inquiring about the source of aggression is also important. In this study, 60 per cent
of those self-identifying as bullied reported one or more supervisors as the aggressors, and
research suggests that bullying from supervisors is more hurtful than from co-worker
aggression (Keashly and Neuman, 2005; Keashly et al., 2004; Schat et al., 2006).
Clearly, knowing the identity of the aggressor is important in understanding the expe-
rience of workplace bullying.
Furthermore, there is some controversy over the characteristic of power disparity (i.e.
an inability to defend oneself against abuse) when operationalizing the bullying con-
struct. If bullying is a form of interpersonal aggression in which those targeted end up in
an inferior position, then researchers must determine whether such a disparity feature is
present. Measuring perceived power disparity is especially important since by most
definitions, acts of aggression would not be considered workplace bullying without this
feature. As such, in addition to inquiring about perpetrators, future research could
fruitfully ask about respondents’ efficacy at defending against and/or stopping each
negative act.
Another issue concerns whether the online survey drew more workers who felt abused
at work than what is representative in the general US workforce. We took many
precautions to avoid this possibility, since one of our central goals was to estimate the rate
of abuse in a US worker sample. As noted, to avoid drawing a skewed sample, all
communication regarding the research referred to the project as a general workplace
survey seeking general information about respondents’ jobs. Additionally, we structured
the first half of the survey by embedding the NAQ items into a larger survey that
included positive experiences at work to mask further the bullying focus.
Nevertheless, there is the potential that a fraction of the initial respondents may have
purposely forwarded the survey to someone who was being abused at work. Certainly,
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future researchers would be advised to consider this limitation, and with more resources,
try to control for it. We would note, however, that we do not believe this potential
limitation greatly affected our findings. Comparisons with other US studies (see
Table III) suggest that the percentage of persons experiencing persistent negative acts at
work in other studies is comparable. We estimate that the differences would be far higher
if the current sample were skewed towards abused workers. Conversely, some industries
at elevated risk of aggressive behaviour (e.g. service, government) are under-represented
(Schat et al., 2006). Thus, level of abuse in the USA may in fact be more extreme than
this sample’s results indicate.
Finally, although we conducted comparisons among studies, researchers should keep
in mind that numbers do not account for differences in linguistic and cultural mean-
ings respondents may attribute to words or phrases, especially as survey tools are
translated from one language to another. Although the NAQ is authored by a British
and a Norwegian scholar (an aspect that enhances its usefulness across national
samples), even the UK and USA differ in regard to language conventions, meanings,
and word use. As noted, we revised the wording of a question about being sent ‘cov-
entry’. Future scholars may consider further refining the measure to better fit Ameri-
can workers. Nevertheless, the NAQ is currently the most widely-used measure of
bullying, and therefore seems best poised to assess whether differences in bullying rates
exist across international samples. Furthermore, the NAQ demonstrates high reliability
across studies.
In conclusion, we believe that this study indicates that workplace bullying, as an
under-reported and relatively under-analysed phenomenon, is alive and well in the US
workplace. Although documenting its existence is a crucial step for tackling the issue,
there is much work to be done if we hope to reduce or prevent workplace bullying.
Further research is crucial to examine the negative physical and emotional effects of
bullying on US workers and ways to prevent such damage. Certainly, the recent medical
research linking high levels of perceived justice to lowered risk of coronary heart disease
(Kivimäki et al., 2005) is convincing evidence that being treated fairly at work is crucial
to workers’ health and well-being. The responses in this study suggest a wide range of
damage that targets suffer – damage that is costly to organizations, communities and
families. Additionally, we need to explore further the secondary harm to employees who
witness others being bullied. Finally, but importantly, researchers should further
examine the organizational and cultural structures that enable, trigger, and reward
bullying in the USA. Bullying does not arise solely as a function of personality, but
flourishes in specific workgroups that normalize competitive, abusive behaviour (Salin,
2003). If scholars wish to reduce the occurrence of bullying at work, they must address
the larger, structural issues that allow it to persist (Hoel and Salin, 2003; Neuman and
Baron, 2003; Salin, 2003; Zapf, 1999).
NOTE
*This study was funded by the Office of the Vice President for Research and Economic Affairs at Arizona
State University. We are grateful to editor Steven W. Floyd and three anonymous reviewers for their
suggestions on the manuscript, and Kory Floyd for assistance with data analysis.
Bullying in the American Workplace 857
© Blackwell Publishing Ltd 2007
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... In more indulgent and individualistic cultures (e.g., North America) with weaker control over impulses, the perception of workplace incivility tends to be higher than in more restrained cultures (e.g., Mediterranean, Middle East, and Eastern countries). In individualistic countries with a competitive organizational culture, employees may perceive uncivil behaviors as an effort to decrease their strength in the workplace and therefore, they may feel more threatened and challenged by experiencing workplace incivility (Lutgen-Sandvik, Tracy, & Alberts, 2007). However, the relatively limited number of studies in the categories of industry and country, lead us to have tentative conclusions of these results. ...
Thesis
Given the different norms across cultures, industries, and organizations, every workplace accepts a number of shared moral understandings as to its own respect norms among the members. However, in today’s global workplace, behavior has more nuances due to the speed and complexity of interpersonal interactions. Workplace incivility is a notable example of a unique form of interpersonal mistreatment in the organization with its low intensity and ambiguous intention of harming the target. With the aim of contributing to the current knowledge, the main purpose of this thesis is to provide a better understanding of workplace incivility perception among frontline employees in the service industry context. Turnover, on the other hand, is a big issue in the tourism and hospitality sectors that results in excessive costs for recruiting and training service employees. As an important source of job stress caused by negative interpersonal interactions, workplace incivility could be a critical antecedent of employees’ turnover. Therefore, the other purpose of this thesis is to shed more light on the employees’ responses to workplace incivility in terms of turnover intentions. Moreover, the current thesis is also aimed to investigate the role of a positive working environment, as environmental factors, as well as individual differences, as personal factors, in the perception of workplace incivility and its effect on turnover intention. This thesis consists of one systematic review and meta-analysis study, one quantitative empirical paper, and one exploratory paper. Firstly, in line with the purpose of the thesis, a deep review of the workplace incivility literature, in twenty years period, was conducted to provide an early meta-analysis of the relationship between employees’ perceptions of workplace incivility and their turnover intentions in the first paper. This paper investigated the consistency of the incivility–turnover relationship across different sources of workplace incivility (i.e., customer, coworker, supervisor incivility), as well as incivility measures, industries, and countries. The results from the first paper confirm a significant positive relationship between workplace incivility (regardless of the source) and employees’ turnover intention. Following up on this result, the second paper aims to examine to what extent the working environment can affect frontline employees’ perception of workplace incivility and their turnover intentions in the hotel and restaurant industry in Norway. In this quantitative paper, the effect of a perceived caring climate, as an environmental factor, on employees’ turnover intention through a serial multiple mediation model including coworker incivility and emotional exhaustion. The result of the structural equation modeling (SEM) analysis reveals that the perception of caring climate in the workplace has not only a direct negative effect on turnover intention but also has indirect effects through a reduction in both coworker incivility and emotional exhaustion. This result emphasizes the important role of environmental factors in the workplace (i.e., caring climate) in employees’ perceptions of incivility and their responses in terms of turnover intention. Given the same sample set, the third paper is an exploratory study that looks at individual differences as personal factors in the perception of workplace incivility, social supports at work, and intention to turnover through applying cluster analysis. Specifically, this study explores if it is possible to identify distinct groups of employees that perceive and behave differently from other groups. The results of K-means cluster analysis and one-way ANOVA indicate three different clusters/groups of frontline employees with different demographic and behavioral profiles. Taken together, the findings of the present thesis provide valuable insights into our knowledge about the incivility–turnover relationship in service work environments, as well as a better understanding of the role of environmental and personal factors in such a relationship.
... Sıklıkla kullanılan bu yöntemlerden biri de kritere dayalı ölçüm yöntemdir (operational veya criterian-based method) [27]. Bir dizi olumsuz davranış barındıran ölçeklerin kullanıldığı bu yöntemin, diğer yöntemlere kıyasla daha nesnel sonuçları yansıttığı kabul edilmektedir [27,28,29]. En sık kullanılan ölçekler arasında Leymann'ın olumsuz davranışlar ölçeği (Leymann Inventory of Psychological Terrorization -LIPT) [1,30], Einarsen ve Raknes'in olumsuz davranışlar ölçeği (Negative Acts Questionnaire -NAQ) [31,32], Björkqvist ve Österman'ın işyeri tacizi ölçeği (Work Harassment Scale-WHS) [33,34] gibi ölçekler yer almaktadır. ...
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Chapter
Workplace aggression is a serious problem for workers and their employers. As such, an improved scientific understanding of workplace aggression has important implications. This volume, which includes chapters written by leading workplace aggression scholars, addresses three primary topics: the measurement, predictors and consequences of workplace aggression; the social context of workplace aggression; and the prevention of workplace aggression. Of note, the book encompasses the various labels used by researchers to refer to workplace aggression, such as 'abusive supervision', 'bullying', 'incivility' and 'interpersonal conflict'. This approach differs from those of previous books on the topic in that it does not focus on a particular type of workplace aggression, but covers an intentionally broad conceptualization of workplace aggression - specifically, it considers aggression from both the aggressors' and the targets' perspectives and includes behaviors enacted by several types of perpetrators, including supervisors, coworkers and customers.
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Book
In the Handbook of Workplace Violence, editors E. Kevin Kelloway, Julian Barling, and Joseph J. Hurrell Jr. bring together the contributions of leading researchers to provide summaries and unique perspectives on current theory, research, and practice relating to workplace violence. This is the only up to date resource currently available to provide a comprehensive overview of the current state of knowledge regarding all aspects of workplace violence and aggression.
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