Workplace Bullying. Impacts on Organizational Culture

Term Paper, 2012

18 Pages, Grade: A14




Definition of Bullying

How does the organizational culture promote workplace bullying?

The impacts of workplace bullying on the organizational culture



Reflective Diary


Today the pressure on employees constantly grows. On the one hand automation leads to cut offs in employment; on the other hand the internalisation of companies often results in hiring foreign workers, thus diversity increases. In the last few years, the economic crisis additionally has increased the pressure. However, neither the automation nor the internalisation can be prevented. If the company does not act punctually and supports the employees adequately to cope with the pressure, workplace bullying may arise.

To give a general overview of what is understood when talking about workplace bullying; a definition of the term is given. Following this, it will be shown how the organizational culture can promote the development of workplace bullying. Hereby, different models have been applied to give a clear overview. Finally, the impacts workplace bullying has on the organizational culture are analysed. In general, it has been differentiated between economic and psychologists consequences for a company’s culture.

Definition of Bullying

According to the Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI) (2012), ‘Workplace Bullying is repeated, health-harming mistreatment of one or more persons (the targets) by one or more perpetrators’. Hoel and Cooper add ‘the target of bullying has difficulty in defending him or herself against [the negative] actions’ (Hoel et al., 2002: 24).

How is workplace bullying carried out by the perpetrator? It has to be differentiated between the verbal and the non-verbal forms of bullying. ‘Snide and sarcastic comments are the most common verbal forms [...] One of the most powerful verbal bullying behaviours is excluding someone repeatedly – for example by speaking to other people’ (Townend, 2008: 271). In contrast, non-verbal workplace bullying include ‘work interference – sabotage – which prevents work from getting done’ (WBI 2012) as well as ‘increase [of] responsibility and simultaneously reduce authority [,] overload with work or have work taken away to trivialize existence’ (Wiedmer, 2011: 37). Most of the bullying situations keep undetected because bullying targets resist telling other people about the situation feeling powerless against the perpetrator. This way, it is difficult to fight against bullying in a company as many managers or the HR departments do not know anything about the situations.

Townend (2008: 272) argues that ‘main targets are black or non-white people; women; lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, [...] Muslim’. In most cases the target groups are also minorities in the respective society. Apart of belonging to one of the named groups, targets are often characterised to be weak, which explains that ‘57% of targets are women’ (Wiedmer, 2008: 36). However, a study carried out by the WBI in the year 2010 analyzed that ‘targets were reportedly better liked, had more social skills, [and] likely possessed higher emotional intelligence’ (Wiedmer, 2008: 37). In this case the perpetrator tries to put obstacles in the target’s way by sabotaging his or her work and presenting it afterwards as the target’s mistake. Hereby, the perpetrator has the chance to create a better image for himself or herself. ‘The main non-target groups originating bullying behaviour are: white people; men; heterosexuals; upperclass; [...] Christians and Protestants.’ (Townend, 2008: 272). In addition, people being a part of these non-target groups are said to be ‘intolerant and [...] very strict’ (Baillien et al., 2008: 9). These characteristics reveal why people become bullies since they do not have sympathy for others being differently and do not want to understand them. Therefore, diversity is of high importance when talking about bullying. Obviously, people tend to distance themselves from others behaving and treating them differently which often develops to workplace bullying. In today’s working life companies cannot avoid and forgo hiring diverse employees, thus the awareness and acceptance of diversity among employees has to be raised to avoid workplace bullying.

Principally it depends on the organizational culture whether a company does either promote or prevent workplace bullying. The different causes why and how bullying arises in the workplace will be argued now.

How does the organizational culture promote workplace bullying?

Barney (1986: 657) defines organizational culture ‘as a complex set of values, beliefs, assumptions, and symbols that define the way in which a firm conducts its business’. It covers an organization’s policy, its objectives and experiences as well ( 2013). Schein (2004: xi) add ‘culture is essential to understanding intergroup conflict at the organizational level’. Hereby, each company develops its own organizational culture which is adapted to a firm’s objectives and helps to achieve those. How the cultural factors can support the development of workplace bullying will be analysed while referring to different models and theories.

According to the three way model of workplace bullying, ‘bullying result[s] out of three “tracks” or “pathways” within a global model [...] (a) intrapersonal frustrations [...], (b) interpersonal conflict and (c) explicit or implicit stimulation through team- and organizational characteristics’ (Baillien et al., 2008: 7). The intrapersonal and interpersonal factors provide that ‘poor job characteristics […] pave the way for bullying through interpersonal conflicts’ (van den Broeck et al., 2011: 3). As described in the previous part, an employee’s intolerance is a key factor in connection with bullying. His or her intolerance combined with low job satisfaction lead to interpersonal conflicts with colleagues since the anger might be let out at them. The last part of the three way model, the team- and organizational characteristics, will be analyzes in detail in order to show how workplace bullying can originate as consequence of a bad organizational culture.

Baillien et al. (2008: 9) distinguish ‘three clusters of antecedents’ for bullying at the workplace. First of all, they argue that companies with a ‘goal-oriented culture, [a] task-related leadership and doing piecework’ (Baillien et al., 2008: 9) focus too much on tasks and neglect social factors such as the communication among employees. If there is no importance attached to communication or to ethical behaviour, ‘the bully feels [like he or she] is unlikely to be punished for [the] bad behaviour’ (Giga, 2005: 6). Einarsen (1999) explains the bully thinks, ‘he has the blessing, support or at least the implicit permission by his superiors to behave in this manner’ (Einarsen, 1999: 23). In a task-oriented company, the organisation may tolerate bullying in order to achieve set targets although it means accepting unethical behaviour (Einarsen, 1999). It is not unusual that employees feel like robots since only their work is important and nobody cares about their well-being. ‘“It’s not personally I feel bullied, I feel bullied by the statistics. [...] We are being bullied by a system which says, you know, you’re logging on and you’re logging off”’ (Liefooghe and Mackenzie Davey, 2010: 86). This statement points out how automated task-oriented organizations can demotivate and humble employees.

Furthermore, they identify ‘a negative [or] a too informal atmosphere’ (Baillien et al., 2008: 9) as possible causes for workplace bullying. Hereby, a ‘negative atmosphere is indicated by, for example a high number of conflicts’ and a too informal atmosphere by a ‘lack of clear boundaries between work-relates and private issues’ (Baillien et al., 2008: 9). On the one hand the negative atmosphere leads to low job satisfaction which in turn may promote further conflicts. A negative atmosphere can be linked to a high level of stress due to work overload of individuals. On the other hand a too informal atmosphere leads to a loss of control and of a working framework, thus tasks cannot be fulfilled and targets are not achieved. In this connection, Einarsen et al. (2010: 29) state ‘bullying seems to thrive where employees perceive contradictory expectations, demands, and values in their jobs’. An informal atmosphere will foster the formation of numerous groups, each presenting different expectations, demands and values. Consequently, both a too negative as well as too informal atmosphere leads to low job satisfaction and a lack of motivation.

Finally, Baillien et al. (2008) point out a last cluster referring to the power relations within an organization. Hereby, ‘too little (e.g. a power vacuum within the organization or department, laissez-faire leadership) [and] too much hierarchy (e.g. a very strict hierarchy, many hierarchical levels within the organization or department)’ (Baillien et al., 2008: 9) are said to pave the way for workplace bullying. The situation of too little hierarchy can be compared with a too informal atmosphere, since the development of informal groups and the loss of a clear structure will promote bullying. However, too much hierarchy ‘fosters behaviours that easily translate into workplace bullying practices’ (Turney, 2003: 4). Khan and Khan add, ‘[r]ules and regulations are not adequate to eradicate an unwarranted behaviour. Employee behaviour is sometimes not monitored, as there is a lack of awareness, good values and beliefs in the organization.’ (Khan and Khan, 2012: 87). Too many regulations promote bullying instead of forestalling it, since a high bureaucracy passes on high power to employees who might feel too strong. At the same time, bureaucracy prevents the target persons referring to someone for help or it takes much more time to handle the problem compared to less bureaucratic enterprises.

Despite of the explained theories of Baillien, ‘Harvey et al. [...] identify the following six causes of workplace bullying: the pressure of unprecedented change in business, the significant time pressures on managers, the diversity in the workplace, downsizing, manpower reductions at managerial level and poorly defined cultural norms in organizations’ (Appelbaum et al., 2012: 208). De Cuyper et al. (2009) add job insecurity since it ‘creates a climate of rivalry when employees see colleagues as potential rivals for jobs’ (De Cuyper et al., 2009: 208). Hereby, job insecurity may arise from the six causes and their interplay defined by Harvey et al. For example, the pressure of unprecedented change due to globalisation, changes in technology or manpower reductions increases the time pressure on all employees and ‘create[s] a level of uncertainty’ (Leadership Center 2006), often ending in bullying. According to Baillien et al. (2008), the development of rivalry and uncertainty among colleagues can be categorized in the second cluster, representing ‘a negative [...] atmosphere’ (Baillien et al., 2008: 9). Although the six causes of Harvey and Baillien’s clusters have shown how workplace bullying can be provoked, the development of bullying has to be seen in connection to the overall culture of a firm. The causes have defined clearly the origin of bullying arising in a working environment. However, the fact that an organization can prevent workplace bullying should be considered. Therefore, the environment should be adapted to employees’ as well as managers’ needs. ‘Employees want to work in a place where: they know what is expected of them[,] the workplace is safe and they are treated fairly[,] their skills and contribution are recognised and valued [...] [,] they can work harmoniously with others’(Australian Government 2013). In contrast, ‘[e]mployers want a productive workforce that manages its performance and achieves results’ (Australian Government 2013). There has to be a medium for employees to feel comfortable in their role and employers to focus not only on making profit but also on the well-being of their staff.

In addition, it is easier for a company to prevent workplace bullying from the beginning instead of having to restore the loss of staff or even in reputation due to bullying. Payne (2008: XX) advises to ‘draw up [...] [the organizational] policy, [to] develop buddies, [to] communicate consequences [for the bullies] [and if necessary to] provide ongoing support’. Another alternative are training divisions which help employees to understand and to deal with e.g. diversity.

The analysis has shown that many organizational factors can foster the development of workplace bullying. Baillien et al. link bullying to the three way model and define clusters which pave the way for bullying. It has become clear that whether bullying arises in a firm depends on the organizational culture, the overall leadership in the company and of course of the individual employee.

The impacts of workplace bullying on the organizational culture

After showing the different causes of bullying and how the organizational culture is able to promote it, the overall impacts on the organizational culture of workplace bullying will be analysed. The impacts are often underestimated although there are serious consequences which influence the company gravely over years. Appelbaum et al. (2012: 206) state ‘workplace bullying can act as “an organizational cancer eventually killing the entire firm”’.

Korkmaz and Cemaloglu (2010) underline the economic costs workplace bullying cause for companies. It costs US companies ‘in a two year period, [...] 180 million dollars in terms of non-productive time and productivity losses [...] The cost in personnel turnover resulting from this kind of behaviour is also very high’ (Korkmaz and Cemaloglu, 2010: 4). Inceoglu (2002: 65) argues, ‘teams with an incidence of workplace bullying are hypothesized to have a less functional organizational culture and team climate and to be less effective than teams without bullying’. Hence, the time a target person is unable to be as productive as before the time he was bullied has to be considered as well as the potential costs arising if the target person quits and the consequences for the entire firm.

Further economic costs defined are:

- ‘increase in sick leaves
- resignation of specialists
- cost of new training activities due to increase in resignations
- general low performance
- decrease in work quality
- compensation paid to workers
- unemployment costs
- costs of trials
- early retirement payments.’ (Korkmaz and Cemaloglu, 2010: 10)

As described by Korkmaz and Cemaloglu (2010: 4), ‘82% of the [targets] [...] leave the organization’. Khan and Khan (2012) explain that target persons prefer to quit their jobs instead of keep working in an organization where they do not feel well. They ‘do not want to admit to bullying, as they fear losing their jobs, neither they want to confess that they cannot cope with the pressures of the job’ (Khan and Khan, 2012: 86).


Excerpt out of 18 pages


Workplace Bullying. Impacts on Organizational Culture
University of Wales, Newport,
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
workplace, bullying, impacts, organizational, culture
Quote paper
Sandra Morillo (Author), 2012, Workplace Bullying. Impacts on Organizational Culture, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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