By Any Other Name: North American Perspectives on Workplace Bullying

Loraleigh Keashly, Stacy

Tye-Williams and Karen Jagatic

Introduction 55

The Labeling and Definitional Dilemma: Construct

Profusion and Confusion 57

Chapter Overview 62

The Behavioural Domain: Actual Conduct 63

Incidence of Hostile Workplace Behaviours 64

Discrete Event or Pattern: Hostile Relationships 67

Repetition and Duration 68

Patterning and Escalation 69

Intent (Harm by Design) 71

Power 74

Violation of Norms 79

Organizational Culture 80

Measurement and Methods of Studying Hostile

Relationships: A Caution 83

Conclusion 87

Bibliography 88


When we first began looking at persistently hostile and abusive behaviours at work in the early 1990s (what we called ‘emotional abuse’), the North American (specifically, US and Canada) literature on aggressive behaviours at work had focused primarily on acts of physical aggression or violence (e.g., Fitzgerald, 1993) and there was little attention outside of the sexual harassment literature to nonphysical forms of hostility, and even less exploring the enduring hostility that characterized abusive relationships at work. Indeed, in our own early research (Keashly et al., 1994; Keashly et al., 1997), we looked for guidance to the domestic violence construct of emotional abuse and the workplace bullying and mobbing constructs that were being discussed in the developing European literature (e.g., Einarsen et al., 1994; Leymann, 1996; Vartia, 1996). In our 2011 chapter (Keashly and Jagatic, 2011), we observed that North American attention to nonphysical forms of aggression and, specifically, persistent forms of aggression like bullying had increased dramatically from 1999-2009, in terms of published research, dissertations and conference presentations. This attention has continued to grow significantly in the past several years as evidenced by a plethora of reviews (e.g., Cortina et al., 2017; Hackney and Perrewe, 2018; Hershcovis and Reich. 2013; Martinko et al., 2013; Tepper et al., 2017; Bowling and Hershcovis, 2017). Of particular note is the burgeoning North American literature specifically focused on workplace bullying (e.g., Duffy and Yamada, 2018; Lutgen-Sandvik, 2013; McKay et al., 2010). Thus, where once workplace aggression and workplace abuse literatures operated somewhat in parallel, they are now more intimately connected and increasingly cohesive. This increased attention has been characterized by a number of features, including:

  • • a continuing profusion of constructs (e.g., Hershcovis, 2011; Tepper and Henle, 2011) and of instruments to assess them (Cortina and Marchiondo, 2012);
  • • explicit empirical attention to the relational nature of aggression that clearly has implications for understanding and examining workplace bullying (Aquino and Lamertz, 2004; Harlos and Pinder, 1999; Keashly, 2013; Meares et al., 2004; Hershcovis and Reich, 2013);
  • • increased attention to target responses that move beyond simply victimization (e.g., Bies and Tripp. 2005; Cortina et al., 2017; Lutgen-Sandvik, 2006; Mitchell and Ambrose, 2007);
  • • recognition of the systemic and communal nature of persistent hostility generally and bullying in particular, implicating organizational culture and norms in the process (Desrayaud et al., 2019; Keashly, 2001; Lutgen-Sandvik and Namie, 2009) and highlighting bystander/ witness roles in facilitating and challenging workplace bullying (Keashly, 2018b; Tye-Williams and Krone, 2015; Skarlicki et al., 2015); and
  • • increased attention to the actor themselves, particularly motivation (e.g., Jacobson et al., 2017; Samnani, 2013a).

Thus, the North American literature on workplace aggression and bullying is varied, rich and complex (Neall and Tuckey, 2014). To facilitate our own exploration through this rich domain and to provide the findings most relevant to an understanding of workplace bullying, we focused specifically on research in which the behaviours and the relationships under investigation concern non-physical forms of hostility and aggression involving organizational insiders (coworkers, supervisors and subordinates) that cause harm, broadly defined, i.e., physical, psychological, individual and organizational. We do not include the sexual harassment literature as that is comprehensively discussed elsewhere (e.g., Holland and Cortina, 2016; Quick and McFadyen, 2017).

Within these parameters, we are aware that our survey is not exhaustive of all relevant North American literature; rather, it is exemplary of it. We have been aided considerably in this synthesis by the presence of several recent reviews, metaanalyses, and edited volumes on aggression-related constructs (e.g., Aquino and Thau, 2009; Bowling and Hershcovis, 2017; Cortina et al., 2017; Duffy and Yamada, 2018; Hackney and Perrewe, 2018; Hershcovis, 2011; Lutgen-Sandvik et al., 2009; Samnani, 2013a; Tepper et al., 2017), as well as recent US nationwide surveys (see Keashly, 2018a for summary). For that which we do not discuss, we refer readers to these excellent resources.

We have chosen to organize this chapter around the core features of workplace bullying (Keashly, 1998), specifically time, intention, power disparity, source and norm violation. The direct applicability of North American research findings on hostile workplace behaviours to the discussion of workplace bullying will be dependent upon the consideration and assessment of these elements in this research. To facilitate this presentation, we first need to address the issue of the construct space as reflected in this literature. It is to this issue we now turn our attention.

The Labeling and Definitional Dilemma: Construct Profusion and Confusion

The variety of constructs falling under the rubric of ‘hostile workplace behaviours’ has expanded significantly in the past two decades as a result of a welcome increase in research attention (Keashly, 1998; Neall and Tuckey, 2014). Such construct proliferation appears to be a uniquely North American (particularly U.S.) phenomenon as compared to the broader global literature (Neall and Tuckey. 2014). As exciting as this increasing interest has been, the proliferation of constructs complicates identifying and building on relevant literature, which is necessary in order to develop a fuller picture of what is known and not knowm about hostile behaviours at work. Fortunately, we are pleased to see that increasingly, scholars are recognizing this issue and are developing frameworks for understanding the interconnections and conceptual overlaps among these various constructs (e.g., Aquino and Thau, 2009; Hershcovis, 2011; Keashly and Jagatic, 2011; Tepper and Henle, 2011).

In Table 2.1, we have provided a sampling of some of the most commonly used terms and definitions from North American research, including harassment, workplace deviance, workplace incivility, workplace bullying, employee mistreatment and ostracism. Whereas workplace deviance encompasses

Table 2.1 Selected Definitions of Hostile Workplace Behaviours (in chronological order)


(Brodsky, 1976)

‘repeated and persistent attempts by one person to wear down, frustrate, or get a reaction from another. It is treatment, which persistently provokes, pressures, frightens, intimidates or otherwise discomforts another person’ (p. 2)

Workplace deviance

(Robinson and

Bennett. 1995)

‘voluntary behavior that violates significant organizational norms and in so doing, threatens the well-being of the organization or its members, or both’ (p. 555)



(Baron and Neuman, 1996)

‘efforts by individuals to harm others with whom they work, or have worked, or the organizations in which they are currently, or were previously, employed. This harm-doing is intentional and includes psychological as well as physical injury" (p. 38).

Workplace emotional abuse

(Keashly, 1998)

‘these interactions are characterized by repeated hostile verbal and nonverbal, often nonphysical behaviors directed at a person(s) such that the target’s sense of him/herself as a competent person and worker is negatively affected’ (pg. 212)

Generalized workplace abuse (Richman et al..


‘violations of workers’ physical, psychological and/or professional integrities ... nonsexual yet psychologically demeaning or discriminatory relationships’ (p. 392).

Workplace incivility

(Andersson and

Pearson. 1999)

‘low-intensity deviant behavior with ambiguous intent to harm the target, in violation of workplace norms for mutual respect. Uncivility behaviors are characteristically rude and discourteous, displaying a lack of regard for others’ (p. 457).

Abusive supervision

(Tepper, 2000)

‘subordinates’ perceptions of the extent to which supervisors engage in the sustained display of hostile verbal and nonverbal behaviors, excluding physical contact' (p. 178)

Workplace bullying (Namie and Namie, 2000)

‘is the deliberate, hurtful and repeated mistreatment of a target (the recipient) by a bully (the perpetrator) that is driven by the bully’s desire to control the


Table 2.1 (Continued)

target. .. encompasses all types of mistreatment at work ... as long as the actions have the effect, intended or not. of hurting the target’ (p. 17)

Social undermining (Duffy et al.. 2002)

‘behavior intended to hinder, over time, the ability to establish and maintain positive interpersonal relationships, work-related success, and favorable reputation' (p.331)

Interpersonal mistreatment

(Cortina and Magley, 2003)

‘a specific, antisocial variety of organizational deviance involving a situation in which at least one organizational member takes counternormative negative actions - or terminates normative positive actions against another member' (p. 247)

Employee emotional abuse

  • (Lutgen-Sandvik.
  • 2003)

‘repetitive, targeted and destructive communication by more powerful members toward less power members in the workplace’ (p. 472)

Workplace victimization

(Aquino and

Lamertz, 2004)

‘an employee’s perception of having been the target, either momentarily or over time, of emotionally, psychologically or physically injurious actions by another organizational member with whom the target has an ongoing relationship’ (p. 1023)

Employee mistreatment

(Meares et al., 2004)

‘the interactional, distributive (lack of access to resources), procedural, or systemic abuse of employees that takes place at both interpersonal and institutional levels’ (p. 6).

Workplace harassment

(Bowling and Beehr, 2006) ~

‘interpersonal behavior aimed at intentionally harming another employee in the workplace’ (p. 998).

Emotional tyranny

(Waldron. 2009)

‘use of emotion by powerful organization members in a manner that is perceived to be destructive, controlling, unjust and even cruel' (p. 9)

Workplace cyberaggression

(Weatherbee and

Kelloway, 2006)

‘commission of aggressive or hostile workplace behaviors committed either through or with information and communication technologies’ (p. 450).

Workplace ostracism (Robinson et al..


‘when an individual or group omits to take actions that engage another organizational member when it is socially appropriate to do so’ (p. 206).

both hostile behaviours and other forms of deviant workplace behaviours (e.g., theft, sabotage), the other terms and definitions focus on types and combinations of hostile behaviours that occur at work to varying degrees. Ostracism is included as a distinct definition because of its focus on acts of omission. Recent research suggests that the experience of ostracism is different than the experience of behaviour that involves enactment (Ferris etal., 2017; O’Reilly etal., 2014). Beyond the variability in breadth and type of behaviours, these definitions differ most fundamentally in the acknowledgement of contextual features related to the ‘experience’ of these behaviours (Hershcovis, 2011; Lutgen-Sandvik, 2006). More specifically, these definitions vary in the degree to which elements of time, intention, power disparity, source, and norm violation are incorporated as central features of the construct they reflect (Keashly, 1998; Keashly and Harvey, 2006). These features are key elements of the definition of workplace bullying used in this volume.

Chapter Overview

We will begin with a brief discussion of the types of behaviours that are considered as hostile actions within the North American literature. We will then focus on the notion of hostile relationships as revealed by attention to single versus patterned and persistent hostile behaviours. This distinction has important implications for the degree to which research on understanding hostile incidents can be extended to understanding such hostile relationships as workplace bullying. We will then discuss research evidence regarding the other contextual elements of intent, power, source and norm violation. Actor intent, one of the more debated definitional elements, is rarely assessed empirically (Aquino and Thau, 2009; Hershcovis and Barling, 2007; Hershcovis, 2011; Tepper, 2007). Any discussion of relationship requires an exploration of the role of power in the experience. We will focus on moving from the simplistic assessment of relative power to include the dynamics of power. This discussion leads naturally into a fuller consideration of source, which we are expanding to include the nature of the actor and the target vis-a-vis one another, i.e„ their relationship (Aquino and Thau, 2009; Hershcovis and Reich, 2013). The element of norm violation will be examined by reviewing evidence on organizational culture and hostile work climate that suggest these behaviours and relationships may actually be consistent with norms rather than deviant from them (e.g„ Desraynaud et al., 2018; Ferris et al., 2007; Hackney and Perrewe, 2018; Neuman and Baron, 2011; Opotow, 2006). Throughout our discussion and in the final section, we will identify methodological and measurement challenges in the research on hostile workplace interactions. We will wrap up this chapter with a summary of the unique perspectives and ideas that the North American literature has to offer in the continuing effort to understand and ultimately address workplace bullying.

The Behavioural Domain: Actual Conduct

For quite some time, particularly in the US, workplace violence (e.g., homicide, assault; Baron and Neuman, 1996; Kelloway etal., 2006) has been the focus of much research attention. This attention continues to be fueled by several high-profile shootings in workplaces (e.g., ‘Five killed in Orlando Workplace Shooting’, New York Times, June, 2017), schools (e.g.. Columbine High School, April 1999; Sandy Hook Elementary School, December, 2012; Marjory Douglas Stoneham High School, February, 2018), and universities (e.g., Virginia Tech, April 2007; Northern Illinois University, February 2008). It has been with a sense of shock and outrage that people have come to realize that workplaces, schools and other public spaces are not the safe places they were assumed or wished them to be. Journalistic analyses of these incidents found evidence in some cases that the actors had been marginalized, harassed or bullied by others in their environment over an extended period of time prior to their deadly acts. For instance, in early January 2018, Jerry Motley, an employee of the Reliable Fence Company in Clinton Township. Michigan, US killed the business owner and wounded a coworker (Industrial Safety and Hygiene News, 2018). In his statement, Motley indicated that the coworker had continued to bully him despite requests to stop and the owner did little to stop it. In April 1999, Pierre LeBrun shot and killed four coworkers, wounded two others, and then shot himself at a public transportation facility in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada (McLaughlin, 2000). The coroner’s inquest revealed that LeBrun had been mocked and teased over the years for stuttering and that the company had done little in response to his complaints. This identification of hostile mistreatment by coworkers and managers as contributing to violent episodes has resulted in increased media attention to, and public awareness of, bullying as a serious workplace phenomenon.

There has been a growing recognition that physical violence was merely the tip of the iceberg concerning hostile behaviour at work (Neuman and Baron, 1997). This expansion of the range and type of hostile behaviours studied was spurred by Baron and Neuman’s (1996) application of Buss’s

(1961) conceptualization of human aggression to hostile workplace behaviours. Buss argued that aggressive behaviour could be conceptualized along three dimensions: physical-verbal, active-passive, and direct-indirect. When fully linked, there are eight categories of behaviour. Several studies investigating this expanded domain (e.g., Greenberg and Barling, 1999; Neuman and Baron. 1997; Schat et al., 2006) have documented what has been long known by workers: Most hostile behaviour in the workplace is verbal, indirect and passive. These types of behaviours have been variously labeled as ‘psychological aggression' (Barling, 1996), ‘psychological harassment' (Cassitto et al., 2003), ‘emotional abuse’ (Keashly, 1998), ‘generalized workplace abuse’ (Richman et al., 1999), ‘workplace victimization' (Aquino and Lamertz, 2004) and ‘social undermining’ (Duffy etal., 2002). ‘Ostracism’ has recently joined the ranks of these workplace hostility constructs (Ferris et al., 2017), highlighting that acts of omission (e.g., exclusion and isolation) are acts of aggression that can be damaging and intended to harm. Cyberaggression and cyberbullying—until recently considered primarily an adolescent phenomenon—is being recognized as a serious problem in North American public spaces (Pew Research Center, 2014) and workplaces (e.g.. Weatherbee and Kelloway. 2006; Piotrowski, 2012). As a result of the accumulating evidence that workplace hostility has many behavioural faces, most research on hostile behaviour at work in the US and Canada now examines a variety of behaviours reflecting these dimensions concurrently (e.g.. Bowling and Hershcovis, 2017; Keashly and Neuman. 2004; Rospenda et al., 2008; Schat et al.. 2006). This broadened focus enhances the applicability of North American research on hostile workplace behaviours to workplace bullying.

Incidence of Hostile Workplace Behaviours

While there are myriad constructs and definitions regarding persistent forms of workplace hostility, they tend to be measured using similar items (Aquino and Thau, 2009; Bowling et al., 2015; Cortina and Marchiondo, 2012). Thus, there is sufficient overlap in the behaviours studied to hazard sharing some incidence data regarding hostile behaviour in North American workplaces.

In a recent review of prevalence studies in the US. Keashly (2018a) noted there are now a number of nationwide surveys assessing exposure to workplace aggression and. relevant to this chapter, persistent forms of hostility that map on to workplace bullying and mobbing (multiple actors involved). In the past decade, these nationwide surveys have been conducted by a variety of organizations reflecting a variety of interests including academic research, public health, employee advocacy, professional organizations and industry (see Keashly, 2018a for specifics). Of particular note are the government-sponsored public health surveys such as the US General Social Survey: Quality of Worklife Module (GSS, 2014) and the National Health Interview Survey 2010 (Alterman et al., 2013). Such involvement by public bodies highlights that workplace aggression is considered an important public health issue that needs to be tracked and addressed. In these public health surveys, exposure is assessed by a single item asking whether the respondent had been threatened, harassed or bullied by anyone while on the job in the prior 12 months. The rate of exposure to workplace aggression from these surveys in 2014 was approximately 8%. The Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI), an employee advocacy organization that has surveyed national representative working samples several times in the past decade, reported that in 2014, 7% of respondents self-identified as having been bullied by someone at work in the past 12 months. In their 2017 survey, 9% of respondents reported that they had been bullied.

These single item surveys reflect the self-labelling method of assessment, which is an indicator of perceived victimization. The behavioural classification method is another approach to determining exposure. The academic research sponsored surveys, particularly, utilize checklists of aggressive behaviours and measure frequency (e.g., weekly, daily) and occasionally the number of behaviours as an indicator of exposure. For example, Schat et al. (2006) found that 6% of their sample experienced workplace violence and 41.4% experienced psychological aggression at work during the previous 12 months. Of particular relevance to workplace bullying and in keeping with the European tradition of at least weekly exposure, 13% of the Schat et al. sample reported experiencing at least one psychologically aggressive behaviour on a weekly basis. Rospenda et al. (2008) focused specifically on assessing the incidence of generalized workplace harassment, a construct related to bullying. In their telephone survey of 2, 151 US workers regarding harassment and discrimination experiences at work, Rospenda et al. (2008) report that 63% of respondents indicated at least one or more experiences of behaviours categorized as generalized workplace harassment in the previous 12 months, a notably higher rate than cited by Schat et al. Lee and Brotheridge

(2006), utilizing a non-representative sample of Canadian workers, found that 40% reported exposure to at least one or more aggressive behaviours in the prior six months, with 10% reporting five or more behaviours weekly in that same timeframe. The discrepancy across these studies is likely a reflection of the number and type of behavioural items utilized in their measures; Schat et al.’s measure involved five items, three of which involved threats of physical contact or harm, which tend to be notably less frequent in workplaces; Rospenda et al's measure contained ten items and Lee and Brotheridge’s measure had 43 items. Unlike the measure used by Schat et al. (2006) and Lee and Brotheridge (2006), the scale anchors that Rospenda et al. used do not permit identification of exposure to persistent hostility (i.e., at least weekly). However, Rospenda et al. (2008) also utilized a self-labeling item (‘been discriminated or harassed for any reason other than race and sex’) and found that 12% of their sample self-identified as being victimized; producing a rate of exposure to persistent aggression comparable to the other two studies. These three studies are of data from 2005-2008. The more recent rates from the WBI surveys (2014, 2017) noted above indicate that 7-9% of workers in the prior 12 months will be exposed to workplace aggression and bullying.

This proportion of affected workers expands even more when we consider those who witness bullying of others. Surveys that queried respondents’ experiences as witnesses find rates (in the prior 12 months) ranging from 11% (Lutgen-Sandvik et al., 2007) to 19% (WBI, 2017). Combining the perceived victimization rates and witnessing rates provides an idea of the overall degree of involvement and impact in the workplace. Specifically, in any 12-month period, at least one quarter of the working population will be exposed to workplace bullying either as a target or a witness. If we expand the timeframe to ‘working career’, the rate increases to almost 40%.

Another source of prevalence data is organizations. For example, the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH; Grubb et al., 2004) and the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM, 2012) gathered information from organizations about their experience with bullying. Fully one quarter of the organizations surveyed by NIOSH indicated that bullying was present, with 7% indicating that it was frequent (Grubb et al., 2004). More recently, SHRM (2012) found that over half of the HR managers surveyed indicated that bullying had been and was an issue in their organizations. As stunning as these rates are, they are likely underestimates as individuals (targets and witnesses) are often reluctant to formally report these experiences for fear of retaliation or that nothing will be done (Keashly, 2001; Keashly and Neuman, 2004; Meares et al., 2004). What is exciting is that organizational awareness of bullying and mobbing has implications for addressing these pernicious problems.

These data are gathered from individuals who have experienced bullying behaviours in the workplace or who oversee those who have experienced aggression. Of particular interest is occurrence from the perspective of those engaging in hostility (i.e., enacted aggression). Using the self-labeling method, the WBI surveys report that only 0.4% of respondents selfidentified as having bullied others. The behavioural checklist measurement may be more revealing in terms of prevalence of enacted bullying, as it does not require the actor to identify as a bully, which is not a socially desirable label. When this approach is taken, rates of enacting aggressive behaviours by workers towards others at work is very high, with rates of 50-75%, indicating they have engaged in at least one aggressive behaviour (e.g„ Brotheridge et al., 2012; Glomb, 2002; Greenberg and Barling, 1999; Lee and Brotheridge, 2006).

It is clear from these different operationalizations of incidence that hostile workplace behaviours of a variety of forms, as well as behaviours identified as bullying, are a notable part of many people’s working experiences in Canada and the US either as a direct target or as someone in the immediate organizational environment.

Discrete Event or Pattern: Hostile Relationships

The critical dimension in extending North American research findings to workplace bullying involves the issue of hostility as a discrete event versus a pattern of events. It is with this dimension that we found the greatest difference among concepts utilized in the literature. For example, unlike the workplace abuse literature, workplace aggression theorizing has tended to focus implicitly, if not explicitly, on understanding single incidents or aggregate levels of aggression (Glomb, 2002; Neuman and Baron, 1997; O'Leary-Kelly et al., 1996—exceptions are social undermining and abusive supervision). Fortunately, recent research in this literature has begun to recognize and focus on persistent hostility with a particular actor or actors (e.g., Hershcovis and Reich. 2013; Keashly and Neuman, 2018; Lutgen-Sandvik. 2013; Tepper, 2000).

Repetition and Duration

Hostile workplace behaviours have been operationalized in the workplace aggression and workplace abuse literatures by their frequency over some specified time period. Thus, even though these literatures differ conceptually in how central the facet of time is to their particular constructs, they all measure repetitive hostile behaviours and link increased frequency to negative impact.

Although the facet of duration is included in definitions of workplace abuse and harassment (e.g.. Duffy et al., 2002; Keashly, 2001; Tepper, 2000), it has essentially been ignored from a measurement perspective in both literatures (Hershcovis and Reich, 2013) Duration appears primarily as a timeframe over which respondents are asked to assess the frequency of their experience (e.g., in the past six or 12 months; two years; five years). With few exceptions (e.g., Lee and Brotheridge, 2006; Lipscomb et al., 2015; Neuman and Keashly, 2004; Lutgen-Sandvik et al., 2007; Schat et al., 2006), the anchors on the frequency scales are not often tied to such specific time referents as monthly, weekly or daily occurrence. Such specificity would be necessary for determining duration of exposure.

The importance of duration of exposure to hostile behaviour is highlighted by several studies. In a web-based survey of people who self-identified as having been bullied at work, Namie (2000) reported the average exposure to bullying behaviours as 16.5 months. VitalSmarts (2014) reports duration of more than five years for 53% of respondents, and McGinley et al. (2011), in their longitudinal study of university employees, identified employees of chronic abuse over 10 years! In terms of the significance of duration of exposure, Kathy Rospenda, Judy Richman and their colleagues have utilized a longitudinal methodology in their multiyear study of university employees assessing exposure to generalized workplace abuse and sexual harassment (e.g., McGinley et al., 2011; Rospenda et al.. 2000; Rospenda et al., 2006). Respondents were surveyed initially at two points in time one year apart. Participants who reported exposure to generalized workplace abuse at both time periods (i.e., two years’ duration) were found to be more likely to report one or more indicators of problem drinking, compared to participants who experienced abuse only at one time or not at all. This multi-wave study has now tracked employees for 10 years documenting the dramatic and long-lasting impact of such enduring mistreatment (McGinley et al., 2011). The connection between duration of exposure (chronicity) and outcomes has shown up in nationally representative working samples as well (e.g., Rospenda et al., 2008). Based on this evidence, it is clear that duration of exposure is a key and influential aspect of the experience of hostile behaviour and deserves more focused research attention (Cole et al., 2016)

Patterning and Escalation

The frequency indicator as currently utilized also does not capture the element of a pattern of hostility. Doing so would require a recognition that behaviours may co-occur and may be sequenced, as opposed to occurring independently or in isolation (Berdahl and Moore, 2006; Glomb and Miner, 2002; Lutgen-Sandvik. 2003; Hershcovis and Reich, 2013). For example, Barling (1996) suggests that just as with family violence, psychological aggression may well precede, and therefore be predictive of, physical violence in the workplace. Research assessing a variety of forms of harassment concurrently (e.g., Lim and Cortina, 2005; Raver and Nishii, 2010; Richman et al., 1999; Rospenda et al., 2000; Schneider et al., 2000a) recognizes this idea of variety and the potential for a pattern. For example, Schneider et al. (2000a) and Raver and Nishii (2010) found that employees who experienced one form of harassment were also likely to experience other forms of harassment. Lim and Cortina (2005) found that incivility tended to co-occur with gender harassment and sexual harassment. In fact, abusive relationships may only become clear when whole patterns of behaviour are examined (Bassman. 1992). In the related literature on perceptions of justice, Lind (1997) argues that people’s judgments of fair or unfair treatment are based on the patterning of everyday social interaction. As an illustration of the ‘whole being more than a sum of its parts’ notion of hostile relationships, Keashly (2001) found that while the respondents could articulate specific and discrete examples of behaviour, they struggled with communicating that their experience was more than this specific focus suggested. It was necessary for participants to describe the entire set of behaviours and their interrelationships.

A relatively simple indicator of patterning arising from frequency data involves counting the number of different events that have occurred to each respondent. A few authors have used this indicator to illustrate patterning (Glomb, 2002; Keashly and Jagatic, 2000; Keashly et al., 1994; Lee and Brotheridge, 2006 Lutgen-Sandvik et al., 2007), although they have interpreted its meaning differently. For example, while we have defined it as indicative of a pattern of behaviours, Glomb (2002) views it as a measure of severity and ties it to escala-tory sequencing by examining both the number and the forms of behaviour involved. She then classifies study respondents as to whether they report psychologically aggressive behaviours, physically aggressive behaviours or a combination of both, varying in severity. This measure of patterning is limited, however, because it does not allow the differentiation between situations of multiple behaviours occurring within a single incident versus multiple incidents, i.e., duration is not included (Lutgen-Sandvik et al., 2007). The distinction between single incidents and enduring hostile interactions is important because these are qualitatively different phenomena that may have different antecedents and outcomes (Glomb, 2002; Keashly, 1998).

Glomb’s work (2002) forms the bridge to the fourth facet of aggression over time—escalation. While escalation is a key aspect of the conflict literature (see Keashly etal., this volume'), it is a relatively recent consideration in the research literature on workplace aggression (Baron and Neuman, 1996; Bassman and London. 1993; Glomb, 2002; Hershcovis and Reich, 2013). Discussions of escalation have implicit assumptions of dynamic interaction between an actor(s) and a target, mutuality of these actions and increasing severity of behaviour. Andersson and Pearson (1999) describe an incivility spiral in which parties start out with a retaliatory exchange of uncivil behaviours (‘tit for tat’) until one party perceives that the other’s behaviour directly threatens his or her identity (i.e., the tipping point). At this point, the parties engage in increasingly more coercive and severe behaviours with presumably greater risk of injury. Glomb and Miner (2002) make distinctions between independent aggressive acts and escalatory or sequenced aggression, with the latter focused on the movement from low-level, relatively minor behaviours to much more severe and damaging behaviours as physical violence. Taylor and Kluemper (2012) and Lee and Brotheridge (2006) provide empirical evidence of this escalatory spiral moving from incivility to more intense hostile action. This empirical documentation of progression of aggression is consistent with European research on the evolving process of workplace bullying. This evolving process involves an escalation of the bully’s behaviours from indirect and subtle behaviours, to more direct psychologically aggressive acts, to ultimately severe psychological and physical violence (e.g., Einarsen, 1999).

While the discussion of dynamic escalatory processes in the workplace aggression literature focuses attention on the missing element of the relationship between the parties, it appears to imply the ability of both parties to mutually engage in negative behaviours. Glomb (2002) argues that actors become targets and targets become actors such that there are no pure actors or pure targets; rather, there are actor-targets. This interpretation is also reflected in research examining the elements of victims’ personality, e.g., negative affectivity and conflict management style (Aquino and Thau, 2009; Tepper et al.. 2017) that may relate to their experiences of being treated aggressively, thus highlighting the victim’s role as a precipitator of, and active contributor to, events. We will discuss this developing focus on the actor-target dynamics a bit later. This assumption of mutuality in the escalatory process is consistent with the literature on escalated conflict where at some point, regardless of who initiated the actions, the actions become increasingly reciprocated and occur at more severe levels (e.g., Rubin et al.. 1994). However, this interpretation stands in sharp contrast to the construct of workplace bullying, which is often characterized as involving a clearly identified actor (bully) and an identifiable target (victim). Indeed, it could be argued that what is being described in the escalation of aggression is the escalation of a conflict, rather than a situation of the escalatory processes involved in workplace bullying. In this latter situation, the actor is primarily the provocateur, whereas the target is attempting to defend or deter further behaviour (coping and management behaviours), rather than to initiate or retaliate (see Einarsen, 1999). This focus on mutuality in much of the North American literature may be an artifact of having focused on anger-related or reactive aggression that is reciprocal in nature. This mutuality is in contrast to more proactive and purposeful instigating of aggression, which tends to be more unidirectional and which is more consistent with descriptions of predatory workplace bullying (Ferris et al., 2007; Opotow, 2006; Cortina et al., 2018). Teasing out reactive from the more proactive forms of aggression and thus, the nature of mutuality, requires longitudinal methodologies that can track development over time (Cole et al., 2016).

Intent (Harm by Design)

A cornerstone of the definition of workplace aggression is that the behaviour or behaviours must be intended to cause harm, thus distinguishing them from behaviours that may cause harm but were not intended to do so, i.e., that were accidental (Neuman and Baron, 1997). In the current definition of workplace bullying, intent to harm is revealed in reference to deliberate or premeditated action. From a practical perspective, intent becomes an important issue with regard to addressing employee reports of bullying. HR professionals often report confusion over how to find evidence of intent but also note that intentionality is important in naming behaviours (Cowan. 2011. 2012). Based in part on practical concerns confounded by the difficulty of effectively measuring intent (Einarsen etal., 2003; Hershcovis, 2011), some research suggests that intent should not be included as a defining element. For example, in a recent review of workplace bullying research. Samnani and Singh (2012) found that while frequency, persistency, hostility and power imbalance were characteristics of definitions of bullying, intent was not.

There are several factors that complicate determining intentionality. There may be systemic or structural aspects related to these behaviours or relationships, such as racism, sexism and heterosexism, which lead actors to conform to broader norms without intending harm (McCluney and Cortina, 2017; Cortina, 2008; Keashly, 1998, 2001; Richman et al., 2001; Wright and Smye, 1996). Tepper (2000) suggests that some elements of abusive supervision do not involve hostility and desire to harm but are more a result of indifference. Similarly. Jagatic and Keashly (2000). in a preliminary study of graduate experiences of faculty hostility, found that students tended to report more behaviours involving neglect, rather than actively hostile behaviours. In an interesting twist, Ferris and others (2007) suggest that politically skillful leaders may intentionally use bullying not to harm but to influence low maturity subordinates to conform and perform. This is not to suggest the behaviours examined here do not cause harm; rather, the intent to harm is not clear or is nonexistent. Indeed, Andersson and Pearson (1999) distinguish workplace incivility from workplace aggression by arguing they are referring to behaviour for which intent is ambiguous. The same appears true for ostracism (Ferris et al., 2017). The centrality of intent as a defining feature depends on the form of workplace abuse being discussed. Intentionality is a central feature of bullying, social undermining and violence but not incivility, interpersonal conflict, emotional abuse or abusive supervision (Hershcovis, 2011). Research examining intent from the perspective of the target is mixed. From the perspective of the targets, Keashly (2001) found that intent did not figure prominently in their experience of feeling abused. Conversely Tracy et al. (2006) found that intentionality mattered as targets worked to make sense of their difficult experience.

While this conceptual debate continues (for more detailed discussion, see Aquino and Thau, 2009; Hershcovis and Barling, 2007; Pearson et al., 2005; Hershcovis, 2011), the issue is moot at the measurement level. Rarely do any of the workplace aggression and abuse studies measure either actual or perceived intent largely due to the difficulty in doing so. This issue goes beyond academic research. Intent has also sometimes been left out of bullying definitions in organizations because HR professionals have difficulty measuring and pinpointing intention (Fox and Cowan, 2015). In addition, most studies focus on target perspectives and so the intention of the actor is largely unexplored.

It appears as though intent is considered implicit in the particular behaviours studied. However, it could be argued that many of the behaviours encompassed under workplace aggression and abuse are ambiguous for intent (Aquino and Thau, 2009). Rather, as was noted earlier regarding severity, it is the context in which the behaviours occur (e.g.. patterning, duration, relationship to, and history with, the actor(s), organizational norms) that affects attribution of intent (Cowan, 2013; Hershcovis and Barling, 2007; Keashly, 2001; Keashly et al., 1994). This attribution, in turn, affects both researchers’ and workers’ assessments as to whether the behaviour is experienced as hostile (Bowling and Michel, 2011). The concept of threat appraisal of stressors, from the organizational stress literature (e.g., Barling, 1996; Lazarus and Folkman, 1984), is extremely useful in helping to discern which factors relate to perception of intent to harm and how this attribution subsequently relates to the subjective experience of the hostile event and the outcomes of that experience. Regarding the latter connection. Keashly and Rogers (2001) found that those incidents in which the actor was perceived as intending harm were evaluated as more threatening, and therefore more hostile, than those where no intention was perceived. This appraisal was subsequently related to greater perceived stress.

Another important aspect to consider when discussing intent is the distinction between intent and motive (Fox and Spector. 2005). While many behaviours may be intended to harm someone. the motive for that harm may be different. For example. Neuman and Baron (1997) highlight the distinction made by Buss (1961), between reactive aggression (annoyance motivated, anger-related) and instrumental aggression (proactive or incentive-motivated). In the former, the goal is to harm the person. In the latter, harming the person is a means of obtaining something of value, such as promotions, or valued self-presen-tational goals, such as heightened self-image. Another instrumental motive for bullying is scarce resources, where actors do not necessarily intend harm but instead bully in order to obtain precious resources (Wheeler et al., 2010). Yet another factor posited is actor personality, such as low self-esteem, where bullying is an attempt to feel better about oneself (Ferris et al., 2011). This is reflected in popular writing’s focus on the psychopathology and personality of bullies (e.g„ that they are power addicted or controlling) suggesting that such hostile treatment is viewed as instrumental in nature and. in some cases, fun for the actor (see, e.g., Hornstein. 1995; Mattice, 2012; Namie and Namie. 2009; Sutton, 2007). Further, references to these hostile behaviours as exercises of power (e.g., Hodson et al., 2006; Namie and Namie, 2009; Cortina et al., 2001; Lewis and Zare. 1999), and as efforts to control and create target dependency (e.g., Bassman, 1992; Hornstein, 1995) are consistent with an instrumental aggression perspective. It may be that workplace bullying is more illustrative of instrumental and proactive aggression and would be suggestive of different antecedents than might be true for reactive aggression (Samnani, 2013a) There is empirical evidence that these different motives for aggression may affect targets’ experiences. For example, Crossley (2009) empirically examined how an actor’s perceived motive (malice or greed) affected the targets’ emotional and behavioural reactions to social undermining. Perceived malice (intentional desire to harm another out of ill will or hatred) was associated with anger and subsequent revenge or avoidance actions, whereas perceived greed (instrumental desire for gain at expense of another) resulted in sympathy and attempts at reconciliation. Just as targets consider underlying motive, researchers need to consider this as well (e.g., Jacobson et al., 2017). Understanding the motives of actors has implications for how to intervene and address such behaviours.


In the previous version of this chapter, pow'er was not explicitly a key aspect of definitions of hostile workplace behaviour in the North American literature, with the exception of those concerned with supervisor behaviour (e.g., Ashforth, 1997; Hornstein, 1995; Tepper, 2000) and this largely remains true. However, pow'er is becoming more of a focus. These explorations now' push research beyond the boundaries of traditional notions of power to include more nuanced views of how it functions. For example, pow'er disparity is one of the key elements included in Samnani and Singh’s (2012) conceptualization of workplace bullying and is embedded in the manner in which authors discuss actor motive as well as the vulnerability or protective factors for targets. Consistent with the earlier discussion of motive and instrumental aggression, one conceptualization of pow'er is the unwanted exertion of influence over another (i.e., coercive action. Tedeschi and Felson, 1994). Thus, hostile behaviours are used to demonstrate the actor’s ability to control others (Ferris et al., 2007). This conceptualization of power now appears in definitions of the constructs related to hostile workplace behaviours and also in theoretical discussions of why some people behave in these ways (Anicich et al., 2015; Neuman and Baron, 2011; Martinko et al., 2006; Hershcovis et al., 2017; Tepper et al., 2017).

Another manifestation of power is much more concrete and is focused on identifying the relative pow'er differential between the actor and the target within organizational and social contexts as a potential vulnerability or as a protective factor. For example, in regard to vulnerability, targets report more embarrassment about their mistreatment when the perpetrator is powerful (Hershcovis et al.. 2017). In the workplace aggression and abuse literatures, power has typically been operationalized as organizational position and more recently as gender, race/ethnicity and sexual orientation (e.g., Aquino, 2000; Cortina et al.. 2001; Fox and Stallworth, 2005; Keashly, 1998; McCluney and Cortina, 2017; Misawa, 2015; Raver and Nishii, 2010: Schneider et al., 2000b). The proposition is that those in low-power positions (e.g., subordinates, entry-level employees; women; racial/ethnic minorities; LGBTQ) are more vulnerable to being the target of hostile behaviours than those in higher power positions (supervisors, bosses, men, white, heterosexual) (Arnold et al.,2011). Conversely, those in high-pow'er positions are hypothesized as more likely to be the instigators of hostile workplace behaviours. Thus, by virtue of position and the access to resources and influence that the position entails, the potential exists for the abuse of pow'er (Bassman, 1992; Cortina et al., 2001). As McCluney and Cortina (2017) note ‘identity matters when it comes to workplace aggression’ (p. 226).

Regarding organizational position, some North American studies found that bosses are identified as actors more often than not (e.g., Keashly et al., 1994; Lutgen-Sandvik and Namie, 2009; WBI, 2017). However, several studies have found that coworkers are the most frequent source of hostile workplace behaviours (e.g., Cortina et al., 2001; Keashly and Rogers, 2001; Keashly and Neuman, 2004; Schat et al., 2006). The CareerBuilder (2014) surveys noted above found that bosses and coworkers are equally likely to be identified as the actors.

Aquino (2000), in a study of coworker victimization, examined power in terms of relative and absolute position in the organization. Higher status workers were just as likely to be victimized by their coworkers as lower status workers. Although they make up a small percentage of cases, some studies have even identified subordinates as active perpetrators (e.g., Inness et al., 2008; Lampman. 2012; WBI, 2017).

Clearly, operationalizing power in terms of organizational position is too limiting. Regarding gender, Cortina and colleagues (Cortina 2008; Cortina et al., 2013) and Rospenda and colleagues (2000) report that women were more likely to be targets of workplace hostility. Conversely, other research ( Keashly et al., 1994, Keashly et al., 1997, Keashly, 2012; Lutgen-Sandvik and Namie, 2009; Richman et al., 1999) finds that men and women report similar rates of exposure to these behaviours. Focusing on workplace bullying specifically, recent nationwide surveys by CareerBuilder (2014) in Canada and the US found that women were significantly more likely to report being bullied than do men. The 2017 WBI survey noted previously found that 70% of targets identified their bully as male and 67% of respondents were female. Work in academic settings on bullying of faculty finds that women, people of color and those who identify as LGTBQ are more likely to be mistreated by a wide variety of actors including by students (contrapower harassment) (see Keashly and Neuman, 2018 for more detail). More recently, research utilizing the lens of intersectionality of core social statuses, such as race/ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation, reveals how the enactment and experience of hostile workplace behaviours is grounded in socio-structural inequities, i.e., aggression and bullying, are not status-blind (Misawa, 2015). What is clear is that rather than conceptualizing bullying as solely a dynamic between victim and victimizer, it needs to be explored as, ‘a complex behavioral event in which gendered, racialized and classed actors participate’ (Sobre-Denton. 2012, p. 243).

The existence of lateral or horizontal aggression (coworker) and upward (subordinate; contrapower) aggression challenges the conceptualization and operationalization of power as primarily a structural quality. In their treatise on bases of social power, French and Raven (1959) identified at least five bases of social power: legitimate, reward, coercion, referent and expert. The first three coincide easily with hierarchical sources of power; that is, bosses are considered more powerful by virtue of their organizational position (legitimate) and their control of resources that are meaningful to employees. Expert power refers to the influence that arises from someone having specialized knowledge or experience in a particular area, which is something coworkers and subordinates certainly can manifest. Referent power is influence grounded in one’s likeability (we allow friends and loved ones to influence us) and connections to and positions within various social networks in the organization. Thus, lower status individuals may enjoy positions of influence by virtue of their personality and their connections. Drawing on this work on social power and social networks. Lamertz and Aquino (2004) developed and found support for a social stratification model of workplace victimization wherein ‘different social status/power conditions lead to differences in the way social actors experience protection from and vulnerability to the capricious, abusive or potentially harmful behaviors emanating from others in the social system’ (p. 798).

Lamertz and Aquino’s work represents a more nuanced articulation of power within the context of hostile workplace relationships. There is a recognition of power as a process of dependency, creating a dominant—subordinate structure in the relationship (Tepper et al., 2009). Bassman (1992) suggests ‘one common thread in all abusive relationships is the element of dependency. The abuser controls some important resources in the victim’s life, and the victim is therefore dependent on the abuser’ (p. 2). Tepper (2000) echoes this theme in his work on abusive supervisors when he theorizes that targets remain in these abusive relationships because of economic dependence, learned helplessness, and fear of the unknown. Reduced job mobility has been linked to intensification of the experience of abusive supervision (Tepper, 2000). In essence, worker dependency on others creates a situation for power (and the misuse of that power in the form of hostile treatment) to become an issue (Keashly, 2001). The notion of the central role of power as dependency in the experience of workplace mistreatment has been documented. Targets describe themselves as slaves, prisoners, animals, heartbroken lovers and vulnerable children (Keashly, 2001; Tracy et al., 2006).

While we have some inkling from the research examining organizational and social position as target and instigator characteristics that power is an important feature of hostile workplace experiences, much of the work has been conceptual in nature. Though the nature and types of effects on targets reveal a diminishment and disempowerment pattern (Keashly and Jagatic. 2003), there is little systematic empirical documentation of the process by which target dependencies or vulnerabilities are formed and utilized by the actors (Cortina et al.,

2017). Some preliminary suggestions of how this process may work come from interview's with targets. Keashly (2001) found that behaviours from more powerful others affected targets by reducing their ability to respond. For example, if the actor had important information the target required to complete a task, the target felt less willing to confront the actor for fear that critical information would be withheld. Utilizing Emerson’s (1972) power-dependence theory, Tepper et al. (2009) examined the circumstances under which a more dependent and hence less powerful subordinate will retaliate against a more powerful, abusive supervisor. Specifically, they argued that a strong intention to quit makes subordinates less dependent on their supervisors. As a result, they will experience less constraint on their ability to act in their own interests and will be more likely to retaliate against an abusive supervisor and the organization by engaging in deviant behaviour. The researchers’ findings supported this hypothesis in two different samples. While preliminary, evidence of the process of dependency and its relationship to effects is critical for making the distinction between aggression or conflict between equals and workplace bullying, as noted in the European literature (Einarsen, 1999). Further, empirical documentation of the process of abuse of power and disempowerment (see Lutgen-Sandvik, 2003) will be critical in identifying prevention and intervention efforts directed at reducing the presence of these types of behaviours and relationships.

The nuances and dynamics of power point directly to the relationship between the actor and the target. What is becoming clear is that who the actor and target are as individuals, with respect to each other, and in the larger organizational and societal context will have a profound impact on their behaviours and experiences. Aquino and Lamertz (2004) propose a relational model of workplace victimization arguing that the nature of the dyadic relations creates a context that increases the likelihood of workplace victimization occurring over the course of ongoing workplace interactions. Of particular relevance to workplace bullying is their identification of the types of dyads that are likely to manifest institutionalized (persistent, enduring and patterned) aggression as opposed to episodic (occasional) aggression. Specifically, they suggest that the pairing of a dominating perpetrator with a submissive victim or a reactive perpetrator with provocative victim will result in behaviour that might be considered workplace bullying. The former is consistent with Einarsen’s (1999) notions of predatory bullying and the latter with dispute-related bullying. While these dyadic combinations may lay the groundwork for bullying, the (im)balance of social power in the dyad and the presence and involvement of others who have relationships to both parties can influence whether and how bullying actually occurs (Hershcovis etal., 2017; Lamertz and Aquino, 2004; Namie and Lutgen-Sandvik. 2010). What impresses us about this approach is it draws attention to how bullying is molded by both parties and those around them (Hodson et al., 2006; Venkataramani and Dalal, 2007). It also provides a perspective that envisions the target as not simply a helpless 'victim' but, rather, as an actor capable of influencing and challenging the treatment he or she receives (Lutgen-Sandvik, 2006). Such a model provides guidance for future empirical research by focusing on how bullying actually evolves, which is something that has been relatively unexamined in both the North American and European literatures (Cole et al., 2016; Hackney and Perrewe, 2018; Samnani, 2013b). To the extent there is empirical support, this model could be useful in assessing a potential situation and possible places for taking action to prevent or address bullying.

Violation of Norms

The notion that abusive behaviours violate some set of understood norms is pervasive in much of the workplace aggression literature. For example, Andersson and Pearson (1999) define uncivil behaviours as those that are in violation of workplace norms for mutual respect. Workplace deviance, which includes interpersonal aggression, refers to behaviours that violate norms (Robinson and Bennett, 1995). Hornstein’s (1995) belief is that ‘brutal’ bosses violate norms of decency and civility. However, other authors explicitly note that some of these behaviours may not be deviant from organizational norms at all (Keashly, 2001; Tepper, 2000). As noted earlier in the discussion of intent, to the extent that these behaviours are systemic in nature, they are by definition conforming rather than deviating from organizational and social norms. Neuman and Baron (2011) and Opotow (2006) note that norms that typically counteract aggressive behaviour either do not apply or apply weakly in the case of workplace bullying. In their examination of global organizations, Harvey and his colleagues (Harvey et al., 2007; Heames and Harvey, 2006) postulate that given the diverse nature of the workforce, miscommunication arises as to what behaviours are acceptable in the workplace because norms vary among cultures. As a result, a broader sense of understanding what is acceptable behaviour (i.e., norms) is not established, providing an opportunity for bullying to occur unchecked. The organizational culture evidence (e.g., Andersson and Pearson, 1999; Aquino and Lamertz, 2004; Desrayaud, 2013; Keashly and Jagatic, 2000; Keashly and Neuman, 2018; Samnani. 2013b) and the work on organizational conditions as antecedents to aggression are supportive of this claim.

Organizational Culture

The workplace bullying literature continues to support the notion that an organization’s culture and related climate plays a large and important role in the manifestation of hostile behaviours at work (e.g., Aquino and Lamertz, 2004; Desrayaud, 2013; Harvey et al., 2007; Martinko et al., 2006; O'Leary-Kelly et al., 1996; Samnani and Singh, 2016). There is growing empirical evidence of the relationship between workplace hostility and the various facets of organizational culture and climate. A recent meta-analytic study explored the relationship between workplace mistreatment climate and potential outcomes (Yang et al., 2014). Their findings indicate that mistreatment climate leads to a reduction in motivation, performance, job satisfaction, turnover intentions, organizational commitment and physical and emotional strain (Yang et al., 2014). In representative surveys of Michigan workers, Keashly and her colleagues (Burnazi et al., 2005; Keashly and Jagatic, 2000) documented links between indicators of organizational culture and climate and exposure to aggression. Specifically, they found that higher rates of hostile behaviours were reported in organizations in which respondents perceived that employee involvement was not facilitated, morale was low, teamwork was not encouraged and supervision was problematic (Keashly and Jagatic, 2000). Burnazi and others (2005) found that organizational climate as manifested in higher involvement work practices such as employee involvement and empowerment was negatively related to experienced workplace aggression.

Taking a somewhat different tack, Schneider and others (2000a) conceived of a hostile workplace climate as one characterized by multiple forms of harassment as assessed from both target and bystander perspectives (see Robinson and O’Leary-Kelly, 1998, for a similar approach). They found that female employees exposed to multiple types of harassment reported more negative outcomes than those reporting fewer types of harassment. Another approach focuses on specific facets of organizational culture such as justice and conflict. Regarding justice, Cortina et al. (2001) found that an organizational climate characterized by fair interpersonal treatment was negatively related to personal experiences of rude, uncivil behaviour. Desrayaud et al. (2018) propose that competitive and passive aggressive conflict cultures promote bullying behaviour while collaborative and avoidant conflict cultures do not support such behaviours.

While the foregoing limited research suggests that a relationship between organizational culture and hostile workplace behaviours may indeed exist, the direction of the relationship is unclear. Does something about the organization’s culture lead to greater incidence of hostility, or does a prevalence of abuse poison an organization’s culture? Or is this relationship bi-directional where certain organizational cultures may influence workers to be more aggressive and at the same time individuals also influence the development of a more aggressive organizational culture (Samnani and Singh, 2012)? The current data on the role of organizational culture and bullying behaviour are correlational (Keashly and Harvey, 2005) and indicate a relationship, but longitudinal research is necessary to explore whether the relationship is bidirectional, as suggested by some researchers (Glomb, 2002; Keashly and Harvey, 2005). The current North American literature offers several theoretical explanations for organizational culture as both a cause and an effect of hostile workplace behaviour and relationships.

One argument in favour of organizational culture as supportive of hostile work behaviour comes from Brodsky (1976), who suggests that hostile behaviours may be a result of the belief in an industrial society that ‘workers are most productive when subjected to the goad or fear of harassment’ (p. 145). From this perspective, harassment is viewed as functional by management, and perhaps necessary, to achieve productivity and acceptable performance from employees. Aquino and Lamertz (2004) suggest that norms that develop in an organization in which harassment is deemed necessary for worker motivation legitimize and provide justification for harmful behaviours. Consistent with this perspective, Ferris et al. (2007) have argued that ‘strategic leader’ bullying can have positive consequences, including temporary increases in productivity of both targets and witnesses, voluntary attrition of underperforming employees and increased power for the bully-leader. It is not clear whether the employees who leave organizations as they flee leader bullying are truly underperforming, and whether the temporary increases in production are of a desirable quality or merely an attempt to ward off negative attention from a bully. As suggested by the revenge and retaliation literature (e.g„ Bies and Tripp, 2005; Lawrence and Robinson, 2007; Samnani, 2013b), employees may not react favorably to such efforts. Further, high turnover rates resulting from employees leaving the organization may mitigate any positive effects achieved in coercion of targets. Bullying may also result in difficulty attracting and retaining new employees as organizations develop reputations as supportive of a bullying culture (Heames and Harvey, 2006; Yang et al., 2014). Relatedly, macro-level cultural discourses about work in the US may legitimize bullying behaviours as simply something that happens in organizations (Lutgen-Sandvik and Tracy, 2012).

The second influence of organizational culture on hostile work behaviour involves what Brodsky refers to as a ‘sense of permission to harass’ (1976, p. 84). Brodsky suggests that harassment at work cannot occur without the direct or indirect agreement of management. This argument thus includes the involvement of individuals within the broader organization, apart from the actor and target involved in the abusive situations (Aquino and Douglas, 2003; Glomb and Liao, 2003; Namie and Lutgen-Sandvik. 2010). Specifically, the responses of these others to bullying behaviours, or their lack of a response, communicate the organization’s (in)tolerance for such treatment (Ferris, 2004; Harvey et al., 2007). In effect, an organization can enable bullying (Ferris, 2004; Keashly and Harvey, 2005). Andersson and Pearson’s (1999) notion of incivility spirals or cascades provides a possible explanation for how ‘permission to harass' may develop. They argue that a ‘climate of informality’ pervades some organizations and eventually encourages employees to behave toward one another in a disrespectful manner. In such climates, incivility spirals may form in which one employee treats another employee disrespectfully in response to the disrespectful behaviour to which he or she had been subjected. Unless there is intervention or action taken to interrupt these spirals and thus communicate the organization’s lack of tolerance for these behaviours, secondary incivility spirals may develop as other employees who observe the initial disrespectful behaviour begin treating others similarly. Ultimately, an organization becomes uncivil at a point in which a number of these incivility spirals occur simultaneously and perpetuate each other, causing employees to believe that the organization itself disrespects its employees. Empirical research provides support for this notion of ‘aggression is contagious’ (e.g.. Bowling and Beehr, 2006; Glomb and Liao, 2003).

What is clear from this discussion of the relationship between organizational culture and hostile workplace behaviour is that these behaviours may not be deviant from workplace norms. Rather, they may be consistent with them. This conclusion challenges definitions of workplace hostility that label it as deviant behaviour to provide evidence of the existence of the norms that are being contravened (Wright and Smye, 1996). It also highlights that addressing workplace bullying and other hostility may require fundamental organizational culture change (Desrayaud, 2013; Gorlewski etal., 2014: Keashly and Neuman, 2004; Keashly and Neuman, 2009; Leiter, 2012; Meglich, 2011; Samnani and Singh, 2016).

Measurement and Methods of Studying Hostile Relationships: A Caution

The direct relevance and usefulness of the North American literature on workplace aggression to an understanding of the nature, dynamics and effects of workplace bullying hinges upon the methods and measurements utilized. As with the constructs, there has been a profusion of measures for these constructs despite the recognition that items used are similar (Cortina and Marchiondo, 2012). As noted when discussing prevalence, having numerous scales of varying length makes it difficult to do comparative work and really converge on an understanding of workplace bullying. One instrument, though, that is increasingly being used North American studies (e.g., Lutgen-Sandvik et al., 2007; Simons, 2008) is the Negative Acts Questionnaire-Revised (NAQ-R) (Einarsen et al.. 2009). Even with the move to use more standardized measures, the perception is that because of the complexity of bullying and aggression we should develop professional/context specific measures. For example, Simons etal. (2011) revised the NAQ-R to be more specific to the nursing profession and also to reflect potential cultural considerations, leading to the creation of the NAQ-R-US. Measures are also being developed that address the profusion of constructs used in the field. For example, the Beyond Bullying Questionnaire (BBQ) was developed to measure types of workplace abuse that affect workers but are not as severe as bullying (Caviola and Stout, 2017).

In the previous version of this chapter, we discussed how in the North American literature, the reliance on aggregate measures of hostility does not allow for the differentiation between hostile behaviours on the part of different actors or multiple behaviours on the part of a single actor. And this largely remains true. Indeed, much of workplace aggression and abuse research utilizing behavioural checklists does not specifically focus on aggressive behaviours from particular actors (e.g., Brotheridge and Lee, 2006; Cortina et al., 2001; Keashly et al., 1997; Keashly, 2013; Simons et al., 2011). This makes it difficult to operationalize facets of pattern and escalation (core aspects of workplace bullying), which require the establishment and assessment of a specific relationship between actors and targets. In addition, it is not unreasonable to suppose that a variety of behaviours coming from one actor may be experienced differently than behaviours coming from a variety of actors. Indeed, simply measuring frequency without relating it to a specific actor or actors is measuring something much different, namely, hostile workplace climate (Schneider et al., 2000a) or ambient hostility (Robinson and O'Leary-Kelly, 1998). Fortunately, as we noted earlier, more recent workplace aggression and bullying studies have embraced the relational nature of aggression, and aggressive behaviours are examined within the context of the source of the aggression vis-à-vis the target (e.g., Grandey et al.. 2007; Greenberg and Barling, 1999; Hershcovis and Barling, 2007; Inness et al., 2008; Keashly and Neuman, 2004; Martinko et al., 2013; Samnani, 2013a).

To achieve a better understanding of these more specific hostile relationships and. indeed, the experience of hostile behaviours generally, qualitative approaches have emerged as one way to better explore the interactionist, multidimensional nature of aggression (Cole et al., 2016; Glomb, 2002; Keashly, 1998; Lutgen-Sandvik, 2006; Nantie and Lutgen-Sandvik, 2010; Tye-Williams and Krone, 2015). For example, Tye-Williams and Krone (2015) used semi-structured interviews to explore target narratives about their experiences. Findings indicated that coworker support helped targets construct more convincing narratives and better withstand their mistreatment. Tracy et al. (2006) explored target metaphors about the actors involved in their bullying experience. Other qualitative work has explored the nature of advice targets receive from coworkers, friends, and family members and found that a paradox of advice exists where targets advise others to follow advice they feel either made their situation worse or would not have worked (Tye-Williams and Krone, 2017). Qualitative and mixed methods work have also been useful in investigating target attributions for bullying (Cowan, 2013; Tye-Williams and Ruble, 2016). Keashly (2001) used semi-structured interviews to probe targets about their experiences with abusive colleagues. She focused on identifying those features of the hostile interaction that lead targets to label their experiences as abusive. Among other findings, this study revealed that prior history with the actor (i.e., an enduring relationship) was key in targets’ labeling of their experience. Interestingly, respondents considered the actor’s history with other targets in the workplace in their assessment of their experience as well. This finding is consistent with Namie’s (2000) survey of targets, which found that 77% of actors were identified as having also harassed others. Further, Schneider and others (2000a) found that being a bystander to others’ harassment experiences was related to a degree of upset at one’s own experience of harassment. This aspect of actor history with other targets highlights the importance of exploring more fully the persons involved in the behaviours. As we noted earlier, while more work of this nature is being focused on targets, little attention has been paid to the actor’s perspective and interpretations here. This lack of attention appears to be an issue in the European literature as well (Einarsen et al., 2003) and remains true of quantitative work in North America.

The majority of quantitative studies explore predictors and outcomes of aggressive workplace behaviour (Hershcovis and Barling, 2007). With regard to specific incident descriptions, Keashly and Rogers (2001) had respondents complete checklists on each of five working days. Respondents were then interviewed in detail about one or two particular incidents. Interviewees were asked about the status and gender of the actor, the history with the actor, and the importance and salience of the situation, as well as how stressful the situation was. This information permitted the researchers to explore the role that features of the hostile relationship play in respondents’ appraisals of these incidents as threatening and stressful. Using a similar method, Glomb (2002) had participants discuss actual ‘angry incidents’ in which they were involved as either the target or the actor. They were questioned about personal characteristics, job attitudes and experience, and interpersonal conflict, anger and aggression. Individuals were then asked to select a particular incident that affected them the most, the ‘specific aggressive incident’, and to speak in detail about the people involved in their actions and the outcomes of these actions. The information garnered suggests a progression of hostility such that severe behaviours are preceded by ‘less severe’ behaviours. These results would not have been revealed by sole reliance on the more aggregate measure of hostile workplace behaviours.

It is also important to address the notion of severity or intensity of the hostile behaviours. A consensus seems to have developed that these various forms of hostile behaviours arrange themselves along a continuum of increasing severity. For example, behaviours captured under the rubrics of ‘emotional abuse’, ‘psychological aggression’, and ‘incivility’ are often characterized as low intensity or low level (see Andersson and Pearson. 1999; Glomb, 2002) relative to such forms of physical violence as assault, rape and homicide, which are considered extreme forms. More recently, several authors have proposed that aggression is a continuum anchored on one end by incivility and on the other end by physical violence, with harassment and bullying falling between these two extremes (Namie. 2003; Lutgen-Sandvik, 2003; Tracy et al., 2006). The notion of a continuum is premised on the assumption that these forms reflect increasing intensity or severity and that if low-intensity behaviours are left unaddressed, they could lead to increasingly severe behaviours. While we do not necessarily disagree with this depiction, this assignment of varying degrees of severity is rarely based on empirical evidence, in part due to the difficulty with measuring severity (for exceptions, see Glomb and Miner. 2002; Meglich-Sespico, 2006; Rogers, 1998).

Glomb and Miner (2002) included ratings of severity of each of 18 behaviours when assessing patterning of hostile behaviours within computer models. The ranking of these behaviours by severity ratings was consistent with what has been assumed in the literature. More specifically, talking behind someone’s back was rated as less severe, whereas angry gestures, insulting or criticizing and yelling were rated as moderately severe. Making threats and physical assaults were rated as most severe. In another study. Rogers (1998) had a group of people with work experience rate 49 physically, emotionally and sexually abusive behaviours on a variety of dimensions, including severity. She found that while all emotionally abusive and sexually harassing behaviours tended to be rated as less severe than the physical behaviours of rape, homicide and assault, some emotionally abusive items had similar ratings to some physical items (e.g.. being publicly belittled, verbally insulted versus bumped into, grabbed and subjected to threatening gestures) Thus, severity did vary across types, though it also varied within each type of hostile behaviour. Further, these types of behaviour overlapped in terms of severity ratings. Within the realm of psychologically aggressive behaviours, Meglich-Sespico (2006) found personal-related behaviours (e.g.. gossip, rumors) were rated as more severe and harassing than task-related behaviours (e.g., interfering with an assignment, withholding information). Indeed, while there may be a normative aspect to severity (what we as a group, occupation, organization or society see as appropriate), the target’s perception of severity is influenced by such contextual factors as actor power (e.g., Lamertz and Aquino, 2004; Keashly and Neuman, 2002; Meglich et al., 2012) and the target’s access to personal and organizational resources for coping and responding (e.g., Schat and Kelloway, 2003). Taken together, these studies reveal a more complex and nuanced understanding of severity than has been assumed thus far in discussions of workplace aggression and abuse. Given that workplace bullying is cast as a severe form of workplace hostility, it is important that research empirically assess severity and its link to actors’, targets’ and other organizational members’ interpretations and experiences of these hostile relationships.


In this chapter, we have sought to identify and share relevant concepts and research from the North American literatures on workplace aggression and abuse. As an overall assessment, there are several findings that research on this side of the pond has to offer discussions on workplace bullying. First, consideration of a variety of hostile behaviours and a range of effects has now become the mainstay in the literature, providing more points of behavioural comparison with the other global literatures and creating opportunities to explore the inherently multivariate nature of this phenomenon. Of particular note is the nascent exploration of cyberbullying, which is critical to theorizing about workplace aggression. E-aggression highlights the profound influence of the medium of enactment on types of behaviour, the nature and extent of impact and thus, ways to address it. Second, the North American literature is increasingly embracing the relational and communal nature of workplace aggression to a greater degree than the European literature has. This focus has led to exploration of the dynamic process of bullying development and the contextual factors that support and thus can mitigate such hostile and damaging behaviours. This has implications for actions such as cultural change and bystander action that would be important for prevention and management of aggression generally and workplace bullying, specifically. Third, the utilization of such diverse measures and methodologies as surveys, interviews, longitudinal studies, case studies, and computer modeling bodes well for more accurate and precise data, as well as the development and testing of more complex models of these hostile relationships.

In addition to the existing research findings, we need more research from the perspectives of the expanding net of stakeholders. While our understanding of the immediate target’s experiences and responses is very rich, we need to know more about the actors not so much in terms of ‘who they are’ but, rather, how they understand and interpret their own behaviours, e.g., motive (Jacobson et al., 2017; Lutgen-Sandvik and Fletcher, 2013; Tepper et al., 2017). We also need to focus on those who witness or observe (the bystanders—Keashly, 2018b; Tye-Williams and Krone, 2015) and others who are connected directly and indirectly to those involved (e.g., family, friends, upper management. Human Resources, health professionals and the broader community; Carlson et al., 2011; Hoobler and Brass, 2006) Although the North American literature on workplace aggression is beginning to examine these stakeholders more closely (Lutgen-Sandvik and Tracy, 2012), there is still much work to be done about the roles they play and how they play them, as well as how these different players interconnect. Lamertz and Aquino’s model (2004) is a good beginning and needs to be carried further. More broadly, research and theorizing needs to recognize that while workplace aggression and bullying occur in organizations, they are fundamentally grounded in and reflective of socio-structural inequities, i.e., they are not status-blind. Extending research and theorizing to explore the intersectionality of social and organizational positions on the dynamics and effects of workplace bullying is critical to deepening our understanding and thus action. Finally, there needs to be development and systematic evaluation of the myriad actions proposed to ameliorate bullying, and these efforts need to be grounded in our understanding of the sources, contexts and mechanisms of bullying.


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Empirical Evidence


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