Organizational Risk Factors of Workplace Bullying

Denise Salin and Helge Hoel



Work Organization and Job Design


Organizational Culture and Climate


Leadership and Conflict Management


Organizational Change and Bullying


Power and Control


Limitations/Critical Review







A central issue in workplace bullying research has been to identify possible antecedents or risk factors of bullying, not at least in work design and the immediate psychosocial work environment. The notion that bullying is largely attributable to deficiencies in the work environment is typically referred to as the work environment hypothesis (e.g.. Einarsen, 2000; Hauge et al., 2007) and has been a central tenet of bullying research from its early inception (Einarsen etal., 1994; Leymann, 1996). Three decades of empirical research have provided strong empirical evidence for this perspective. Already, findings from the 1990s suggested that both victims and observers of bullying reported a more negative work environment than those who were not affected or had not observed bullying (e.g., Einarsen et al., 1994; Vartia, 1996), and that the worst perceived work environment was associated with those most severely bullied (Zapf et al.. 1996). Later studies have reinforced this view and provided additional support for this perspective (e.g., Baillien et al.. 2008; Balducci et al.. 2011; Hauge et al.. 2007; Notelaers et al., 2010).

The last decade has seen important advances in the study of organizational risk factors of bullying. First of all. longitudinal studies and group level studies have provided support for the validity of the work environment hypothesis (e.g., Baillien et al., 2011a; Francioli et al., 2018; Hauge et al., 201 lb; Holten etal., 2017; Reknes etal., 2014; Rodriguez-Munoz et al., 2012a; Skogstad et al., 2011). Second, studies of mediating and moderating factors have provided important insights into the mechanisms through which a poor environment gives rise to more bullying and the circumstances under which this is most likely to happen (see Rai and Agarwal, 2018, for a review). Third, with researchers from a growing number of countries contributing to workplace bullying research, we have stronger evidence to show universal support for the work environment hypothesis across different cultural contexts, including less developed economies (e.g.. Ahmad, 2018; Amponsah-Tawiah and Annor. 2017; Hua etal., 2016).

Our review of organizational risk factors of bullying examines and synthesizes empirical findings and new theoretical insights about the relationship between work environment factors and workplace bullying. For these purposes, we have structured the chapter under five separate sub-headings: (1) job design and work organization, (2) organizational cultures and climate, (3) leadership and conflict management. (4) organizational change and (5) power and control, respectively. For the sake of clarity, we discuss the factors separately, although we acknowledge that in reality they are highly intertwined. Overall, it is important to bear in mind that bullying is a complex and multi-causal phenomenon and can seldom be explained by one factor alone, but rather by an interplay between many different factors (Sal in, 2003a). Furthermore, meta-analyses of risk factors of harassment (Bowling and Beehr. 2006) show that both organizational and individual factors interact in determining the risk. Thus, individual factors are not irrelevant in the bullying process as they may affect the risk of being bullied when certain organizational preconditions or risk factors are present. Individual factors are, however, outside the scope of this chapter and are discussed in a separate chapter (Zapf and Einarsen. this volume).

Work Organization and Job Design

Bullying has frequently been associated with a negative and stressful working environment (Einarsen etal., 1994; Leymann. 1996). To account for such a relationship, it has been argued that work stressors may both elicit frustration and thereby increase the enactment of bullying and deplete targets of energy, thereby setting them up as ‘easy’ targets (Bail 1 ien et al., 2009). In some cases, it can also be argued that the presence of work stressors by themselves may be perceived as harassment, particularly when they are attributed to hostile intentions and directed at a given target (Brodsky, 1976; Einarsen etal., 1994). This is also in line with findings by Semmer et al. (2015) who show that receiving illegitimate tasks, that are tasks that are perceived as unnecessary or unreasonable, may themselves be a stressor and offense-to-self, with negative consequences for employee well-being.

Looking at the evidence, role-conflict, role ambiguity and lack of clear goals are features of work organizations which already in the 1990’s were found to be linked to perceived bullying in some Nordic studies (Einarsen et al., 1994; Vartia, 1996). More recent studies from a variety of countries have confirmed these findings, all reporting role-conflict and role-ambiguity to be among the strongest predictors of both perceived and enacted workplace bullying and harassment (Bowling and Beehr, 2006; Hauge et al., 2007; Hauge et al., 2009; Notelaers et al., 2010). Thus, bullying seems to thrive where employees perceive contradictory expectations, demands and values in their jobs and where expectations are perceived as unclear or unpredictable. Lately, also longitudinal research has pointed to the importance of role ambiguity (Reknes et al., 2014) and role conflict (Balducci et al., 2012; Reknes etal., 2014) as predictors of bullying, providing strong evidence for a causal relationship.

Work intensification and increasing pressure have also been suggested as precursors of bullying. Several studies, from a variety of countries, point to a relationship between high job demands and elevated levels of bullying (Baillien et al., 2008; Balducci et al., 2011; Bowling and Beehr, 2006; Hauge et al., 2007; Hua et al., 2016; Lewis et al., 2017; Notelaers et al., 2010; Spagnoli and Balducci, 2017). However, it is also important to note that unreasonable job demands may in themselves be used as a form of bullying by managers. This is in line with the finding by Rodriguez-Munoz et al. (2012a) that there are reciprocal relationships between bullying and job demands. Not only do those that experience high job demands report a higher subsequent risk of bullying, but those who are bullied also report higher subsequent job demands.

Yet another characteristic of the work environment that has been associated with a higher risk of bullying is low autonomy or low decision authority (Astrauskaite et al., 2015; Balducci et al., 2011; Lewis etal., 2017; Oxenstierna etal., 2012). In particular, it has been argued that the problem of bullying comes to the fore when a high degree of pressure is present in a work environment which offers individuals little control over their owm work (Einarsen et al., 1994). Such an interpretation is in line with Karasek’s (1979) ‘job demand-control model of stress’, in which strain is seen as the likely outcome of a combination of high demands and low decision latitude. This model has also been supported by empirical research (Baillien et al., 2011a; Notelaers et al., 2013; Francioli et al., 2016) to account for or contribute to enhanced perceptions of being exposed to bullying. Also, the relevance of other related stress models, such as the job demand-control-support model (Goodboy et al., 2017) and the job demand-resource model (Baillien etal., 2011b; Van den Broeck etal., 2011), which relate to the combination of high job demands, insufficient resources and/or little support, have received empirical support in bullying research. In line with this, under-resourcing has also been found to be a risk factor of workplace harassment (Tuckey et al., 2012), suggesting that scarcity of resources may turn employees against each other.

Certain physical aspects of the work environment may also act as antecedents of aggressive behaviour and bullying. Nuisances in the physical work environment, such as extreme temperatures, poor indoor air quality, and cramped conditions have been found to be associated with an increased risk of bullying (Salin. 2015). Similarly, in a qualitative study, Baillien et al. (2008) found that working in high temperatures, crowded spaces or in otherwise unpleasant and irritating environments and relying on sharing tools and equipment were all associated with higher risk for bullying. This could also help to explain the high levels of bullying often reported in restaurant kitchens, frequently described as cramped, hot and noisy work environments (e.g„ Bloisi and Hoel, 2008; Mathisen et al., 2008).

As discussed above, different aspects of the work design and work environment have been shown to be related to an increased risk of workplace bullying. There are many possible explanations for this. First, ineffective coping with frustrations caused by such deficiencies may act as a possible antecedent of bullying, or of aggression more generally (Baillien et al..

2009). Baillien and De Witte (2009) point out that when managers or employees cope with frustration in an active-ineffective way. they are more likely to become a perpetrator. This draws upon Berkowitz’s (1989) Revised Frustration Aggression Theory, which argues that a stressful work environment can lead to aggression towards others through negative affect. This is also in line with some North American research highlighting injustice as an important antecedent of abusive supervision (Tepper, 2007) and counterproductive and aggressive behaviour (Colquitt et al., 2013).

Second, stressors in the work design and work environment may also affect the behaviour of potential victims and increase the risk of them engaging in behaviours that elicit aggression from others (Baillien et al., 2009). The ‘social inter-actionist’ perspective (Felson and Tedeschi, 1993) suggests that situational or external factors may bring about aggression and bullying indirectly by giving rise to behaviours in breach of rules and norms of the group or the larger organization. The assertation that employees themselves may sometimes exhibit behaviours that put them at greater risk of bullying is also in line with victim precipitation theory, which argues that victims sometimes initiate behaviours that lead to their harm and loss by provoking negative behaviours from others (Samnani and Singh. 2016).

Third, stressors in the workplace may increase the risk of interpersonal conflicts (Stoetzer et al., 2009). which in turn have been highlighted as a risk factor for bullying (see later section). In line with Leymann’s (1996) model, bullying can come about or arise from conflict escalation (Baillien et al., 2009) or what Einarsen et al. (this volume) label as dispute-related bullying. It may, therefore, be assumed that where a number of work stressors are present including high workload, and where little time and resources are available for conflict management, the environment may provide fertile ground for peer conflicts. Peer conflicts may in turn develop into bullying, particularly when combined with a ‘hands-off’, laissez-faire style of leadership (Agotnes et al., 2018).

Organizational Culture and Climate

Studies of workplace bullying discussing the role and impact of the culture of the organization have often emphasized that in many organizations associated with high levels of bullying, negative and abusive acts were indirectly ‘permitted’, whether or not they actually were an integrated part of the culture. This supports Brodsky’s (1976) view' that for harassment to occur, there needs to be a culture that permits and rewards it (p. 83). Accordingly, bullying is seen to be prevalent in organizations w'here employees and managers feel that they have the support, or at least implicitly the blessing, of senior managers to carry on their abusive and bullying behaviour (Einarsen, 1999). The findings of Neyens et al. (2007) that bullying was more common in organizations with no antibullying policies seems to support such a view, albeit indirectly or by implication.

When considering organizational climates affecting bullying, Dollard and colleagues’ work on Psychological Safety Climate (PSC) is of interest. Defined as ‘organizational policies, practices and procedures for the protection of worker psychological health and safety’ (Dollard and Bakker, 2010, p. 580), PSC is considered a useful indicator of psycho-social hazards including bullying and linked directly to the organization’s ability to protect its members from such psychological harm (Dollard, 2011). Supported by evidence from an Australian study of 200 employees across 30 organizations (Law et al., 2011), it is suggested that in high PSC contexts, bullying will be low due to top management’s commitment to an environment free of bullying will be cascaded downw'ards, affecting the behaviour of managers at all levels and with any reports of bullying being responded to promptly. By contrast, low PSC contexts are associated with high levels of bullying as incidents will go unchecked, with bullying behaviour becoming normalized or sometimes even institutionalized (e.g„ Liefooghe and Davey, 2001).

Altogether, these findings suggest that well-communicated and enacted policy frameworks of various nature and forms may provide effective protection against bullying. Indirectly, this also lends support to the view that the presence of coherent organizational practices represents important protective mechanisms against bullying whilst managerial chaos and instability due to a lack of coherence, by contrast, are seen to increase the risk of bullying (Hodson et al.. 2006).

Institutionalization of bullying referred to above has often been associated with organizational and professional socialization processes, where training and learning processes are considered key to understanding how individuals collectively learn and adopt the norms of the organization and the profession— unfortunately, in this case, adopting destructive norms conducive to bullying (see also the book's chapter on bullying and discrimination). In line with such a view, in a qualitative study of bullying in the fire service. Archer (1999) explored how bullying in a ‘paramilitary’ setting may become institutionalized and passed on as tradition, thus reinforcing the dominance of white males. Such destructive influence of socialization is also present in a British study of trainee nurses (Hoel et al.. 2007), which found that whilst being a student offered some protection against personal experiences of bullying, being exposed to an environment where bullying behaviours were common gradually changed the outlook and behaviour of students by hardening them and therefore increasing the likelihood of the next generation of nurses themselves engaging in bullying behaviour. Similarly, to account for bullying in the hospitality industry, in particularly within the luxury end of the restaurant market, researchers have pointed to the testing physical conditions which combines with a military-style discipline and undivided loyalty demanded by the chef to seemingly assure that guests get what they deserve and have paid for (Johns and Menzel. 1999). Unfortunately, due to the power of socialization, bullying may be reproduced by future generations of chefs themselves molded within a culture where the chef rules unquestioned and the antics and bullying behaviours may be explained away with reference to their ‘artistic temperament' (Bloisi and Hoel, 2008). Ironically, such behaviour by the chef does not seem to correspond with customer evaluations with a Norwegian study concluding the opposite, with negative restaurant ratings being associated with high levels of bullying (Mathisen et al., 2008).

In the above examples, bullying can be considered as being built into or becoming part of the culture. Organizations characterized by a high degree of conformity and group pressure seem to be particularly prone to bullying. Consequently, bullying seems to flourish in institutions such as prisons, the police and the armed forces, where compliance and discipline are of overriding importance, and where failure to conform with group identity and group standards may lead to bullying and exclusion (e.g., Ashforth, 1994; 0stvik and Rudmin, 2001; Rayner et al., 2002). While organizations characterized by a strict focus on power relations, a very formal atmosphere and extreme goal orientation may be associated with bullying, Baillien et al. (2008) showed that the opposite, i.e., a power vacuum, a too informal atmosphere and a manager who is too tolerant were also risk factors. Their research thus demonstrated that leaders who are ‘too much people oriented' or ‘too tolerant’ caused a lot of frustration and they demonstrated the need for a ‘healthy’ balance between the two extremes in order to decrease the risk of bullying.

More generally, the social climate in the workplaces has been shown to be related to workplace bullying (Einarsen et al., 1994; Vartia, 1996). For example, in a study among Finnish business professionals. Salin (2003b) found a significant, positive correlation between perceptions of organizational politics and workplace bullying, a finding more recently also supported by research undertaken among Ghanian employees (Amponsah-Tawiah and Annor, 2017). This supports the view that bullying may sometimes be used as a micropolitical strategy to enhance the perpetrator’s own position. In terms of the presence of bullying, Salin (2003b) also reported a positive relationship with high internal competition, with a competitive climate also being identified as something typical by other early bullying research (O'Moore et al., 1998; Vartia, 1996). Similarly, Samnani and Singh (2014) argued that performance-enhancing compensation systems may lead to more bullying through increased competition and work intensification, although recent empirical studies have failed to find support for such a view (Salin. 2015; Salin and Notelaers, 2020).

Humour is a common ingredient of workplace culture and often associated with positive outcomes. However, when used to test new members as part of socialization processes by way of humiliating jokes and unwelcome surprises, or used to punish colleagues who do not conform to shared workplace norms (Collinson, 1988), humour may turn into bullying when targeting people who have difficulties in defending themselves. Thus, whilst humour can have a positive impact in the work environment, this requires power symmetry, being reciprocal and played out by equal parties (Matthiesen and Einarsen,

2010). However, even under such circumstances, jokes, often portrayed as ‘banter’, and which seemingly are tolerated by all parties involved, may contribute to bullying and social exclusion by way of reinforcing a sexist or homophobic culture (Hoel and Vartia, 2018). Similarly, by using examples from the hospital context, Mortensen and Baarts (2018) show how teasing and joking practices can become increasingly derogatory over time and even escalate into bullying.

Leadership and Conflict Management

With managers in positions of power often identified as perpetrators, a scrutiny of the impact of different leadership styles on bullying appears to be essential. Furthermore, even if not engaging in bullying themselves, managers can have a profound impact on the work environment and on expectations of standards of behaviour. Empirical research has demonstrated that active and constructive forms of leadership clearly decrease the risk of bullying (Cooper-Thomas et al., 2013; Salin, 2015). This seems to be true for a range of different positive or constructive leadership styles, including participative leadership (Hoel et al., 2010), authentic leadership (Nielsen, 2013; Warszewska-Makuch et al., 2015), transformational leadership (Astrauskaite et al., 2015; Nielsen, 2013; Tsuno and Kawakami. 2015) and supportive and fair leadership (Hauge et al., 201 lb).

Research has also examined the mechanisms through which constructive leadership translates into less bullying. For instance, it has been shown that ethical leadership leads to a better work environment (Stouten et al., 2010) and stronger perceptions of interactional justice (Ahmad, 2018), which in turn bring about less bullying. The relationship between transformational leadership and lower rates of bullying has been shown to be partly mediated by autonomy (Astrauskaite et al., 2015). Furthermore, longitudinal research has shown that high-quality leadership leads to stronger social communities, which in turn also decreases bullying (Francioli et al., 2018). Taken together, findings on leadership and bullying thus suggest that when leaders communicate clear goals and expectations, involve employees in decision-making, show concern for employee needs and employee development and handle conflicts well, the risk of bullying in the work community drops significantly. It seems logical that such leaders also are likely to engage in less bullying behaviour themselves, although research has so far largely overlooked the extent to which various leadership styles affect downwards versus peer or horizontal bullying, respectively.

In contrast, laissez-faire leadership, where leaders basically abdicate their leader responsibilities, has consistently been found to be associated with higher levels of bullying across countries and different cultural settings (Einarsen et al., 1994; Hauge et al., 2007; Hoel et al., 2010; Nielsen, 2013: Strandmark and Hallberg, 2007; Tsuno and Kawakami, 2015). Laissez-faire leadership may result in higher levels of role conflicts, role ambiguity, and conflicts, which in turn all may increase the risk of bullying (Skogstad et al., 2007a). Âgotnes et al. (2018) further show how laissez-faire leadership may strengthen the association between peer conflicts and subsequent bullying. Moreover, laissez-faire leadership may also be considered bullying in its own right, particularly when lack of interest and involvement systematically are directed at or withheld from particular individuals contributing to their social isolation (Hoel et al., 2010).

Another reason why constructive and active leadership is associated with less bullying may be because constructive leaders also invest time and effort in conflict management. Interpersonal conflicts have been shown to be a major predictor of workplace bullying (Baillien et al., 2011c; Arenas et al.,

  • 2015) . The relationship between task-related conflicts and bullying has been shown to be mediated by person-related conflicts, suggesting an escalation process where conflicts become personalized over time (Arenas et al., 2015; Baillien et al.,
  • 2016) . Furthermore, the work unit or department’s conflict management style has been shown to affect the risk of bullying with ‘forcing’ increasing and problem-solving decreasing the risk of subsequent enactment of bullying (Baillien et al., 2014). Active conflict management as part of leadership thus appears to play a crucial role in hindering the escalation of task-related conflicts turning into bullying. This is also supported by the finding that a strong conflict management climate is associated with less bullying (Einarsen et al., 2018).

However, bullying is not confined to passive styles of leadership, with certain forms of active, albeit destructive, leadership behaviours likely to increase the risk of bullying. For example, in a representative, large-scale study (N = 2,539) of the Norwegian workforce, Hauge et al. (2007) found not only laissez-faire leadership but also tyrannical leadership behaviour to be among the strongest predictors of bullying. In line with this, other related forms of dictatorial leadership styles have been reported to result in more perceptions of bullying (Oxenstierna et al., 2012). This may be both because tyrannical leadership may itself at times be construed as a form of bullying, and because of the signal it sends to followers about the acceptability of harsh and negative social behaviours and interactions in the workplace.

Accordingly, several studies have confirmed a relationship between bullying, on the one hand, and autocratic leadership and an authoritarian way of settling conflicts or dealing with disagreements on the other (Hoel et al., 2010; Vartia, 1996). An authoritarian style of leadership may also create a climate of fear, where there is little or no room for dialogue and where complaining may be considered futile. Such a form of autocratic or coercive leadership seems to come close to what Einarsen et al. (2007) labeled as tyrannical leadership and Ashforth (1994) referred to as ‘petty tyranny’. Research from Turkey has also examined effects of paternalistic leadership (Soylu, 2011), a leadership style that basically suggests that the leader cares for the followers and their families in exchange for unquestioned obedience and loyalty. Although from a more Western perspective such expectations of unquestioned obedience may appear problematic, studies on the effects of paternalistic leadership on bullying have shown mixed results. The benevolent elements of paternalism were shown to be associated with less bullying, and expectations of loyalty with more bullying (Soylu.

2011). But, the authoritarian aspects of paternalistic leadership did not increase the risk of bullying, nor did it increase the risk of social isolation, but actually decreased it. This also points to possible cultural differences in risk factors of bullying (Salin, 2020a).

Furthermore, in a study of more than 5,000 British employees, Hoel etal. (2010) found that bullying was positively associated with non-contingent punishment (NCP), a leadership style where punishment is used arbitrarily. Even more importantly, the study also revealed that targets and observers of bullying did not entirely share perceptions in terms of leadership and bullying. Thus, whilst the strongest association between leadership and bullying was found for NCP, an autocratic leadership style emerged as the strongest predictor for observers. Thus, where punishment is meted out arbitrarily, its unpredictability may contribute to it being labelled as bullying. For observers, however, bullying is primarily associated with an autocratic or coercive style of management. Although unpleasant, being exposed to such a style of management may be more predictable and thus easier to make sense of and to protect against. The arbitrariness of the application of punishment associated with NCP may also make this style of leadership less visible to observers, thus reducing the likelihood that they would intervene or express support for targets.

For those particularly interested in the question of the leader as a bully, a wide and thorough stream of research has evolved after the turn of the millennium focusing on the concepts of ‘abusive supervision’ and ‘destructive leadership’, describing situations where subordinates are mistreated, abused and bullied at work by their immediate superiors (see Einarsen et al., 2013, Skogstad et al., 2017, for reviews).

Organizational Change and Bullying

Salin (2003a) argued that bullying typically was the result of an interplay between enabling, motivating and precipitating factors. In this framework, precipitating factors were described as factors that involved changes of various kinds, whether internal or external to the organization. These factors were considered likely triggers of bullying. Implicitly following such an argument, Baron and Neuman (1996) concluded that the strongest predictors of aggression associated with workplace change were found to be: Use of part-time workers; change in management and pay-cuts or pay-freezes. Similarly, according to Hoel and Cooper’s (2000) nationwide survey, bullied employees were significantly more likely to report ‘major organizational change’, budget cuts, ‘major technological change’, and ‘major internal restructuring’ (Hoel and Cooper, 2000).

However, such early studies offered little by way of explanations beyond indicating that the risk of bullying may increase as managers may adopt more autocratic and less accommodating practices to bring about the desired change. Similarly, downsizing has been argued to lead to harsher internal competition, thereby increasing the risk that employees and managers may rely on any means deemed necessary to ‘get rid of competitors’ (Salin, 2003b), whilst a greater reliance on the market has been seen to bring about similar destructive processes within the public sector (Ironside and Seifert, 2003).

Nevertheless, later studies have provided a more detailed and nuanced picture. In this respect, Skogstad et al. (2007b), based on a Norwegian representative sample, found a significant association between exposure to bullying and organizational changes, albeit a low to moderate relationship. Changes to the work environment and reduction in staff numbers and pay significantly predicted both work- and person-related bullying, but with a stronger relationship found for the former. The study also concluded that organizational changes and interpersonal conflicts are separate and mainly independent precursors of bullying at work, with conflicts with one’s immediate superior by far the strongest predictor of bullying, yet possibly being a mediating factor between change and bullying.

In a Belgian study, Baillien and De Witte (2009) examined the mediating effect of several different stressors on bullying. They found that the relationship between organizational change and bullying was fully mediated by role conflict and job insecurity. However, similar to Skogstad etaL’s (2007b) Norwegian study, it revealed only a modest correlation between bullying and organizational change, questioning the assumption of organizational change as one of the most important triggers of bullying. They further concluded that organizational change seems to increase the risk of bullying only when it actually results in a poorer or worse work environment (e.g„ role-conflict and insecurity) for the individual, the influence of job-insecurity in bullying scenarios recently highlighted by Glambek etal. (2014). It is worth noting that it may not be the changes themselves which lead to bullying but the way they are carried out, with scholars pointing to the role of justice perceptions, procedural justice in particular, surrounding the execution of changes including layoffs and redundancies (Barling etal.. 2009).

Recent studies, often aided by more sophisticated, longitudinal research designs, have thrown further light on the complex nature of the relationship between organizational change and bullying, pointing to the need to unpick the sources, causes and likely targets of change processes (D'Cruz et al.. 2014). Highlighting the need for clarity with respect to what forms of change are being studied, Holten et al. (2017) pointed out the difference between task and relational change as well as between distal and proximal changes. This latter distinction concerns the relative proximity or closeness of a particular change to an employee’s job situation, with distal change exemplified by mergers and downsizing, whilst a change of supervisor may count as an example of proximal change. Focusing on the difference between task and relational change, and bullying, Holten et al. (2017) in a Danish longitudinal study (N = 1,650) involving employees from 53 workplaces, found a direct effect of task-related change on experiences of negative acts. Relational change, for its part affected enactment of negative acts. In interpreting their findings, they suggested that whilst changes to work methods or allocation of tasks might bring about bullying, they may also, as argued above be interpreted as bullying in its own right, possibly as a breach of procedural justice. By contrast, relational changes such as getting a new supervisor may lead to self-protective behaviour in the form of enactment of negative act. Similarly, Spagnoli and Balducci (2017), also adopting a longitudinal study design, concluded that psychological strain elicited by organizational change mediated the relationship between workload and bullying in line with Baillien and De Witte’s (2009) findings previously reported.

Organizational change is often the result of larger societal change and cannot always be separated from such. Any discussion of organizational changes would, therefore, be incomplete without acknowledging how these are affected by trends in society at large. Economic globalization has increased competition, with survival in the current economic environment forcing organizations to restructure and downsize to cut costs, with greater pressures on everyone at work as a result. It has also been argued that by introducing market philosophies into areas previously unaffected by such pressures—for example, within the health and the education sectors, the relationship between managers and staff has changed, with work intensification and increased managerial discretion and control as a result (Hoel and Beale, 2006; Ironside and Seifert, 2003; Lee, 2000). As both leadership practices and organizational change fundamentally rely on power and control it is to such issues we now turn.

Power and Control

Although some early bullying research (e.g., Bjorkqvist et al., 1994) suggested that perpetrators may implicitly apply costbenefit analysis when treating someone in a bullying manner, there have been few studies examining the possible benefits of bullying for perpetrators and contributing organizational factors. An exception is the controversial paper by Ferris et al. (2007) on ‘strategic bullying’. Drawing upon organizational politics literature, the authors argue that such bullying can have positive effects for the bully as well as for the organization. Thus, strategic bullying might contribute to enhancing the reputation and the power of the bully, whilst by putting unreasonable pressure on the target in order to ‘get the job done’, and thus causing likely distress might help the organization getting rid of unproductive employees. Whilst at odds with most other contributions in the field, Ferris et al’s paper highlights that certain organizational practices and cultures as previously described may encourage bullying, and from a managerial perspective sometimes seemed to be highly rational, a fact often overlooked in the bullying literature (Beale, 2011).

Thus, where managers have been considered the source of bullying, this has often been seen to stem from an inability to handle increased pressure from globalization and competition and subsequent organizational restructuring (Hutchinson,

2012). However, with sociologically oriented accounts entering the frame, issues around power and control are receiving growing attention with some even considering bullying to be an integral part of the contemporary employment relationship and a rational management control tool (Beale and Hoel, 2011; D'Cruz et al., 2014; Hodson et al., 2006). Among advocates of such views, some argue for an approach which stretches the current definitions of bullying beyond interpersonal relationships, considering the organization as perpetrator. These researchers portray bullying in a depersonalized form as part of routine subjugation of workers carried out by managers to achieve organizational aims (e.g., D'Cruz et al., 2014; Hutchinson, 2012; Liefooghe and Davey, 2001). Hoel and Beale (2006), by contrast, whilst supporting a greater focus on power and acknowledging that individual managers may get trapped in destructive systems (Evesson etal., 2015), depart in the main from the view of the organization as bully. Instead they make a distinction between ‘victimization’, on the one hand of a continuum of bullying where individual workers are targeted (and the focus of the current book), and ‘oppressive regimes’ on the other, where everyone in a work group is on the receiving end, more akin to depersonalized bullying but with the difference that the source of bullying is identifiable. Arguing that whilst there is a dynamic relationship between these two forms of bullying, they hold that when addressing bullying one needs to acknowledge the subjective elements involved and the importance of micro-level processes of individual and group interactions (Hoel and Beale, 2006, p. 256).

In clarifying their position further, Beale and Hoel (2011, p. 9) consider bullying ‘a tool of managerial control, one which can sit alongside other control methods and approaches and can supplement them, though in developed economies it may be seen as the big stick often held in reserve’. Thus, there might be situations where the gains of bullying from the employer’s perspective may outweigh any potential costs involved (Beale and Hoel, 2011). However, to ensure the legitimacy of management authority, such oppressive control mechanism must be used sparingly, particularly in workplaces where the notion of HRM is embraced and worker involvement is valued. Thus, managerial gains expected from bullying ‘may be contingent upon the particular organizational context, product and labour markets, and the employer’s orientation to high performance work practices’ (Beale and Hoel, 2011, p. 7).

Limitations/Critical Review

During the past few years, our knowledge of workplace bullying has increased and the methods for studying it have become increasingly sophisticated. Despite this, there are several limitations that need to be kept in mind when interpreting the results.

With some exceptions (e.g., Baillien et al., 2011a, 2011b, 2014; Francioli et al., 2018; Holten et al., 2017; Reknes et al..

2014; Rodriguez-Munoz et al., 2012a), the findings discussed above are largely the results of cross-sectional studies, which do not allow for robust conclusions with regard to causality. Thus, whilst a poor working environment may directly or indirectly give rise to bullying, reciprocal relationships or causality in the other direction may also be possible. For example, bullying may itself have a negative effect on the work environment by giving rise to more role ambiguity and role conflict (Hauge et al., 2011a), or higher job demands (Rodriguez-Munoz et al., 2012a). To what extent bullying is the result of a poor work environment, or whether victims only perceive their own environment as more negative in general also remains open to debate, although some reports from observers seem to support target perceptions of a poor work environment (e.g., Hauge et a/., 2007; Salin. 2015).

Similarly, with a few exceptions (e.g., Hauge et al.. 2011b; Skogstad et al., 2011), there is also a paucity of multilevel studies. Thus, whilst the work-environment hypothesis strictly speaking operates on the group level, in terms of risk factors of bullying, our current knowledge is primarily drawn from studies focusing on the individual level. Whilst most studies have used quantitative methods, a few studies have applied qualitative research or mixed-methods, possibly introducing alternative perspectives of the role of organizational risk factors in the bullying process (e.g., Baillien et al.. 2008; D’Cruz et al., 2014; Hoel et al., 2007; Strandmark and Hallberg, 2007).

Studies of bullying have often varied in their operationalization of bullying, some relying on self-labelling, others on an operational classification method (e.g., NAQ-R) (Nielsen et al., this volume). This, too, may give rise to contradictory results. As shown by Hauge et al. (2007), who used both methods simultaneously, the relationship between work environment stressors and bullying was stronger when measuring exposure to specific negative acts than when measuring it in terms of self-labelling. This seems to indicate that while a poor work environment is a good predictor of negative acts, the actual labelling process is affected by many other factors as well. Moreover, they also studied the predictors of w'ork-related and person-related bullying separately. While their overall result showed the same stressors were relevant for both forms of bullying, the magnitude and relative strengths of the predictors varied (for each type).

Whilst studies have become methodologically more sophisticated, many studies still focus on the relationship between a few variables while ignoring the setting/context and other influencing factors. Nevertheless, different risk factors may interact to influence the risk. For example, Spagnoli and Balducci (2017) found that when the level of job insecurity is high, there is a stronger relationship between workload and bullying. Similarly, Rodriguez-Munoz et al. (2012b) reported that the relationship between role conflict and bullying was particularly strong under laissez-faire leadership. Also, individual and organizational factors may both contribute to and possibly interact to influence the risk. For example, van den Brande et al. (2017) showed that an individual’s coping style may moderate the relationship between stressors and bullying. Similarly, Vandevelde et al. (2016) found that person-environment fit was an important predictor of bullying, providing further support for a person-environment interaction in terms of risk. Such interaction effects between different risk factors are still relatively poorly understood and additional research is, therefore, needed.

Different risk factors of bullying of a situational or organizational nature are also unlikely to affect different demographic groups uniformly (Hoel et al.. 2001). In the same way as organizational antecedents may combine and interact with particular characteristics of the persons involved, the effects and influence of individual antecedents are likely to vary across organizational contexts and between demographic groups (cf. Salin, 2015). In this context, one would also expect that different antecedents may take on different meanings in different settings, and that factors such as gender, age, ethnicity and sexuality would impinge upon such meanings (Salin, 2020b).


In this chapter, we have explored a large number of factors at the level of the organization which, on their own or in combination, may give rise to or prevent bullying behaviour and the escalation of bullying processes. Whilst these antecedents, risk factors and preventive factors have largely been discussed one by one, their relationship and interconnectivity have been emphasized. However, in real-life scenarios, the interaction between features of the organization and the larger environment within which it is located are likely to be far more complex than research has so far uncovered. One may also anticipate that where a number of risk factors may be present at the same time, synergetic effects may occur, increasing the overall risk of bullying scenarios emerging. However, in order to reveal patterns of interaction, more sophisticated research methods need to be developed and applied.


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Conflict, Conflict

Resolution and

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