Self-Determination Theory

According to Porter and Lawler (1968), people can operate from one of two motivation models. First, with intrinsic motivation, people engage in tasks and objectives because they genuinely enjoy the activity. Ryan and Deci (2002) offer three points of internal motivation. The need for fulfillment comes with independent determination, feeling capable of the task, and relating such successes to others (Goodboy et al., 2017; Ryan & Deci, 2002). If employees experience this fulfillment and autonomy, they presumably engage in the work (Goodboy et al., 2017). However, “workplace bullying denies employees of their basic psychological needs, and when employees are denied of these needs, they are less intrinsically motivated to work” (Goodboy et al., 2017, p. 16).

For example, successful artists tend to be intrinsically motivated. They spend hours lost in their internal mind’s eye refining, rehearsing, or redrafting their craft to perfection. They are constantly honing their skills in singing, dancing, writing, painting, or sculpting, to name but a few activities. When we consider some of the greatest artists regardless of their other misgivings, we often discover that they practiced tirelessly, without a coach or teacher prompting them. Yet, when needed, they seek mentorship and guidance for improvement. Winner and Casey (1992) commented that successful art students are single-mindedly devoted to their art, constantly rethinking innovative applications to their work product. Further, such intrinsically motivated students questioned processes, analyzed, and challenged their activities in a self-sufficient manner (Getzels & Csikszentmihalyi, 1976). Such internal dedication yielded a highly focused and more successful artist who would persevere through the mercurial art world (Moulard et al., 2014).

In the second model of external motivation, people engage tasks because of stimuli outside of their personal proclivities such as money and other rewards. In the external model, people participate in an activity because they must, or because they see it as a requirement, not as a pleasure (Gagne & Deci, 2005). We educators see this in students who want to do the bare minimum to earn a “C.” These students come late or leave early. They slack off in class, doodling, texting, or listening to music. Faculty members even wonder why such students bother to attend. Some students in postsecondary levels have stated: “It was college or get a job ... my parents made me come to college.” Externally motivated students are seeking the rewards, not the knowledge. They have a diminutive genuine commitment to their learning and just moving through the paces to satisfy some outward pressure from parents, jobs, or other relationships. Though other elements just as intellect, learning environment, and resources contribute to student success, Komarraju et al. (2009) confirm that internal motivation is an important factor for a student to progress through college.

Those contending with workplace bullying in higher education endure interference with their intrinsic motivation. Employees abused by bullies typically experience declining work commitment (Law et al., 2011). Further, bullies often sabotage external rewards such as bonuses, raises, or promotions, consequently interfering with external rewards systems (Law et al., 2011). A target’s autonomous motivation to manage day-to-day workflow and her overall career trajectory is compromised when a bully aggressively exerts undue pressure and control. Goodboy et al. (2017) confirmed in their study of 243 workers, those employees who are deprived of autonomy feel deterred and undervalued. When a workplace bully psychologically pummels employees into submission and the organization fails to intervene in the toxic work environment, bullied employees frequently engage in a job search to end the terror.

I argue that employees lose self-determination when facing workplace bullying. Bullies potentially obstruct internal motivation through the maltreatment of employees. Consequently, employees psychologically distance themselves. The predilection to flee compromises the employee’s overall self-determination in their career trajectory.

Further, bullied employees who desert a bad situation instead of strategically waiting for the next proper opportunity for advancement are experiencing external pressure from the toxic work environment. Instead of engaging in a job search because an employee naturally determines that a job search is a next step, the same colleague who is restricted and harassed in a workplace bullying scenario adopts self-preservation. To minimize the psychological and emotional damage, bullied employees might feel they have no other choice. Some employees burn out and lose the emotional tenacity to withstand the bullying (El^i et al., 2014; Rossiter & Sochos, 2018). Desrumaux et al. (2018) confirmed that emotional support from leadership is a mitigating element in employee burnout. Without social support, equity, and proper resources, employees develop emotional fatigue and even despondency leading to a subsequent exit. Nonetheless, the choice to leave does not necessarily coincide with the optimum time to orchestrate a career change.

In this context of compromised self-determination resulting from workplace bullying, researchers have also documented that workplace bullying is a gendered phenomenon (Hollis, 2015a; Johnson-Bailey, 2015; Lee et al., 2013, Simpson & Cohen, 2004). Women are more likely to endure workplace bullying and left considering a variety of strategies to find relief. A common strategy, turnover intention, is also disruptive to one’s career trajectory and ascension to the upper echelons of leadership. To be forced out by a bully means that departing colleagues leave to find relief because of the undue control thrust upon them, not because they have autonomously decided to make the next career move.

The job departure strategy is the last in a series of attempts to mitigate bullying. Employees confirm various avoidance tactics such as scheduling meetings that conflict with meetings that include the bully. Absenteeism and tardiness are also some coping strategies that targets use to create distance between themselves and persecuting colleagues. While experimenting with different strategies to find relief from bullying, targets endure the assault on their selfworth and sense of belonging within the organization (Hauge et al., 2010; Hobfoil, 1989; Nabe-Nielsen et al., 2017). As social and professional esteem is decimated, targets then consider the escape hatch found in resignation from the position (Zapf & Gross, 2001).

Research Methods

Consistent with a majority of my research, the data for this analysis come from an instrument-based study. As noted in other chapters, the reliability is confirmed by a decade of the same research method and questions, which have resulted in the same findings even when different types of higher education employees and different higher education institutions are surveyed (please see Appendix for instrument questions). Considering self-determination theory, I examined turnover intention for men and women in American higher education. The process included disseminating an instrument to higher education professionals (directors, associate deans, deans, vice presidents, and provosts).

This sample was generated through the Higher Education Publication, a directory published in Reston, Virginia, which compiles emails of higher education deans, executive directors, provosts, and presidents from all types of higher education institutions such as community colleges, large state institutions, and small liberal arts colleges, but excluding for-profit schools. I purchased emails for the purpose of this study. The link to the SurveyMonkey-hosted instrument was sent to these colleagues. I also posted the link to the survey on LinkedIn and collected the data in winter 2018.

The sample for this analysis is comprised of 588 higher education employees; n = 164 for men and и = 424 for women. The chi-squared analysis is based on the specific question: “Think of your career in higher education. Have you left an institution of higher learning to avoid a BULLY or effect of a BULLY on staff?”

The resulting research question is as follows:

RQ1: Are women higher education employees or men higher education employees more likely to leave a higher education position as a result of workplace bullying?

Hl: Women higher education employees are more likely to leave a higher education position as a result of workplace bullying.

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