Monday, July 27, 2009

Why bullying happens at work: Transforming research with a transactional model

Today’s workers face the costs of insecurity and incivility. Indeed, an abundance of research indicates bullying is prevalent in the workplace and invites serious damaging consequences for victims, observers, and the organization – including depression, reduced quality of work, increased absenteeism and turnover, and resulting loss to the bottom line.

Scholars agree that bullying is caused by a variety of factors working together that ultimately include organizational factors, and target and bully personality and predisposition. Relatively few models however, have addressed the role targets play in the process of bullying and most even advise against taking such perspectives. For example, Einarsen (1999) posits that “the victim is accidentally in a situation where a predator either is demonstrating power or in other ways is trying to exploit an accidental victim” (p. 23). Leymann (1992, 1996) notes that victim personality is irrelevant and that work conditions are the primary cause of aggression. Rayner, Sheehan and Barker (1999) warn that designating targets a role in the process of bullying may remove focus from bullies and the organizations that reward them; and incorrectly allocate responsibility to the victim. Salin (2003) purports that the individual and organization exert influence on each other thereby eradicating the victim of any role in the process of bullying at work.

Certainly blaming victims is unprincipled, but ignoring the active role they play in a relationship with a co-worker is erroneous and precludes victims from taking empowering action against their abusers.

We need a fresh and more realistic view than current scholarship offers and should explore bullying as an ongoing relationship and communication transaction rather than a one-sided exchange. Organizational norms and stressors, culture, and colleagues are ongoing factors in the process of bullying rather than antecedents.

As businesses continue to ignore the problem of bullying at work, it becomes particularly important that we arm victims with the resources needed to successfully maneuver through work. Counseling (read: reactive) is not the answer, communication competence is (read: proactive). But we cannot provide these tools without a more ingenuous understanding of the phenomenon - and one that advocates victim accountability and empowerment. This provides the opportunity to develop tools to facilitate a victims’ own quest for positive change at work.

Otherwise, the victim remains a helpless passerby in his or her own life.

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