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Justifying new employees’ trials by fire: workplace hazing

Benjamin J. Thomas (Department of Psychology, University of Nebraska at Omaha, Omaha, Nebraska, USA)
Patricia Meglich (Department of Management, University of Nebraska at Omaha, Omaha, Nebraska, USA)

Personnel Review

ISSN: 0048-3486

Article publication date: 14 February 2019

Issue publication date: 7 March 2019




The purpose of this paper is to test the explanatory effects of the system justification theory on reactions to new employee hazing.


Three studies (N = 107, 121 and 128), all using experimental assignment, vignettes of workplace hazing and two-level repeated measures ANCOVA designs, with dispositional variables included as covariates and justification of workplace hazing processes as dependent variables, were conducted.


Onlookers are more likely to justify long-standing (cf. recently adopted) hazing systems and hazing systems used by highly cohesive (cf. loosely cohesive) teams, supporting the application of the system justification theory to workplace hazing reactions.

Research limitations/implications

The use of vignette research and onlookers (cf. hazed employees) may limit inferences drawn about employee reactions in workplaces that use hazing.

Practical implications

Despite its negative associations, hazing at work persists, with 25 percent of current sample reported being hazed at work. The system justification theory, which the authors applied to hazing, offers an explanation for stakeholders’ willingness to sustain and perpetuate hazing, and onlookers’ seeming blind-spot regarding outrage over workplace hazing. This theory holds promise for combatting passive responses to workplace hazing.


This is the first paper to empirically test explanations for workplace hazing’s perpetuation, by applying the system justification theory to the social system of workplace hazing. Moreover, it is the first paper to offer empirical evidence of hazing’s prevalence across at least 25 percent of sampled industries and organizational rank.



Thomas, B.J. and Meglich, P. (2019), "Justifying new employees’ trials by fire: workplace hazing", Personnel Review, Vol. 48 No. 2, pp. 381-399.



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