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Being pushed and pulled: a model of US HR professionals’ roles in bullying situations

Renee L. Cowan (Department of Communication, University of Texas at San Antonio, San Antonio, Texas, USA)
Suzy Fox (Department of Management, Loyola University, Chicago, Illinois, USA)

Personnel Review

ISSN: 0048-3486

Article publication date: 2 February 2015




The purpose of this paper is to clarify how human resource professionals (HRPs) in the United States (US) understand their roles in bullying situations and how they perceive others (targeted employees and senior management) understand their roles. It is important to understand these role expectations as HRPs are integral actors in bullying situations and are often evaluated negatively by those in bullying situations.


Strauss & Corbin’s grounded theory approach was used to uncover HRPs role perceptions. Narrative and respondent in-depth interviews were conducted with HRPs and revealed an evolving HR role that clashed with perceived target and senior management role expectations.


This research has revealed a theoretical model of the progressive role HRPs play in bullying situations. The authors discovered HRPs play several important roles in bullying situations and they link these roles in a temporal and situational manner. They first play the role of first, a trust listener; second, an objective, neutral third-party investigator; third, a management advisor; and fourth, a mediator/trainer/coach. Throughout this role execution they also became an emotional laborer. This model was often in contention with the HRP’s perceptions of targets and senior management expectations in bullying situations.


This research revealed a more detailed, nuanced view of the roles HRPs play in bullying situations and called existing research on US HRPs and their roles in bullying situations into question. How HRPs view their roles and role expectations is revealing of why and how they deal with allegations of bullying the way they do. This research has practical value for HR, management, targets, and organizations in general.



Cowan, R.L. and Fox, S. (2015), "Being pushed and pulled: a model of US HR professionals’ roles in bullying situations", Personnel Review, Vol. 44 No. 1, pp. 119-139.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2015, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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