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Killing ourselves with laughter … mapping the interplay of organizational teasing and workplace bullying in hospital work life

Mille Mortensen (Department of Psychology, University of Copenhagen, Copenhagen, Denmark)
Charlotte Andreas Baarts (Department of Sociology, University of Copenhagen, Copenhagen, Denmark)

Qualitative Research in Organizations and Management

ISSN: 1746-5648

Article publication date: 12 March 2018

Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this paper is to explore the interplay of organizational humorous teasing and workplace bullying in hospital work life in order to investigate how workplace bullying can emerge from doctors and nurses experiences of what, at first, appears as “innocent” humorous interactions.

Design/methodology/approach

Based on an ethnographic field study among doctors and nurses at Rigshospitalet (University Hospital of Copenhagen, Denmark) field notes, transcriptions from two focus groups and six in-depth interviews were analyzed using a cross-sectional thematic analysis.

Findings

This study demonstrates how bullying may emerge out of a distinctive joking practice, in which doctors and nurses continually relate to one another with a pronounced degree of derogatory teasing. The all-encompassing and omnipresent teasing entails that the positions of perpetrator and target persistently change, thereby excluding the position of bystander. Doctors and nurses report that they experience the humiliating teasing as detrimental, although they feel continuously forced to participate because of the fear of otherwise being socially excluded. Consequently, a concept of “fluctuate bullying” is suggested wherein nurses and doctors feel trapped in a “double bind” position, being constrained to bully in order to avoid being bullied themselves.

Originality/value

The present study add to bullying research by exploring and demonstrating how workplace bullying can emerge from informal social power struggles embedded and performed within ubiquitous humorous teasing interactions.

Keywords

Citation

Mortensen, M. and Baarts, C.A. (2018), "Killing ourselves with laughter … mapping the interplay of organizational teasing and workplace bullying in hospital work life", Qualitative Research in Organizations and Management, Vol. 13 No. 1, pp. 10-31. https://doi.org/10.1108/QROM-10-2016-1429

Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

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