Workplace aggression/bullying at the cross-roads: implications and recommendations


Journal of Managerial Psychology

ISSN: 0268-3946

Publication date: 26 April 2013


Lee, R.T. and Brotheridge, C.M. (2013), "Workplace aggression/bullying at the cross-roads: implications and recommendations", Journal of Managerial Psychology, Vol. 28 No. 4.

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Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2013, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Workplace aggression/bullying at the cross-roads: implications and recommendations

Article Type: Guest editorial From: Journal of Managerial Psychology, Volume 28, Issue 4

The papers in this special issue consider perspectives at multiple levels of analysis – individual, group and organizational – as a means of obtaining a more complete understanding of the whys and whereforths of workplace aggression/bullying. Taken together, they have wide-ranging implications for human resource management policies and best practices in addressing workplace aggression and bullying (Sidle, 2009; D’Cruz and Noronha, 2011). We summarize each paper’s implications for practice and research, and then present a set of recommendations on managing and preventing workplace aggression and bullying.

1 Practical and research implications

Several key implications are noted by the authors of the theoretical papers in this special issue. Salin and Hoel (2013) suggest that bullying inventories be amended to capture gendered forms of negative acts so that we have a clearer sense of their prevalence in organizations. They also recommend that researchers attempt to uncover power differentials in organizations that leave some employees feeling particularly vulnerable (e.g. Lee and Brotheridge, 2011). Finally, they suggest that line and human resource managers be given assistance in recognizing the existence of gender-based dynamics in the interpretation of negative acts so that females’ experiences are not trivialized and so that male targets feel comfortable asking for help.

Brees et al. (2013) recommend that managers develop close relationships with their employees so that they can pay close attention to their attributional styles and anticipate any potentially aggressive reactions. They also suggest that managers themselves participate in attributional retraining to better anticipate and manage how employees’ interpret workplace events.

Similarly, Treadway et al. (2013) recommend that managers work closely with their employees and coach them in dealing with bullies, in part, by building their political skills. They also suggest that managers assist those with aggressive tendencies to redirect their energies toward more productive outlets that are consistent with the organization’s goals. Expectations of civility and citizenship can be built into performance goals and evaluations so that standards of conduct are clearly communicated. Training programs can be offered that help employees develop the skills needed to minimize their being targeted and also to help them deal with any bullying behaviors as soon as they become evident.

Samnani (2013) also underscores the importance of awareness training and socialization, especially for managing subtle forms of bullying that are difficult to identify. Targets and observers of bullying should be encouraged to report what they are experiencing and witnessing (respectively).

Finally, Bjørkelo (2013) suggests that organizations develop policies that clearly delineate what constitutes inappropriate acts and provide protection for and, indeed, encourage internal whistleblowers to report incidences of bullying or aggression. Organizations should not only hire proactive people, but also provide employees with training to increase their proactivity skills when exposed to bullying and in reporting it.

Regarding the empirical papers, Gonzalez-Mule et al.’s (2013) study lends support for Salin and Hoel’s (2013) contention that men and women vary in the expressions of social dominance, and thus, in their experiences as either perpetrators or targets of workplace aggression/bullying. Understanding these differences may lead to more effective ways of addressing various forms of harassment. They also extend the earlier work on the impact of traits on outcomes (e.g. Aquino et al.’s (1999) study on how negative affectivity and self-determination impact workplace victimization). The authors recommend considering not only different motivations for workplace aggression in men and women but also varying forms of harassment expressed by each gender (e.g. Lee and Brotheridge, 2011). They suggest that, “Future research should explore personality antecedents of direct and indirect forms of CWB-I to expand upon gender differences apparent in our results.”

Hepburn and Enns’ (2013) study indicates that communal orientation and citizenship behaviors may be assessed to help select suitable applicants for training in nursing and other healthcare professions (Morgeson et al., 2005). Both variables may influence the ability of these workers to make decisions that affect patient safety (Sidle, 2009), as well as the impact on personal well-being and professional retention.

Nielsen et al. (2013) suggest that the best way to manage and prevent workplace harassment is to develop and strengthen the psychosocial safety climate, defined as policies, practices and procedures for the protection of worker’s psychological health and safety that are largely management initiated (Dollard, 2007). They also recommend identifying the organizational climate and culture dimensions that are linked to workplace bullying (e.g. Vartia, 1996; Brotheridge and Lee, 2006) to help develop anti-bullying interventions and psychosocial safety measures (Sidle, 2009).

Cooper-Thomas et al.’s (2013) study overcomes some of the limitations typically found in other research, as noted by Salin and Hoel (2011). Multivariate analyses were used to examine the direct and interactive effects of multiple variables, as most research (e.g. Vartia, 1996; Brotheridge and Lee, 2006), have not identified the buffering influence of contextual variables. Their study is one of the few to examine the effectiveness of various anti-bullying interventions. The implications of their findings are that organizations should implement various anti-harassment programs, and foster organizational support and constructive leadership style.

Ford’s (2013) findings suggest that managers should be made aware of the fact that workplace harassment and bullying often involve face-to-face contact and CMCs. Given the detrimental health effects of virtual harassment, organizations should consider its human resource implications and enforce acceptable online usage policies, especially in ensuring that CMCs cannot be delivered anonymously. They should clarify whether or not e-mails and text-messaging outside of work are covered in their anti-harassment policies. Alternatively, organizations can use CMCs to mitigate the negative effects of virtual harassment for their members (Weatherbee, 2010).

2 Recommendations

The papers in this special issue underscore several key points for both front-line and human resource managers. They should address any contextual factors that permit aggression and bullying to occur within the organization. Managers also should introduce contextually-embedded mechanisms (Cooper-Thomas et al., 2013) that support employee dignity and raise their levels of self-determination and efficacy (Aquino et al., 1999) and collective identity. These might include organizational practices such as: information sharing, participatory decision-making and positive team relations (Cooper-Thomas et al., 2013).

The papers also point to the need to clearly delineate aggressive and bullying behaviors for the benefit of research and practice (Bjørkelo, 2013). This may include identifying subtle forms (Samnani, 2013), measuring gendered forms of negative acts in bullying inventories (Salin and Hoel, 2013), and taking into account gender-based dynamics and power differentials between bullies and their targets (Salin and Hoel, 2013). These should be incorporated in organizational policies that protect for targets, whistleblowers and observers (Samnani, 2013; Bjørkelo, 2013). Specific policies and practices also can signal the appropriate ways to resolve ongoing conflicts/disputes (Colvin, 2003), such as grievance procedures that correct for unfair treatment while fostering one’s sense of empowerment (Brotheridge and Lee, 2006).

Organizational policies should be supported by human resource practices that foster and reward civil behavior and that discourage inappropriate conduct. Aside from hiring workers with skills sets such as proactivity (Bjørkelo, 2013), organizations can ensure that their reward and performance management systems encourage citizenship behaviors (Treadway et al., 2013). In addition to awareness training (Samnani, 2013), organizational members should receive training in proactivity in addressing bullying situations (Bjørkelo, 2013). Also, organizations should develop policies and best practices that support workers with strong communal orientation (Hepburn and Enns, 2013), but who are perhaps lacking in self-esteem/confidence (Nielsen et al., 2013). Moreover, organizations can set in place EAP counseling and peer support groups for those most at-risk to be targeted (Vartia, 1996) and those who unwittingly bear witness to the harassment (D’Cruz and Noronha, 2011).

As role models and leaders, managers should be cognizant of the significant influence they have on the social environment. They can help by: (1) training workers to reframe events that may trigger negative attributions and aggressive reactions (Brees et al., 2013), (2) building up the workers’ interpersonal skills to manage hostile situations, and (3) encouraging workers to choose constructive behavioral outlets rather than resort to aggression for meeting their needs (Treadway et al., 2013). Managers can thus monitor and prevent behaviors that may potentially undermine workplace safety and health (Dollard, 2007; Nielsen et al., 2013).

3 Concluding remarks

The parable of the six blind men and elephant reveals the folly of relying on any single perspective. The multiple perspectives found in the ten papers have cast a brighter light on the whys and whereforths of workplace aggression/bullying. We believe that these papers will lead to innovative ideas and discoveries, and will encourage others to consider the Journal of Managerial Psychology as a vehicle to showcase their research in the area.

Our gratitude is extended to the authors who shared their perspectives and findings, and to the diligent reviewers, who provided insightful and constructive feedback. We thank Kay Wilkinson for the terrific logistical support in connecting manuscripts and reviewers. Last, we are indebted to Dianna Stone for making the special issue possible and for her words of advice and encouragement.

Raymond T. LeeDepartment of Business Administration, University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

Céleste M. BrotheridgeDépartement d’organisation et ressources humaines, ESG-UQAM, Montreal, Quebec, Canada


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