Organization Conflicts and Bullying

A Study Of The Individual Who Bully’s In The Work Place

Bullying at workplaces has received increased attention from the media (Beckford, 2008; Parker-Pope, 2008; Klein, 2008; Said, 2007). A recent survey in the UK showed that 56 percent of employees believe that they face serious problems in the workplace due to bullying (Beckford, 2008). Workplace bullying is a serious problem with huge costs attached to it in terms of loss of working days (BBC News, 2000).

Given this, media hype about workplace bullying, and an expected rise in bullying rates in workplaces due to the present financial crisis (Beckford, 2008), the topic requires academic attention to ascertain the factors that induce such behavior in individuals. Hence, it is necessary to look at workplace bullying and the factors that lead an individual to consort to such aggressive behavior.

Research Question

Workplace bullying has received commendable academic attention starting from early research on “mobbing” in Scandinavia, Germany, and Austria (Einarsen, The nature and causes of bullying, 1999; Leymann, 1990; Zapf, Knorz, & Kulla, On the relationship between mobbing factors, and job content, the social work environment and health outcomes , 1996; Niedl, 1996) and “bullying” in the UK and US (Keashly, 1998; Pearson, Andersson, & Wegner, 2001; Fox, Spector, & Miles, 2001; Neuman & Baron, 2003).

Prior research has concentrated on bullying from various perspectives: different types of ill-treatment and hostile behavior (Einarsen, Hoel, Zapf, & Cooper, 2003; Keashly, 1998; Pearson, Andersson, & Wegner, 2001), measure of occurrences of bullying (Zapf, Einarsen, Hoel, & Vartia, 2003) , attributes of bullies and the victims they target (Zapf, 1999), organizational and social factors that enable or encourage such behavior (Zapf, 1999; Vartia, 1996), bullying arising out of interpersonal conflict (Andersson & Pearson, 1999), adverse effect on victims of bullying (Zapf, Knorz, & Kulla, 1996), process of resolving bullying or conflict situations (Richards & Daley, 2003), and bullying induced by racial/ethnic dogmas (Foxa & Stallwortha, 2004).

The above brief review of researches shows that there has been little work done to portray the psychological profile of the bully as most concentrate on the effect a bully has on the psychology of the person who is bullied or on the situations that causes bullying or the kind of ill-treatments that is inflicted by a bully.

Academic research on workplace bullying, as of now, does not help in finding the individual who can be called a “bully.” So we aim to demonstrate a psychological profile of a bully who can be identified when encountered in an organization.


Workplace bullying may be defined as interpersonal aggression (Neuman & Baron, 2003) which has its domain beyond straightforward incivility (Andersson & Pearson, 1999)and is characterized by its frequency of occurrence, persistence, time duration, and the prevalence of disparity of power (Einarsen, Hoel, Zapf, & Cooper, 2003).

More precisely, bullying at work means, “Repeated and persistent negative actions towards one or more individual(s), which involve a perceived power imbalance and create a hostile work environment” (Salin, 2003, p. 1214).

Bullying behavior is not constricted to the workplace. Bullying in schools is prevalent and has been well researched, and these studies have identified bullying as a psychological phenomenon and should not confuse with short time interpersonal conflict or aggression.

These studies believe that “Bullying is long-term aggression directed toward a person who is not able to defend him/herself, leading to the victimization of that individual.” (Biorkqvist, Osterman, & Hielt-Bdck, 1994, p. 175).

Further, as these studies have suggested that bullying is a stable personality trait. So a bully in one social situation tends to be one in another situation, too (Olweus, 1979). Hence, we extend our study to correlate the bullying behavior of individuals in schools to bullying at the workplace.

The purpose of my study is to investigate and understand why an individual acts aggressively in the workplace. My research will focus on the impact of the psychological aspects of the individual who is a bully at work and how it is related to their early childhood development. For example, was the bully an aggressor, or was he or she a victim in elementary school.


Bullying behavior has been associated with an individual’s being a bully as a child. So, in that case, the general profile that has been studied earlier as characteristics of a bully at childhood should be applicable to a bully in the workplace.

Previous research has identified that those children who had been identified as bullies showed poor psychological functioning than the individuals who were non-bullies. Bullies were identified to be aggressive, hostile, impulsive, domineering, uncooperative, and impulsive towards their peers and demonstrated anxiety and insecurity (Craig, 1998; Kumpulainen, Rasanen, Henttonen, Almqvist, Kresanov, & Linna, 1998; Veenstra, Lindenberg, Oldehinkel, Winter, & Verhulst, 2005).

Bullies feel secure when they are in control of a situation (Batsche & Knoff, 1994). Further, they lack empathy and feel satisfied and content to see the victim suffer (Bijrkqvist, Osterman, & Hielt-Bdck, 1994). This is a typical bully personality, as has been identified through researches of a child in school.

Olweus (1979) has shown that a bully in one social institution will tend to be a bully, even in another. Thus, we extend our first hypothesis that a bully in school will show bullying attitude even at work and so the bully personality profile of a child can also be extended to an adult. This leads to our first hypothesis.

Hypothesis 1

A bully in the workplace can be identified through their demonstration of the following behavior, such as aggressiveness, depression, and anxiety.

In early childhood, family, background, and parenting has a high degree of impact on bullying behavior (Veenstra, Lindenberg, Oldehinkel, Winter, & Verhulst, 2005). Previous research suggests that bullies descend from homes in which parents prefer physical disciplining. Their familial background is usually hostile and rejecting.

Their parents show poor problem-solving skills, and permit aggressive childhood behavior or even teach their children to strike back at the least provocation (Demaray & Malecki, 2003; Veenstra, Lindenberg, Oldehinkel, Winter, & Verhulst, 2005).

Thus, an individual who had strict parents and was physically disciplined had a tendency to become bullies. From this, we may derive that an individual’s family background is responsible for making an individual bully at the workplace.

Hypothesis 2

An individual who had physical disciplining by parents in early childhood will have a tendency to become a bully.

Hypothesis 3

An individual becomes a bully when his/her parent permits aggressive behavior and encourages the child to strike at least provocation.

Another group of researchers believes that bullying is not caused by organizational factors, which are outcomes of incidents or situations. They believe that a “bully” will remain a “bully” irrespective of the situation, as this trait is ingrained in the personality and psychological trait of individuals (Olweus, Stability of aggressive reaction patterns in males: A review, 1979).

According to this view, a “bully” can be defined as “an aggressive individual, lacking in empathy, who finds joy in seeing his/her victim suffering” (Bijrkqvist, Osterman, & Hielt-Bdck, 1994, p. 175). This leads to our third hypothesis that could facilitate identify a bully, which is associated with the psychological nature of the tormentor and not associated with any organizational factors.

Hypothesis 4

Lack of empathy in an individual signifies the proneness of the person to bullying behavior.


Understanding the psychological profile of a bully is important to identify one. This is so because, if the tormentor is identified, it will erase the problem of harassment (Bijrkqvist, Osterman, & Hielt-Bdck, 1994). Further, if we can identify the profile of a bully correctly, it can be used to identify the prospective bully at a very early stage so that he does not cause trauma to other individuals.

This study than can be used at a very early stage of an individual’s life from preventing him/her from becoming a bully.

Thus, this study will help to identify a bully from pieces of incidents of an individual’s childhood and further find him as an adult. In other words, an individual who has been exposed to bullying behavior as a child or has experienced incidents that lead to bullying can be used to understand the psychological profile of a bully even as an adult.


Workplace bullying is a problem that is prevalent in modern offices, and their nature is different in different areas. Various researches have been done on various aspects of workplace bullying, but very few have been done to understand which the main reasons that cause workplace violence are.

This study aims to understand the underlying causes which cause workplace violence. In doing so, we identified four broad factors that affect workplace bullying attitude: organizational outcomes, perception of injustice, the psychological nature of the bullying individual, and racial or ethical dogma.

Using these factors, we would try to identify which is the strongest force in influencing a person to become a bully or if a bully is a psychological, thus ingrained in the individual’s personality.

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