Thinking Strategically about Workplace Bullying in Organizations

Article excerpt

Executive Summary

Workplace bullying is a common phenomenon, and one which has significant negative impact on individuals and organizations. Unfortunately, efforts to address workplace bullying are often reactive and haphazard. We posit that efforts to create a bully-free environment must be integrated into the strategy of the organization particularly in times of talent shortage and chronic difficulties in recruiting and retaining people. A bully-free environment should be viewed as an intangible resource, which adds value to the organization, is rare, imperfectly imitable and nonsubstitutable. Two case examples, teaching in public schools and law enforcement, illustrate the casual approach to thinking about bullying in organizations. We contrast this approach with a strategic approach and offer practical recommendations for managers.

Introduction

Extensive research across many industries and countries has been conducted on the prevalence of workplace bullying. A survey conducted by the employment site CareerOne in Australia found that 74 per cent of respondents have been bullied (CareerOne, 2007). A recent U.S. survey of more than 7,700 employees found that 49 per cent of working people have suffered or witnessed bullying. The most frequently reported bullying behaviours were verbal abuse (53 percent), intimidation and humiliation (53 per cent), abuse of authority (47 per cent) and sabotage and undermining (45 per cent). A significant amount of turnover in organization is due to bullying. 21-28 million workers, or 40 per cent of victims, voluntarily leave their organizations annually because of bullying (Workplace Bullying Institute and Zogby International, 2007).

Consistent with the resource-based view of the firm (Barney, 1986; Wernerfelt, 1984), it has been argued that human resources and human resource practices can yield sustained competitive advantage to the organization (Chan, Shaffer and Snape 2004; Collins and Clark 2003; Kamoche 1996; Michie and Sheehan 2005; Roepke, Agarwal and Ferrati 2000; SanzValle, Sabater-Sánchez and Aragón-Sánchez 1999; Schuler and MacMillan 1984; Subba 2000; Treven and Mulej 2005; Ulrich 1991; Wright, McMahan and McWilliams 1994). This paper makes a unique contribution to the literature, in that it situates a specific outcome of human resource efforts, the bully-free environment (BFE), in a strategic context. Thinking strategically about bullying involves integrating it in the core values, mission and vision of the organization, addressing it in a proactive manner and exemplifying it through management behaviour.

Creating a BFE becomes an intangible resource which adds value, is rare, inimitable and nonsubstitutable and thus generates a sustained competitive advantage to organizations, especially those facing chronic difficulties in recruiting and retention of employees.

We first define bullying and examine its scope as a worldwide phenomenon. Next, we examine the impact that bullying, if not controlled, will have on individuals and organizations. To illustrate, we discuss two case examples of bullying in organizations: public school teaching and law enforcement. These case examples illustrate the 'casual' approach to bullying and its detrimental effects for organizations that face chronic difficulties in recruitment and retention of employees. Next, we bring theoretical concepts from the resource-based view of the firm to illustrate how a BFE can generate sustained competitive advantage for the organization. Then, we provide an overview of what we consider a strategic approach to addressing workplace bullying and contrast this approach to the existing, casual approach towards bullying. The last section provides conclusions and final thoughts.

Workplace Bullying

A Definition

Namie (2003: ppl-2) defines workplace bullying as "interpersonal hostility that is deliberate, repeated and sufficiently severe as to harm the targeted person's health or economic status. …