Bullying and Emotional Abuse in the Workplace: International Perspectives in Research and Practice

By Ståle Einarsen; Helge Hoel et al. | Go to book overview

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The concept of bullying at work

The European tradition

Ståle Einarsen, Helge Hoel, Dieter Zapf and Cary L. Cooper


Introduction

Within a time-span of fewer than ten years, the concept of bullying at work has found a resonance within large sections of the European working population as well as in the academic community. A wide range of popular as well as academic books and articles has been published in many European languages (e.g. Ege, 1996; Einarsen et al., 1994b; Field, 1996; Niedl, 11995; Leymann, 1993; Rayner et al., 2002). Various conferences and symposia, academic as well as professional, have also been held each year to discuss and disseminate awareness of this problem (see for instance Rayner et al., 1999; Zapf and Einarsen, 2001; Zapf and Leymann, 1996). From being a taboo in both organisational research and in organisational life, the issue of bullying and harassment at work became what has been called the 'research topic of the 1990s' (Hoel et al., 1999).

Differing concepts have been in use in different European countries, such as 'mobbing' (Leymann, 1996; Zapf et al., 1996), 'harassment' (Björkqvist et al., 1994), 'bullying' (Einarsen and Skogstad, 1996; Rayner, 1997; Vartia, 1996), 'victimisation' (Einarsen and Raknes, 1997) and 'psychological terror' (Leymann, 1990a). However, they all seem to refer to the same phenomenon, namely the systematic mistreatment of a subordinate, a colleague, or a superior, which, if continued, may cause severe social, psychological and psychosomatic problems in the victim. Exposure to such treatment has been claimed to be a more crippling and devastating problem for employees than all other kinds of work-related stress put together, and is seen by many researchers and targets alike as an extreme type of social stress at work (Zapf et al., 1996).

The purpose of this chapter is to discuss the European perspective on bullying or mobbing at work. We will start with some historical notes and we will then discuss various key characteristics of bullying such as the frequency, duration, power balance, quality and content of bullying behaviour, objective versus subjective bullying, intentionality of bullying, interpersonal versus organisational bullying, and bullying as a process. A definition of the concept will then be proposed and we will discuss and present various conceptual models of bullying at work.

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