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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6

Individual effects of exposure to bullying at work

Ståle Einarsen and Eva Gemzøe Mikkelsen


Introduction

Exposure to bullying at work has been classified as a significant source of social stress at work (Zapf, 1999a; Vartia, 2001) and as a more crippling and devastating problem for employees than all other work-related stress put together (Wilson, 1991). Others have claimed work harassment to be a major cause of suicide (Leymann, 1992). Clinical observations have shown effects of exposure to workplace bullying such as social isolation and maladjustment, psychosomatic illnesses, depressions, compulsions, helplessness, anger, anxiety and despair (Leymann, 1990). Although single acts of aggression and harassment occur fairly often in everyday interaction at work, they seem to be associated with severe health problems in the target when they occur on a regular basis (Einarsen and Raknes, 1997; Vartia 2001). To be a victim of intentional and systematic psychological harm, be it real or perceived, by another person seems to produce severe emotional reactions such as fear, anxiety, helplessness, depression and shock (Janoff-Bulman, 1992). Victimisation due to workplace bullying appears to transform employees' perceptions of their work environment and life in general into situations involving threat, danger, insecurity and self-questioning (Mikkelsen and Einarsen, 2002a). According to a number of studies (e.g. Einarsen et al., 1998; O'Moore et al., 1998; Vartia, 2001), this may lead to pervasive emotional, psychosomatic and psychiatric problems in victims. Although this particular type of victimisation has been studied under different labels, such as, for example, 'mobbing', 'emotional abuse at work', 'harassment at work', 'bullying at work', 'mistreatment' and 'victimisation at work', researchers have reached comparable conclusions (Einarsen, 2000): exposure to systematic and prolonged non-physical and non-sexual aggressive behaviours at work is highly injurious to the victim's health.

The aim of this chapter is, first, to review the literature on short-term and long-term effects of exposure to bullying at work, and second, to propose two theoretical models that might help explain the observed relationships between exposure to bullying and victims' self-reported health

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