Helge Hoel and Denise Salin
The terms 'workplace bullying' and 'mobbing' appear to have struck a chord with large sections of the workforce even though there is little unanimity in perception or articulation of the terms among employees (see Liefooghe and Mackenzie Davey, this volume). The interest in the issue may reflect the sheer magnitude of the problem, which, depending upon the definition applied, might directly affect between 5 and 20 per cent of the working population (Hoel and Cooper, 2000; UNISON, 1997). Together with the apparent effects upon individuals and organisations (Einarsen and Mikkelsen, this volume; Hoel, Einarsen and Cooper, this volume), growing concerns about the changing context within which bullying arises can also be considered to play a part in the attention currently paid to the problem. Thus, a number of studies conclude that victims of bullying report a more negative work environment than those who were not bullied (Ashforth, 1994; Björkqvist et al., 1994; Einarsen et al., 1994; Vartia, 1996), and that the worst work environment is associated with those most severely bullied (Zapf et al., 1996b).
There are other reasons to explain why it enjoys such a high profile. In the UK, for example, the concept has been embraced by the trade union movement, as it has enabled unions to brand a range of unfair treatment and practices as types of workplace harassment or bullying at a time when the union movement has been weakened (Lewis, 2000) The fact that bullying lends itself well to complaints from individuals, as well as to more collective strategies, also makes it an ideal campaigning issue (Lee, 2000). Moreover, by referring to the issues of violence and bullying as a health and safety issue, the unions may also succeed in airing their grievances and focusing on management practices where such opportunities may otherwise have been limited (Mullen, 1997).
Although not mutually exclusive, broadly speaking three sets of explanatory models have been advanced to account for the problem: (1) a focus on personality characteristics of perpetrator and victim; (2) inherent characteristics of human interactions within organisations; and (3) factors related to the work organisation of a contextual or environmental nature