Bullies Grow Up and Go to Work

By Magnuson, Sandy; Norem, Ken | Journal of Professional Counseling, Practice, Theory, & Research, Fall 2009 | Go to article overview

Bullies Grow Up and Go to Work


Magnuson, Sandy, Norem, Ken, Journal of Professional Counseling, Practice, Theory, & Research


Workplace aggression has been a prominent topic of articles in business, management, and organizational literature. Counselors have not responded with the same level of attention even though workplace aggression can devastate the mental health of targets (sometimes referred to as victims). This article features a review of literature related to workplace aggression including definitions, manifestations, effects, and prevalence. Implications and recommendations for professional counselors are provided.

Bullying has commanded attention of authors and researchers from a variety of sectors and countries. For example, the prevalence of bullying in schools has been described as "staggering" (Sassu, Bray, &C Kehle, 2004, p. 1), "pervasive" (Goodman, N.D.), and "widespread" (Hirschstein, Edstrom, Frey, Snell, &C Mackenzie, 2007, p. 3.) In this regard, Ross (2003) asserted that "bullying may be the most prevalent form of violence in American schools and one that is likely to affect the greatest number of students" (p. 43). Calling attention to the severity of the bullying phenomenon, D'Andrea (2004) challenged school counselors to provide leadership for comprehensive initiatives designed to prevent and address bullying.

Unfortunately adulthood does not always mitigate proclivity toward bullying. According to dilts-Harryman (2004) "society is learning that little bullies grow into big bullies. . . . Change a few of the words, and the adult bully was once the young bully who sat in your classroom" (p. 29). In this regard, Olwens (1993) suggested that children who engage in childhood bullying behaviors continue to display elevated aggression in workplaces, intimate relationships, and family relationships during adulthood, Correlation has been shown between youth who engage in bullying behaviors and adults who engage in criminal activities. Thus, rather than mitigating tendencies toward bullying, journeying to adulthood may provide opportunities for perfecting power seeking strategies.

Bullying behaviors attributed to adults manifest directly and indirectly, and they occur in a variety of contexts. Sexual assault, domestic violence, and child abuse are among the observable, though ofter unobserved, forms of adult bullying Subtle, covert bullying behaviors include verbal assaults and relational aggression Such nonphysical bullying actions are most frequently exercised in workplaces (Keashly &C Harvey, 2006; Randall, 2001; Schat, Frone, & Kelloway, 2006).

The purpose of this article to call attention to adult on adult bullying behaviors, particularly as they manifest in the workplace. We include definitions of bullying and a review of extant literature related to workplace aggression, Recommendations are provided for positions and actions that professional counselors can take to mitigate workplace aggression. In this article, workplace aggression is used as an umbrella term encompassing workplace incivility, relational aggression, mobbing, and other forms of nonphysical bullying. These terms are more fully defined in the next section.

Terminology, Dimensions, and Factors

Because of the international attention to the general phenomenon of workplace bullying, diverse terminology appears in the literature. For example, European authors and investigators have referred to mobbing, harassment, victimization, and psychological terrorism (Einarsen, Hoel, Zapf, & Cooper, 2003). Scholars in the United States have written about relational aggression, incivility, and emotional abuse. Other U.S. authors have retained the terminology of workplace bullying (e.g., Ferris, 2004; Na mie, 2003; Rayner Hoel, Sc Cooper, 2002; Tracy, LutgenSandvik, Sc Alberts, 2006).

Definitions of bullying proffered by authors and organizations reflect a spectrum of specificity related to duration, frequency, nature of behaviors, intention of bullies, and perception of targets Bullies' intent and motives have challenged adequate and consistent definition. …

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