Psychosocial Safety Climate, Workplace Bullying, and Symptoms of Posttraumatic Stress

Article excerpt


Although not typical organizational crises, chronic stressors like workplace bullying have the capacity to shatter assumptions and create significant disruption. This paper reviews literature linking organizational climate, workplace bullying, and posttraumatic stress symptoms, and presents a research case study that explores hypotheses raised by the review. Results showed: (1) that workplace bullying impacted upon posttraumatic stress symptoms; and that psychosocial organizational climate was (2) related to the occurrence of workplace bullying and (3) moderated the impact of bullying on posttraumatic stress symptoms. Given the contribution of organizational climate to the development of bullying and its effects, the paper concludes with guidelines to develop climates conducive to employee health, safety, and well-being.

Workplace bullying is a serious and chronic workplace stressor that negatively affects both individuals and organizations (Hoel & Cooper, 2001). For individuals, workplace bullying can lead to adverse psychological and psychosomatic effects such as depression, anxiety, irritability, symptoms of trauma, impaired interpersonal functioning, and diminished productivity and work quality (Mayhew et al., 2004). For organizations, workplace bullying may directly cost the organization in terms of litigation fees, early retirement pay-outs, long-term absenteeism, and worker's compensation and counseling costs (Kieseker & Marchant, 1999). Further, workplace bullying indirectly impacts on organizations through diminished employee morale, productivity, and motivation, and increased absenteeism and turnover (Hoel, Einarsen, & Cooper, 2003).

Whilst there is some debate regarding the definition of an organizational crisis it typically refers to a disruption that: (1) undermines and challenges employees' basic assumptions about the organization that they work within; and (2) poses a threat to the survival of the organization (Carmeli, 2008). Typically organizational crises are acute stressors with some examples including bomb threats, extortion, terrorist attacks, and personal assaults (Pearson & Clair, 1998). However, chronic stressors, such as workplace bullying, should also be considered as organizational crises since they have the capacity to shatter victims' basic assumptions (Tehrani, 2004), and pose a threat to the functioning and productivity of organizations. Consequently, it is important that the occurrence of workplace bullying is given equal attention and is treated in a manner analogous to more acute crisis situations.

Given the serious implications of workplace bullying for the psychological safety and well-being of targets and for the functioning of organizations, it is important to have an understanding of the factors that may contribute to its maintenance and development. By developing an understanding of the factors that contribute to workplace bullying, practitioners will be better placed to develop strategies to both prevent bullying and to manage it when it does occur. As such, the current paper aims to present a thorough literature review exploring the relationship between organizational climate factors, workplace bullying, and posttraumatic stress. Next, a case study will be presented which aims: (1) to investigate the impact of workplace bullying on individual trauma symptoms; (2) to discover whether a facet specific construct of organizational climate, psychosocial safety climate (PSC), is related to workplace bullying; and (3) to examine whether the presence of a strong PSC (i.e., a climate that supports the psychological well-being of workers) moderates the impact of workplace bullying on individual trauma symptoms, namely posttraumatic stress symptoms.

Workplace Bullying

Workplace bullying is a chronic form of stress at work and refers to the repeated, systematic exposure of negative acts targeted toward an individual or a small group of people who are unable to defend themselves. …