Academic journal article SA Journal of Industrial Psychology

A Systems Psychodynamic Description of Organisational Bullying Experiences

Academic journal article SA Journal of Industrial Psychology

A Systems Psychodynamic Description of Organisational Bullying Experiences

Article excerpt


Bullying has a fascinating and damaging unconscious life of its own that works below the surface of its conscious psychological manifestation and its effect in organisations. This life functions below the surface of individual, dyadic, team and organisational behaviour, and is filled with anxiety that is projected to and fro between the role players. The purpose of this projected anxiety is to avoid feelings of badness.

Bullying has been researched in education (Blase & Blase, 2002; Cemalogly, 2007; De Wet & Jacobs, 2008; Johnson, Thompson, Wilkinson, Walsh, Balding & Wright, 2002), nursing (Hutchinson, Vickers, Jackson & Wilkens, 2006; Lewis, 2006; Yildirim, Yildirim & Timucin, 2007), universities (Lewis, 2004) and even in cyber space (Kowalski, Limber & Aqatston, 2007). The extensive literature on organisational bullying is reported in daily newspapers (Beeld, 2010), popular management journals (Lewis, 2009; Naidoo, 2008; Ncongwane, 2010a; 2010b), voluminous textbooks (Bassman, 1992; Fox & Spector, 2005), as well as in subject journals (Chamberlin, Novotney, Packard & Price, 2008; Crawford, 1999; Djurkovic, McCormack & Casimir, 2006; Duffy & Sperry, 2007; Harvey, Heames, Richey & Leonard, 2006; Lewis, 1999; Liefooghe & Olafsson, 1999; Marais & Herman, 1997; Martin, 2000; Meyers, 2006a; 2006b; Oade, 2009; Pietersen, 2007; Randall, 1997; Rayner, 1999; Rayner, Sheehan & Barker, 1999; Stambor, 2006; Zapf, 1999).

Although workplace bullying manifested itself in primitive times, research about it has tripled since the 1990s (Agervold, 2007; Chamberlin, Novotney, Packard & Price, 2008). This is ascribed to the demands, in the 21st century, of work focussed on high performance, organisational re-design, re-structuring, re-engineering, alignment and sustainability, which formed a new breeding ground for systemic bullying (Meyers, 2006b). The international prevalence and impact of bullying came to the fore when the US President, Barack Obama, addressed the American Psychological Association (APA) at the White House Bullying Conference on 10 March 2011 (Munsey, 2011). He strongly supported the prevention of and intervention into bullying as ways to secure hope for victims of bullying.

The literature on bullying before 2000 tended to describe it in a linear manner as learned and socially reinforced behaviour, manifesting itself as a deliberate intent to cause physical and or psychological distress, through the aggressive exercise and misuse of power for psychological gratification at the expense of the other (Agervold, 2007; Marais & Herman, 1997; Randall, 1997). The bully is described as an individual in an elevated hierarchical position such as a supervisor, manager or leader, alternatively the bully is represented as a group. The victim is also described as an individual or a group. The bully's behaviour is interpreted as an acting out of his or her low self-esteem, frustrated growth needs or hostility, as opposed to their complementary behaviour of friendliness. This behaviour manifests itself as physical, mental, emotional and/or verbal abuse, for example, irrational, unacceptable, disrespectful, offensive, humiliating and intimidating behaviour towards the victim, that often occurs in front of others. This includes shouting, using bad language, and disrupting the victims' work life and workflow. The intended result is to render the victim powerless, ridiculed and incompetent, and to strip them of self-esteem and selfconfidence (Bassman, 1992; Marais & Herman, 1997; Randall, 1997). The literature on the personality traits of the bully is vast (Adams, 2000), although relatively little is published on the behaviour of the victim.

A relatively new dynamic discourse on organisational bullying refers to the power relations between the bully and the victim (Martin, 2000; Meyers, 2006a; 2006b; Rayner, 1999; Rayner, Hoel & Cooper, 2002). …

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