Academic journal article SA Journal of Human Resource Management

The Impact of Workplace Bullying on Individual Wellbeing: The Moderating Role of Coping

Academic journal article SA Journal of Human Resource Management

The Impact of Workplace Bullying on Individual Wellbeing: The Moderating Role of Coping

Article excerpt

Introduction

The key focus of this study was to explore workplace bullying within the South African context and the key coping methods that bullied individuals utilise to manage bullying interactions. The need to examine bullying has been motivated by research conducted over the past three decades that has indicated that it is a crippling and severe social problem for employees and organisations (Nielsen & Einarsen, 2012). While prevalence rates vary from 2% to 27%, the mental and physical implications for individuals may be so devastating that the organisations in which such bullying is taking place are duty-bound to address them (Nielsen & Einersen, 2012).

Trends from the research literature

Defining workplace bullying

Workplace bullying is defined as a form of aggression where direct or indirect acts lead to an employee being systematically subjected to degrading and disrespectful treatment (Einarsen, Hoel & Nielsen, 2005). Workplace bullying is a social interaction in which perpetrators use verbal and/or non-verbal communication that is characterised by negative and aggressive elements directed towards the targeted individual. Typical workplace bullying behaviours entail exposure to verbal aggression, physical intimidation, being attacked personally or professionally, having one's work obstructed, being socially isolated from the rest of one's work group, having rumours spread about oneself, or being made the 'laughing stock' by being subjected to verbal or physical acts of humiliation and denigration (Nielsen & Einersen, 2012; Nielsen & Knardahl, 2015). Nielsen and Knardahl (2015) distinguish between targets and victims with those that are targets being exposed to bullying behaviour without necessarily feeling threatened and victimised while those that are victims do feel threatened beyond their ability to cope with and defend themselves against the threat. Workplace bullying is conceptualised to take place relatively often, and over a period of time, and is thus a chronic stressor, with persistent exposure leaving the targeted individual feeling unable to defend himself or herself from the menace of such actions (Einarsen, Hoel, Zapf & Cooper, 2003). However, it has been argued that bullying can be a single event or a few events, the severity of which may be sufficient to ensure that the individual exposed suffers the same extent of negative outcomes as those bullied on a more regular basis (Capponecchia & Wyatt, 2009).

Consequences of workplace bullying

Agervold and Mikkelson (2004) note that bullied individuals suffer from impaired psychological well-being, increased levels of anxiety and fear, lowered self-esteem, lowered self-efficacy and lowered belief in their professional competence. Bullying has also been implicated in severe mental health problems such as major depressive disorder, symptomology that resembles post-traumatic stress disorder and even suicide (Rugulies et al., 2012). Physiological outcomes may manifest in sleep disorders and musculoskeletal problems (Hoch, Mikkelsen & Hansen, 2011). Some longitudinal studies have gone so far as to implicate chronic bullying in the development of coronary heart disease (Nielsen, Hetland, Mathhiesen & Einersen, 2012; Notelaeres, Baillien, De Witte, Einersen & Vermunt, 2012; Matthiesen & Einarsen, 2004). Such severe individual implications, in turn, have serious organisational outcomes as victims experience reduced job satisfaction and increased intention to leave the organisation. To the extent that the individual is bullied by co-workers and supervisors, creating a situation in which such relationships become fraught with aggressive interactions, so can this have a negative impact on bullied individual's experience of job satisfaction. This outcome is further exacerbated by victims' perception of a lack of protective conditions provided by the organisation in which bullying is being experienced (Nielsen & Einersen, 2012). …

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