Dieter Zapf and Ståle Einarsen
The causes of bullying at work have been a 'hot issue' of debate in both the popular press and in the scientific community. While some argue that individual antecedents such as the personality of bullies and victims, indeed may be involved as causes of bullying (e.g. Coyne et al., 2000), others have disregarded totally the role of individual characteristics. Heinz Leymann (1993, 1996), one of the founders of bullying research, categorically claimed that organisational factors relating to the organisation of work and the quality of leadership behaviour were the main causes of bullying. He rejected the idea that the personal characteristics of the victim are capable of playing any part in the development of bullying at work. This standpoint is also strongly advocated by some victims of bullying and their organisational networks. Other victims and their spokespersons have claimed that bullying is mainly caused by the psychopathic personality of the bully (e.g. Field, 1996).
On no account do we deny that organisational issues have to be considered in the discussion of bullying causes. However, our own standpoint is that no comprehensive model of workplace bullying would be satisfactory without also including personality and individual factors of both perpetrators and victims, and their contributing effects to the onset, escalation and consequences of the bullying process (Einarsen 2000; Hoel et al., 1999; Zapf, 1999b). Research on bullying among children (e.g. Olweus, 1993) has shown that both victims and bullies portray personality characteristics that may contribute to their involvement in such situations. While in this line of research victims have been described as being cautious, sensitive, quiet, anxious and insecure, bullies have been described as self-confident, impulsive and generally aggressive. Similarly, studies of bullying at work indicate that personality characteristics of victims, such as neuroticism, do seem to be related to exposure to bullying (Mikkelsen and Einarsen, 2002; Zapf, 1999a). In addition, psychological literature presents a wide range of concepts relating to the personality of bullies, such as 'the abrasive personality', 'the authoritarian personality' and 'the petty tyrant' (see also Ashforth, 1994).