Joel H. Neuman and Robert A. Baron
As described in previous chapters, workplace bullying involves persistent patterns of behaviour in which one or more individuals engage in actions intended to harm others (e.g. Hoel et al., 1999). It is our contention that bullying, although not identified as such, involves acts of interpersonal aggression - any form of behaviour directed towards the goal of harming or injuring another living being who is motivated to avoid such treatment (Baron and Richardson, 1994). While both phenomena involve actions that are intentional in nature, the persistence of aggression over time, evidenced in episodes of bullying, serves as a distinguishing characteristic. That is, while a single act of intentional harm-doing constitutes an act of aggression, it would not, by definition, constitute bullying. In short, and of central importance to the present chapter, we believe that workplace bullying involves repeated acts of interpersonal aggression directed against specific targets in work settings, or what we would refer to as workplace aggression - efforts by individuals to harm others with whom they work (Neuman and Baron, 1997a). Furthermore, we propose that anything that serves as an antecedent to aggression may contribute to - and increase the likelihood of - workplace bullying.
Having said all this, we do recognise that bullying in workplaces, like bullying in other contexts, represents a special or unique form of aggression in certain respects. For instance, the persons involved in bullying episodes are generally participants in ongoing, long-term relationships: they may work together for months, years or even decades. Second, since bullying often occurs openly, in front of many observers, it is clear that norms concerning such behaviour differ from the societal norms that regulate aggression generally, and - in most instances - condemn aggression, and especially repeated aggression against weak or helpless victims, as inappropriate. Thus, a key question to be addressed is: why do societal norms against aggression fail to apply, or apply only weakly, where workplace bullying is concerned? Related to this, we also ask: in what additional ways is workplace bullying different from aggression in many other contexts, and why is this so?