by Jonathan Cannon, Lumina Learning Business Psychologist
Bullying is a global epidemic. We’ve all probably experienced it in some form at school or as children, and even moving into the workplace, it’s something we can never seem to get away from. With an abundance of research on its prevalence and impact, it’s about time we started addressing the root of this issue, for the sake of productivity, engagement and well-being.
What is bullying?
If I asked you to imagine what a bully in the workplace looked like, you might be thinking of that colleague who is constantly interrupting you, demeaning you, intimidating you. But bullying can come in all different forms, some more obvious than others, and some more extreme than others; but all are bullying nonetheless, and all have the potential to be extremely damaging to our experiences at work.
In attempting to define all forms of bullying in the workplace, Bartlett and Bartlett (2011) reviewed a wide range of academic literature on the topic, developing a framework for the types of bullying in the workplace, with 3 “domains” of bullying being identified.
|1. Direct Personal Behaviours
2. Indirect Personal Behaviours
|Interrupting Others||Not Returning Communications|
|Negative Eye Contact/Staring|
3. Work-Related Behaviours
Evaluation & Advancement
|Work Overload||Shifting Opinions||Excessive Monitoring|
|Removing Responsibility||Overruling Decisions||
Judging Work Wrongly
|Delegation of Menial Tasks||Flaunting Status/Power||Unfair Criticism|
|Refusing Leave||Professional Status Attack||Blocking Promotion|
|Unrealistic Goals||Controlling Resources|
|Setting Up to Fail||Withholding Information|
These domains identified, and the behaviours within, paint a clear picture of the scope of what could be considered as bullying, highlighting the range of behaviours and severity of the issue, and also highlighting why many forms of bullying can be hard to spot.
The Reality in the UK
The Trades Union Congress (2015) has conducted research into the prevalence of workplace bullying in the UK, here are some of their key findings among their sample of 1,738 working professionals:
- 71% had experienced some form of bullying at work
- A higher proportion of men (77%) had experienced bullying comparted to women (66%)
- 40-59 year olds were most at risk of being bullied (34%)
- Managers were the most common source of bullying (72% of victims)
- 64% had left their job due to bullying
The Impact of Bullying
In their meta-analysis on the impact of bullying, Sansone and Sansone (2015) found that the impacts of bullying on victims fell into 2 categories:
|Medical Effects||Socioeconomic Effects|
|Musculoskeletal Complaints||Long Term Sickness Absence|
The Causes of Bullying
A review of the literature on bullying by Johnson (2009) highlights 4 primary causes of bullying at work.
- Poorly managed organisational restructuring
- Unrealistic increases in workload
- Laissez Faire
- Abuse of processes
Unregulated/Rigid Organisational Hierarchy
- Use of power to control
- Taking advantage of sense of no control
- Using bullying to maintain order
- Using bullying to reinforce hierarchy and power dynamics
Perpetuation via Culture
- New hires socialised in culture of bullying
- Victims become bullies
- Unable to change the culture, so forced to join in
Research by Mathisen, Einarsen and Mykletun (2011) further identifies the role of personality as a cause of bullying, finding that the lethal combination of low conscientiousness and agreeableness, coupled with high neuroticism and introversion, was a common profile of bullies identified in their research.
This is just one of many pieces of research on the role of personality in bullying. However, what they all fail to consider is the distinction between positive personality and dysfunctional personality. In our own research on the subject, using the Lumina Spark personality assessment, we can provide deeper insight into the causes of bullying by considering positive and dysfunctional personality separately.
Based on the Big Five Model of Personality, Lumina Spark operationalises the 5 Factors (Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism) into their opposite polarities, thus assessing high and low levels of these factors separately, making up 10 Aspects. These are visualised in the 2 Mandalas below, with the 10 Aspects in the rims of the Mandalas, with their defining Qualities around the outside.
Building on this, Lumina Spark also assesses the dysfunctional side of these 10 Aspects, shown in the 2 Mandalas below.
Using Lumina Spark to assess the personalities of Leaders, we found that there was no common profile of bullies. Instead, we found that every Aspect of a leader’s personality, when dysfunctional, was positively predictive of employees’ experiences of bullying. This means that bullying is not a function of particular personality traits, or combinations of traits. But rather that bullying can manifest from any personality trait or profile, when these are triggered to become dysfunctional.
We then looked at the flip side of this, seeing how positive personality traits in leaders can predict a decrease in experiences of bullying. Here, we found similar results, with almost all Aspects of positive leader personality (apart from being Introverted and Inspirations Driven) showing lowered incidences of bullying. Out of the 8 Aspects found to predict reduced bullying, being People Focused and a Reward Reactors were found to be the strongest. This means that leaders invested in building an accommodating, empathetic and collaborative culture, while remaining optimistic, resilient, even-tempered, and confident, were best able to build an environment whereby incidences of bullying were reduced.
What are the implications and what can we do?
Bullying can come in all shapes and forms, and can be caused by all personality traits when triggered to be dysfunctional. These findings mean that it can be hard to identify bullying or predict when it’s going to happen.
But what we can do is build self-awareness of our own unique blend of personality traits, with a focus on where we have higher potential to overextend on some traits, turning strengths into dysfunctional behaviours.
Lumina Spark provides a unique approach to assessing personality, valuing diversity in personality and offering a lens into the dynamics of personality. Using it to build awareness of ourselves and those around us, we can all learn to embrace our strengths and mitigate our overextensions, building a safer and more inclusive working environment.
If you want to see how Lumina Spark works in action, have a look at this interview with Clive Lewis OBE, a leading dispute resolution specialist and Lumina Learning Practitioner, on his mediation and conflict resolution work in the NHS, and the role Lumina Spark plays.
To learn more about Lumina Spark, or to discuss our solutions to your problems, please do get in touch.
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Want to better understand our bullying research?
Lumina Learning Practitioners can view our February 2020 Practitioner Call, which premiered our bullying research led by Dr Stewart Desson. View the call recording using the link in your Practitioner Call follow up email. Can’t find it? Drop us a message over email, social media @LuminaLearning, or phone and we’ll send the recording and slides to you!
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Bartlett, J. E., & Bartlett, M. E. (2011). Workplace Bullying: An Integrative Literature Review. Advances in Developing Human Resources, 13(1), 69-84.
Johnson, S. L. (2009). International perspectives on workplace bullying among nurses: a review. International Nursing Review, 56(1), 34-40.
Mathisen, G. E., Einarsen, S., & Mykletun, R. (2011). The Relationship Between Supervisor Personality, Supervisors’ Perceived Stress and Workplace Bullying. Journal of Business Ethics, 99, 637-651.
Sansone, R. A., & Sansone, L. A. (2015). Workplace Bullying: A Tale of Adverse Consequences. Innovations in Clinical Neuroscience, 12(1-2), 32-37.
Trades Union Congress (2015). Nearly a third of people are bullied at work, says TUC. Retrieved from: www.tuc.org.uk/news/nearly-third-people-are-bullied-work-says-tuc
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