Causes of Bullying

Causes of Bullying

Audience analysis

The present informative essay is created for the adult audience, males and females aged 25-40. The goal of this informative essay is to provide working individuals, predominantly managers and department heads, with research-based information about the main causes of bullying at work. The racial composition of the audience is extremely diverse, and is not limited to any particular race, whereas the geographical location is limited to the United States and the city of Washington. The audience is comprised mainly of educated individuals with at least one high school diploma and experience working in management/leadership positions. These are middle and upper middle class individuals of various sexual and religious backgrounds, who represent the most vital interests of today’s labor force.

The most important things for this audience are family and professionalism at work. They are interested in continuous learning and self-development. Their core values include equity and diversity, and they sincerely believe that bullying greatly affects the quality and efficiency of employee performance. However, they lack professional understanding of bullying in the workplace and may not always know its causes/reasons. They need to know the most essential features of bullying and understand the multiple individual and organizational factors leading to bullying at work. The commitment to equity and diversity are the two things the audience and the author have in common, and it is for the purpose of greater diversity and equity in the workplace that the current essay has been created.

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Bullying remains one of the most popular topics in organizational research. Despite numerous equity policies and strategies, bullying is still an extremely pervasive phenomenon.  Organizations need to develop systemic approaches to bullying, as long as the impacts of bullying on employee performance can be profound and long-lasting. However, the current knowledge of bullying and its underlying causes is quite limited. Bullying encompasses different behaviors, but its causes are mostly similar across different organizational environments. Bullying is the result of numerous individual, social, and organizational factors, which include but are not limited to aggressiveness and envy, deficiencies in work design and moral standards, as well as the specific psychological features of victims that increase their exposure to bullying.

Bullying: The essence of the problem

Identifying the main causes of bullying is impossible without gaining a better understanding of the bullying phenomenon itself. Managers and employees in U.S. organizations have a very general idea of what constitutes bullying and how it manifests. For the purpose of this paper, bullying is defined as “repeated and persistent negative actions towards one or more individual(s), which involve a perceived power imbalance and create a hostile work environment” (Lutgen-Sandvik, Tracy & Alberts 838). Simply stated, bullying can be described as the acts of repeated non-physical violence, aggression, or hostility against one or several individuals in the workplace. Lutgen-Sandvik et al. write that adult bullying in the workplace has four distinct features: repetition, intensity, power disparity, and duration (840). In other words, bullying always involves more than one act of anti-social behaviors, which are frequent and occur over a prolonged period of time in situations where the perpetrator exercises a power privilege against the targeted victim. The forms and expressions of bullying at work vary greatly across organizations, and they can range from verbal assaults to physical violence and other strategic actions that render the victim unsuccessful and unproductive (Namie 2). The psychological, emotional, organizational, and financial consequences of bullying can be long-lasting, and this is one of the main reasons why managers and department heads should understand the underlying causes of bullying and deal with the bullying problem effectively.

Causes of Bullying

The main causes of workplace bullying can be divided into two broad categories: individual and organizational. Individual causes refer to the specific psychological and emotional characteristics of the bullies and their victims, whereas organizational causes touch the deficiencies in the organizational environment that favor the development of bullying behaviors in the workplace. The current state of research provides abundant information about the main characteristics of bullies and their victims, which makes it easier for managers and department supervisors to detect and prevent the risks of bullying at work.

Workplace bullying is a complex result of the multiple individual factors, which create workplace bullies and enable them to choose the most suitable victim. Actually, the presence of an aggressive, hostile person can create an atmosphere of humility and humiliation, which favors anti-social behaviors at work, including aggressiveness and bullying. One of the most frequently cited reasons of workplace bullying is the presence of a hostile person who can influence others (Zapf 76). More often than not, bullies’ aggressiveness is associated with their strong desire to get a better status or job position (Einarsen 20). Envy may also be responsible for the development of hostility and aggressiveness in bullies (Einarsen 20). This is why many victims of bullying state that their perpetrators simply wanted to push them out of the company (Zapf 76). Competition among workers creates favorable grounds for the evolution of aggressiveness and conflicts among bullies and their victims.

At times, bullying is linked to high levels of self-esteem and social competence in perpetrators, as well as the high risks of role stresses and conflicts in the workplace (Matthiesen & Einarsen 737). Individuals high in self-esteem are more likely to exhibit aggressiveness in workplace environments (Matthiesen & Einarsen 737). The most susceptible to aggression are individuals with unstable self-esteem, and they are much more likely to turn into bullies every time they face a perceived threat to their self-esteem (Matthiesen & Einarsen 737). These individuals may also experience the lack of social competency, which impedes their ability to detect and understand the feelings of others, thus making them less sensitive to the pain of offense they cause to their victims (Matthiesen & Einarsen 737). Bearing in mind the power distance between the bully and his (her) victim, the forms of aggressiveness may range from changing workplace tasks too difficult to perform, to intentional social isolation, verbal threats, personal attacks on professional and private life, and even threats of physical violence (Einarsen 18).

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Researchers generally agree that victim’s personality may greatly contribute to the development of bullying intentions and behaviors in the workplace. Very often, “victims of bullies have been described as overachievers with an unrealistic view both of their own abilities and resources and the demands of their work tasks” (Einarsen 21). Consequently, excessive self-esteem in bullies is equally or even less important for the emergence of bullying than the high levels of self-esteem in potential victims. The most likely targets of bullying are usually described as having few social skills and being subject to depression and anxiety (Matthiesen & Einarsen 738). Being conflict-avoiding, unassertive, insensitive to interpersonal problems, and not trying to become a member of the group increases the risks of becoming a bullying victim (Zapf 78). All these factors suggest that managers, who want to zero the risks of bullying in their organization, must be equally attentive to the potential perpetrators and their likely victims.

Numerous organizational and social factors foster bullying at work. The most important organizational drivers of bullying include (1) work design deficiencies; (2) problems in leadership behaviors; (3) low moral standards within the organization; and (4) the lack of social protection against bullying (Einarsen 21). Bullying can be regarded as a form of micropolitical behavior that emerges between the perpetrator and the victim as a result of deficiencies in the work organization/design and failure to institute solid moral and ethical standards on employees. Other organizational causes of bullying may include job complexity, uncertainty, time and role pressures, concentration necessities, and compulsory cooperation (Zapf 75). Bullying often emerges as a result of dissatisfaction with management and leadership, monotonous work, unchallenging workplace tasks, and little opportunities for professional and personal growth (Glaso et al. 314). All these processes and problems demand professional attention on the side of managers and department heads. The most desirable will be the creation of a specific workplace bullying model that incorporates the elements of personality and organizational/ social factors leading to bullying in the workplace.


Bullying is a pervasive organizational and workplace phenomenon. It is the result of numerous individual, social, and organizational factors, which include but are not limited to aggressiveness and envy, deficiencies in work design and moral standards, as well as the specific psychological features of victims. Bullies are usually described as aggressive, with high self-esteem and low social competence. Bullying results from the power disparities between the perpetrator and the victim. The latter are generally characterized by high levels of depression and anxiety, low social skills, and little effort used to become a member of the group. Organizational factors, such as work design deficiencies, work stresses, and incompetent leadership greatly contribute to workplace bullying. The best managers can do is to create an effective model of workplace bullying that incorporates all personal and organizational/social factors of violence and allows addressing these factors consistently and on time.

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