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Two dilemmas in dealing with workplace bullies - false positives and deliberate deceit

Klein, Axel, Martin, Suzanne (2011) Two dilemmas in dealing with workplace bullies - false positives and deliberate deceit. International Journal of Workplace Health Management, 4 (1). pp. 13-32. ISSN 1753-8351. (doi:10.1108/17538351111118572) (KAR id:27601)


Purpose – This paper aims to highlight how workplace bullies manipulate services by presenting themselves as victims. In the absence of robust screening and assessment tools to distinguish between bully and victim, personnel staff are at risk of being coerced into perpetuating the abuse of victims. The paper also aims to argue for an in-depth investigation of the psychological motivations of perpetrators to inform the development of a specialised assessment tool.

Design/methodology/approach – The paper contains two short case studies drawn from staff attending a workshop on responding to domestic violence in the workplace. Similarities between the coercive behaviour patterns of the domestic violence perpetrator and the workplace bully were striking. The approach taken to discussing the case studies closely follows the approach used in the assessment of domestic violence perpetrators where controlling behaviours and coercive control are captured.

Findings – The case studies used in the paper illustrate the dangers of taking a neutral stance in situations where bullying is ongoing. A lack of clarity about who is doing what to whom allows the bully to use any intervention to further abuse. The important issues of victim safety and abuser accountability are absent from the processes employed by personnel staff in the management of these two cases.

Research limitations/implications – There are limitations in the process and the scale of the project, but the case studies are indicative of wider issues, and point towards the central dilemma faced by personnel departments generally.

Practical implications – The domestic violence field offers many insights into the motivations for abusiveness. This paper draws on those insights and shows how they can be used to think more systematically about accusations of bullying in the workplace. The paper argues for increased caution around accepting the self-reports of bullies who may be presenting as victims.

Originality/value – This paper focuses attention on the ways in which bullying individuals attempt to coerce services into perpetuating their abusiveness.

Item Type: Article
DOI/Identification number: 10.1108/17538351111118572
Uncontrolled keywords: Bullying, Individual behaviour, Psychology, Workplace
Subjects: H Social Sciences > H Social Sciences (General)
H Social Sciences > HC Economic History and Conditions
H Social Sciences > HF Commerce
Divisions: Divisions > Division for the Study of Law, Society and Social Justice > School of Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research > Centre for Health Services Studies
Depositing User: Tony Rees
Date Deposited: 29 Mar 2011 11:16 UTC
Last Modified: 16 Nov 2021 10:05 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

University of Kent Author Information

Klein, Axel.

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Martin, Suzanne.

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