Workplace Bullying: Corrupt and Harmful to Organizations

Publication: Employee Responsibilities and Rights Journal
Article: Towards Reducing the Harm: Workplace Bullying as Workplace Corruption—A Critical Review
Reviewed by: Amy Fluett


In recent years, there has been a noticeable rise in bullying, and the workplace is no exception. In fact, it has become such a pervasive issue, with such profound effects, that it is considered an extreme threat to the health and wellness of all businesses. Many argue that bullying is not only the newest form of discrimination in the workplace, but that it should also be recognized as a form of corruption.



The mishandling of bullying complaints and the inability of organizations to effectively provide support for employees, have led to the widespread growth of workplace bullying. From physical aggression to unfavorable treatment, bullying has become an increasingly problematic issue that companies must now face. This is especially true considering the health and safety risks to employees and the immense organizational costs through loss of resources and poor performance. Often incredibly distressing to victims, bullying also poses threats to individual health, personal and professional relationships, and can even interfere with career development.



In the past, institutional corruption has typically been defined as blatant illegal acts, including fraud, embezzlement, and extortion. However, this narrow definition fails to encompass all of the complexities that truly define corruption. Researchers now define corruption not only in terms of illegal acts, but also misuse of authority to violate personal rights and workplace norms, misuse of resources for gain, and other oftentimes legal activities that impede an individual’s ability to succeed.



The author provided several examples of workplace bullying that may also be considered corruption:

  • Abusing power through information withholding, manipulation, and misdirection. This makes it difficult for employees to complete work and for organizations to distribute resources.
  • Misuse of power in influencing employment processes like hiring or salary (for example, nepotism), or enacting policies that harm employees’ professional status, job satisfaction, or physical and emotional well-being.
  • Participating in or encouraging unscrupulous behaviors or practices that thwart others’ efforts.
  • Attempting to control employees through purposeful isolation, drastic reduction of workload, or through harassment and intimidation. This may include misusing private information to humiliate, undermine, or isolate employees.



Why should organizations care about workplace bullying? There is burgeoning awareness of the severe consequences bullying behaviors have, not only on victims’ physical, emotional, and mental health, but also on the role of bullying in undermining organizational success. Ultimately, more research in this area will provide greater understanding on how bullying may affect employee retention, development of healthy workplaces, as well as employee motivation and wellness. In the meantime, practitioners should recognize the potentially harmful effects of bullying, and strive to reduce its prevalence in the workplace.

Abusive Supervision may have Roots in Childhood

Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology
Article: Roots Run Deep: Investigating Psychological Mechanisms Between History of Family Aggression and Abusive Supervision
Reviewed by: Amber Davidson


Supervisor anger is a common workplace problem. This can include a supervisor who is angered too easily or a situation when the supervisor’s anger is disproportional to the situation at hand. This study explores the true reasons behind this anger, hypothesizing that a history of family aggression is the root of angry reactions and abusive supervision.



Parents are the main role-models for children when they are young and children have a tendency to adopt the same coping techniques and reactions that they see their parents using. When a child grows up seeing an excess of family aggression, there are conscious and unconscious consequences. Exposure to aggression shows a child that this is acceptable behavior and this carries over into adult life, potentially creating an abusive supervisor. Seeing aggressive behavior lead to a successful outcome will also solidify the notion that aggression and abusive behavior will get the desired action or reaction. This ultimately means that children who grow up watching family aggression have the potential to become abusive supervisors for the simple reason that they were taught that aggression brings about desired results.



The study finds considerable evidence showing that family aggression does in fact increase the chances of abusive behavior in the workplace. This effect goes beyond the anger that is caused by situational factors, organizational mistreatment, demographical variables, or subordinates’ personality. The social learning theory was supported, meaning children who grow up seeing, and surrounded by, family aggression learn that abusive behaviors will produce the outcome they desire.



The authors also found that rumination, or the tendency to focus and dwell on negative past events, can make things worse. The association between abusive family life and abusive supervision was stronger when these supervisors engaged in more rumination. By focusing on the unpleasant aspects of growing up amidst family aggression and turmoil, supervisors became more likely to think hostile thoughts and experience hostile feelings. This led ruminating supervisors to act more hostile in the workplace.



The importance of this study is that it helps identify the root cause of abusive behavior in the workplace. This is important because abusive supervisors can have strong negative impacts on employees and the company as a whole. Two steps can be taken to decrease the negative outcomes of abusive supervision. The first is to train abusive supervisors through cognitive-behavioral coaching. This may include emotional intelligence training, in order to help supervisors gain control of the angry behavior. Training can also help limit rumination for supervisors, which may help decrease the occurrence of angry thoughts and feelings, even when supervisors are predisposed to have them. The second step that organizations can take is to not let supervisors with abusive potential into the organization in the first place. This can be done by altering the recruitment and selection process to help identify those supervisors who are most likely to lead employees in a positive manner, and not those who are reduced to abusive supervision.

Is It Lonely At the Top? The Victimization of High Performers

Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology
Article: Victimization of High Performers: The Roles of Envy and Work Group Identification
Reviewed by: Soner Dumani, M.A.


High Performers are defined as the group of talented employees that increase both team and organizational performance.

Previous research has suggested that individuals high on cognitive ability are more likely to experience workplace victimization, and High Performers might be the target of interpersonal harm.

The current study by Eugune Kim and Theresa Glomb extends this line of research by examining the extent to which High Performers are victimized due to group members’ envy, and whether work group identification can reduce this potential negative consequence of high performance.



Compared to average workplace performers, High Performers tend to enjoy more financial and social resources, and they receive more attention in their work groups and organizations. As a result, they are often at the risk of being victimized by other organizational members.

The researchers conducted two separate studies– one with staff members at a large university in the United States, and the other with employees from three organizations in South Korea. In both samples, High Performers were found to be victimized more than low performers.



As a result of being constantly compared to High Performers, the study found that other group members’ self-evaluation might suffer.

They also discovered that such feelings of inferiority may motivate group members to victimize high performers, with the intention of reducing their advantages in the workplace.

In short, the researchers found that envy usually explained why high performers were more likely to be victimized.



The researchers also found that work group identification can reduce High Performer victimization in the workplace.

When group members identify themselves with the group and have strong bonds with one another, they don’t tend to develop feelings of envy and/or don’t let their feelings of envy translate into victimization.



The current study highlights the importance of promoting work group identification, such as engaging in team building activities or social gatherings to reduce envy towards high performers.

High performers might also consider downplaying their accomplishments and maintaining a humble outlook to avoid potential victimization in the future.

Are Defiant Employees Causing their Bosses to be Abusive?


Both managers and employees sometimes act inappropriately in the workplace. For example, managers can excessively yell at, ridicule, or make fun of those working for them. We’ll refer to this as abusive supervision.

Similarly, employees can deliberately break rules and ignore norms, harming the organization they work for in the process. We’ll refer to this as organizational defiance.

Researchers have always believed that abusive supervision and organizational defiance often seem to occur in the same workplaces. But which one is the cause, and which one is the result?



The traditional belief is that abusive supervision leads to organizational defiance. Basically, if the boss treats employees poorly, they ultimately retaliate against the organization.

Although many psychology studies have a hard time determining which is the cause and which is the effect, theory can step in and help shed light on the answer. When employees experience abusive supervision and feel like they’re being taken advantage of, they may feel a need to punish the organization in order to restore balance.

Alternatively, when dealing with abusive supervisors, employees may have to focus so much of their attention on the abuse that they have trouble devoting attention toward controlling their impulses. This can lead to acting in ways that are inappropriate.



In the current study, the authors examined the possibility that, when employees act out, it causes supervisors to become abusive.

When supervisors need to deal with employee misbehavior, they lose some of their own ability to practice self- control. This may lead managers to have reactions that have otherwise been inhibited. Also, in response to employee defiance, managers may feel the need to “save face” or project an aura of authority, which could lead to acting in a more authoritarian or controlling manner.

Finally, sometimes employees who act out may be inadvertently sending cues to their managers, inviting them to join in the same norm-violating behavior.



The current study used an advanced data-collection method to show that organizational defiance by employees causes abusive supervision by managers, which is the reverse of what previous researchers had assumed.

But, like many aspects of human behavior, it’s not quite so simple. The researchers also showed that abusive supervision can sometimes cause employee defiance. This was especially true when the employees did not have a lot of self-control, and when they intended to leave the organization. Under these circumstances, employees who face abusive leadership are unable to refrain from bad behavior, and they have little incentive for doing so, since they plan to leave the company anyway.

The authors also showed that, if abusive supervision and employee defiance are capable of causing each other, a vicious cycle emerges where both negative aspects can feed off of each other and escalate into an unpleasant work environment for everybody.



So how can organizational leaders create a workplace that curbs inappropriate behavior from both managers and employees? The results of this article indicate that simply firing offenders may not be the right answer, since firing abusive managers won’t help if their behavior was caused by defiant employees.

What organizations can do is stress the importance of standards for employee conduct, insisting that abusive management is no excuse to retaliate against the organization. This can help slow the vicious cycle.

Also, employees and managers can be selected specifically for their capacity for self-control. This helps to make sure a bad situation does not escalate, and that both employees and managers can always respond to others in a level-headed manner.

Social Media at Work: Implications for Productivity


A pair of researchers recently set out to examine how certain people use social media at work, and how that impacted their performance.

Their survey of individuals across various industries and jobs revealed various ways that people believe social media at work helps and harms their performance. The researchers then conducted a series of studies in developing a questionnaire for measuring social media behaviors, only one of which will be the focus for this review.

This study ultimately showed that some of the factors that were perceived to be positive behaviors, such as crowd-sourcing a problem and new customer/client outreach, did not have any significant connection to increased performance.



There were eight dimensions of social media behaviors identified in the study that people thought would help improve their work performance. These included communicating with existing customers, new customer/client outreach, participating in an online work community, infra-office communication, reputation management, information gathering, crowd sourcing a problem, and using social media as technical solution to a problem. Later, four factors encompassing these original eight dimensions were identified.

There were also nine harmful dimensions that the people surveyed believed would negatively affect their work performance. These included representing the organization in an unbecoming manner, plagiarism, harmful behaviors that could adversely affect one’s reputation, offensive content, multitasking, time theft (such as using social media for personal use during office hours), former unprofessional relationships with co-workers and/or customers, making disparaging comments, and refusing a friend request from co-workers (which could lead to subsequent workplace tensions). These nine factors were also mapped into 4 higher order factors that encompassed all of these elements.



It’s not surprising to learn that the study showed harmful social media behaviors were directly related to decreased performance at work.

But what is interesting is the fact that the beneficial behaviors seemed to have no significant relationship to performance whatsoever, meaning that there may be little added value created by these actions.

The study does have its limitations. There are various industries that were not sampled that rely heavily on social media. There are also some elements of using social media at work that, while not directly responsible for increasing productivity, were tangentially related. For example, certain social media behaviors may provide stressed-out workers with a degree of relaxation, which can be related to increased performance.



This study fills the gap in the literature related to social media behaviors within the workplace.

The research in question can help employees realize the potential harm to their job performance that may be caused by certain behaviors they may have thought would prove beneficial. These findings could also inform social media training interventions in various work settings.

In short, some activities that may be permitted at work and are typically deemed beneficial by employers may in fact be superfluous.

The Negative Effects of Knowledge Hiding on Organizational Trust and Creativity

Publication: Academy of Management
Article: What Goes Around Comes Around: Knowledge Hiding, Perceived Motivational Climate an Creativity
Reviewed by: Will Smith


Have you ever encountered a situation where a colleague purposely withheld pertinent information? How did that change your interactions with them, or the dynamics within the office?

A recent study addresses the topic of Knowledge Hiding, and how consciously withholding information can affect both trust and creativity.

The act of hiding knowledge leads to what the researchers describe as “the distrust loop.” In this cycle, employees who intentionally hide information lose the trust of their peers. In order to impart a sense of justice, the effected peers will then withhold information from the knowledge hiders. This, in turn, affects the knowledge hider’s ability to collaborate effectively and generate creative ideas.



The researchers felt it was important that the organizational environment be factored into the equation, and examined two types– the mastery climate and the performance climate. A mastery climate is one in which cooperation, employee development, and mastery of skills are encouraged. A performance climate is based on an employee’s ability to outperform colleagues and receive recognition/rewards relative to that of their peers.

The researchers conducted two studies to test their hypotheses. The first consisted of 240 employees and 34 supervisors. Employees were measured on their creativity, how they perceived the organizational climate, and if they considered themselves knowledge hiders. The supervisors were then asked to provide their perception of the creativity of their employees.

The second study consisted of 132 undergraduate students, who were asked to complete a business scenario in which students were places in three groups. The scenarios consisted of conditions that measured of the mastery climate, performance climate or no climate. Some students were also randomly selected to be knowledge hiders.



The researchers learned that knowledge hiders in a performance climate found themselves within the distrust loop, limiting their collaboration with peers and ultimately making them less creative than other groups. Knowledge hiders in this group were more concerned with protecting themselves, which hindered their ability to be creative in comparison with the other groups.

The groups without knowledge hiders proved more capable of freely exchanging ideas and, as a result, were more creative. Interestingly, in mastery climates, employees were generally less likely to be knowledge hiders. The mastery climate fosters such an environment of collaboration and knowledge sharing that it ultimately decreases the need for knowledge hiding, and thus does not affect creativity



In organizations in which innovation is important, encouraging employees to collaborate allows them opportunities to more readily engage each other. It allows employees to openly share ideas and drive organizational initiatives.

The big picture take-away from this study is that fostering an environment of collaboration in the workplace removes the necessity for knowledge hiding, which is ultimately beneficial to the creative progress of the entire organization.

Will Being an Average Performer Prevent Employee Victimization?

Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology
Article: Is it Better to be Average? High and Low Performance as Predictors of Employee Victimization
Reviewed by: Andrew Morris

There has been a surge of interest in research on employee victimization in the last few years, both because the phenomenon is on the rise and because of the negative effects it has on both a personal and organizational level. Employee victimization has many causes and takes many forms, from aggressive incivility and bullying to general mistreatment.

Although previous studies investigated the situational and personal factors that precipitate victimization, little research has been focused on the behaviors that may lead to someone getting targeted.



The research paper under review looked at the extent to which high and low performers may experience victimization because of their performance. Attention was paid to the factors that influence different performance levels, which in turn leads co-workers to punish the victims in different way. The researchers also examined whether this victimization would affected later performance, and in what way. Their findings showed that those people that were on either end of the performance spectrum outside norms for their group were more likely to be victimized. When employees perform well, they may be perceived as a threat and make others look bad, and so they’re mistreated. But when one under-performs and fails to contribute to overall group performance, they too will likely be victimized.



The research also highlighted the different forms that employee victimization may take. With low performers, the treatment they get will be more overt “in-your-face” aggression, such as being yelled or sworn at. This may be because of co-workers feeling resentment against freeloaders, and their frustration at the effect their colleague’s lack of contribution has on overall team performance.

High achievers are more likely to experience covert and subversive forms of victimization, such as being ignored, resources being withheld and co-worker sabotage. This may be because of feelings of envy or inferiority, as well as the fact that high performers may highlight other member’s shortcomings. An important factor that was noted, which affected certain outcomes, was the victim’s feelings of entitlement or benevolence. With low performers this had little effect, but when high performers had a sense of entitlement– such as disregarding others and being self-serving in goal attainment– more overt forms of aggression were more prevalent. Those high performers who were more team-oriented and benevolent in their actions didn’t experience these blatant forms of aggression.



These initial results aren’t necessarily a reason to accept average performance in the workplace. But they are particularly useful in being able to better predict victimization, which may help improve risk assessments and targeted prevention strategies.

Despite their limitations, these findings also highlight the need to look at how performance appraisals and incentives are given as well as how high and low performers may be dealt with to reduce victimization.

Employee victimization has the potential to seriously affect teamwork co-operation and productivity, and is therefore a critical issue to address at the organizational level.

The Connection Between Sleep Deprivation, Caffeine and Self-Control

Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology
Article: Building a self-regulatory model of sleep deprivation and deception: The role of caffeine and social influence
Reviewed by: Mary Selden

Many of us can’t imagine going a day without our caffeine of choice—coffee, energy drinks, tea, soda, or any number of others. A recent study cited in this article claims that 90% of Americans ingest some form of caffeine daily in order to overcome the effects of sleep loss. But did you know that caffeine could also help you maintain better self-control?



When our mental resources are depleted, we have a harder time regulating our behavior. This is often what happens with sleep deprivation, which can decrease our ability to control impulses and overcome temptation.

As our resources for self-control are depleted from lack of sleep, we become more susceptible to negative social influence— such as being less able to resist someone who tries to persuade us to do unethical things, such as deceiving others.



The authors claim that caffeine can actually boost our natural resources in these situations, helping us to better control our actions and refrain from unethical behavior, even when someone is attempting to influence us.

The study found that, when participants were tired, they were more likely to succumb to unethical suggestions from others. But, after consuming caffeine, the participants had more resources to resist social influence (that is, the researcher telling them to deceive the other participants) because the caffeine alleviated some of the effects of sleep deprivation.



These findings are particularly applicable in work settings, where sleep deprivation in employees could make them less able to resist unethical temptations from others at work.

But, while helpful in some regards, caffeinated beverages also have some disadvantages. Caffeine is a diuretic, can increase anxiety and heart rate, and can cause withdrawal symptoms like headaches and fatigue when you stop consuming it.

It’s not a cure-all solution for resisting unethical suggestions, either: The study found that well-rested individuals had much greater self-control than those who were tired, even when the sleep-deprived individuals ingested caffeine. Well-rested individuals didn’t experience the same benefits as sleep-deprived individuals who ingested caffeine, because it affected them less. So they were ultimately able to resist unethical behavior equally well, whether there was social pressure or not.

But if rest is lacking, caffeine may give people the extra boost they need in order to get back some of the self-control they’ve lost from being exhausted.

Taking control back: Surviving an Abusive Supervisor

Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology
Article: Surviving an Abusive Supervisor: The Joint Roles of Conscientiousness and Coping Strategies
Reviewed by: Andrew Morris

Abusive supervision is a serious issue, and much more prevalent than you might realize.

A lot of research has been done on this topic– partly because it is on the increase, but also because of its devastating effects on morale and productivity.

In looking at personality and the choice of coping strategies, new research reveals insights that can help employees maintain performance while surviving an abusive supervisor.



The transactional stress model details a 2-step process in individuals confronted with a stressful event: First, they decide how this event impacts their general well-being; secondly, they decide if something can be done to minimize negative effects, choosing an appropriate coping strategy to deal with the situation.

So what coping strategy would you employ in dealing with the stress caused by an abusive supervisor? Either you would directly address the issue and take initiative to solve your problem (i.e. active coping strategies), or you may prefer avoiding the issue until the worst passes (i.e. avoidance strategies).

The question is, is one of these strategies better than the other, or is there more complexity involved in effectively handling such a situation?



A new study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology suggests personality has a more significant effect on performance than the choice of coping strategy when dealing with an abusive supervisor. However, the research does suggest that avoidance strategies will negatively affect employee performance in the long run.

That being said, researchers found that conscientiousness (one of the Big 5 personality traits) influences how well you work under such circumstances, no matter you choose to deal with it. In this case, conscientiousness refers to how people control themselves, preferring planned behavior over more spontaneous expressions.

The work performance of employees who ranked high on conscientiousness and used various coping strategies wasn’t affected nearly as much as those who were low on conscientiousness and using various strategies. This highlights the major role conscientiousness plays in helping people maintain their performance, even when choosing different ways of coping with an abusive supervisor.



This research can be useful for an organization’s selection criteria, as it seems that certain kinds of people are naturally more adept at maintaining their performance in the face of stressful work environments and demanding superiors.

But, on a more personal level, those employees struggling with an abusive supervisor may want to stop avoiding the issue, as the study shows that their work performance will inevitably suffer.

The Impact of Envy on High Performers in the Workplace

Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology
Article: Victimization of high performers: The roles of envy and work group identification
Reviewed by: Angela A. Beiler

High performers– that is, employees who work harder and accomplish more than the average– are typically highly valued by employers. Unfortunately, this advanced performance level can cause overachievers to be noticed and even targeted for bullying by their peers, who may be envious of the attention or rewards they’re given.

Such victimization can result in decreased performance, or increased turnover, in an organization as high performers that feel targeted move on to other employment opportunities.

In a pair of new studies, researchers decided to gain a better understanding of this relationship. Their goals were to see if high-performing employees do experience victimization by their peers, the causes of this counterproductive relationship, and factors that could possibly minimize instances of workplace victimization.



First, the researchers tested to see if high levels of employee performance are related to victimization. A sample group of 4,874 participants from 339 different work groups were given surveys regarding their work performance and victimization.

This study found that individuals who had higher levels of work performance did report increased victimization. Accepting that victimization of high performers is an issue, the next step was to determine why this relationship exists and identify potential contextual situations that may minimize victimization.

In order to do this, the researchers ran a second, more intensive study with 217 members of 67 work groups in a South Korean company.



For the second study, employee performance was measured in terms of supervisor ratings, employee identification with their group, and co-worker envy toward each member of the group, as well as self-reports of victimization.
This second study revealed additional information about high performer victimization that supported findings from the first study, as there was a direct connection between employees whose performance was rated highly by supervisors and victimization by co-workers. They found that co-worker envy accounted for this relationship, as high performance led to higher levels of envy, which in turn related to victimization.

This would make sense, as co-workers may be jealous of high-performing colleagues, triggering negative actions toward their colleagues.



So the crucial question is, what actions can an organization take to minimize bullying of high performers?

Fortunately, work group identification was found to act as a buffer, weakening the relationship between high employee performance and victimization. Therefore, employers can take action by encouraging employees to identify as a member of their individual work groups or teams.

By taking the time to build strong group identification, members may feel like the contributions of the high performer reflect well on the group as a whole, rather than just the individual. In short, emphasizing the ways that individual victories benefit the whole team is key.