In order to provide more detailed guidance to organisations regarding the risk management of bullying, this project took a fresh approach to understanding the organisational risk factors. First, we examined objective measures of job and organisational factors that may predict the likelihood of bullying at work. Second, we integrated traditionally-studied bullying risk factors within their underlying organisational contexts to identify areas of organisational functioning that should be improved to prevent bullying at work.
In Study 1, data from a national database of job analysis ratings (the US Occupational Information Network) were linked to ratings of bullying exposure and working conditions from an Australian national database (the Australian Workplace Barometer). We found some evidence that objectively-measurable occupation-specific activities and contexts are risk factors for workplace bullying, and that these factors add to the prediction of bullying over and above traditional self-reported psychosocial risk factors.
However, in Study 1 the influence of occupational factors was actually very small and only a few of the factors studied were significantly linked to bullying. Accordingly, the use of objective indicators of job and work activities cannot yet be recommended as a way of monitoring the risk of bullying. Our second study took a new approach to understanding the organisational and work environment antecedents of bullying by integrating traditionally-studied psychosocial antecedents of bullying within their underlying organisational contexts.
Study 2 involved the analysis of 342 bullying complaints lodged by workers with SafeWork SA from 2010 to 2013. The results suggest that the supervisory process is the overarching context that poses the risk of bullying and the perception of bullying. We identified five domains of supervisor-employee interaction that shaped the bullying experiences reported in 90% of the complaints examined in the project: supervision, performance management, role clarification, communication, and misuse of HRM procedures and practices. These five contexts represent a crucial focal point for risk management efforts to reduce bullying at work. In particular supervisors and managers should be systematically supported to: enhance their communication skills; increase their capacity to manage the performance of subordinates (including processes that build on developing performance rather focussing only on tackling poor performance); clearly define role content and expectations; apply consistent human resource practices throughout the organisation; and adopt fair performance management.