The black hole in ‘bullying at work’ research

Charlotte Rayner, C. Cooper

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    Gathering data about black holes is difficult because we cannot see them. The gravity pull of the black hole is so strong that light, even at its great speed, cannot escape. We know black holes exist only because of celestial bodies around them, which, for example, change course or behave "oddly", sometimes being "eaten" by the crushing effect of the gravity-pulls from the black hole. For those who study negative behaviour at work, "the bully" is the parallel of black holes – almost invisible to us. We gain all our data regarding "bullies" from other people and events that happen around them. For example, when trying to detect pockets of bullying, personnel are directed to look for high exit rates of staff, long-term sickness due to stress and other side-effects that can be associated with a bullying situation. Finding and studying the bully is like trying to study black holes – we are often chasing scattered debris of complex data and shadows of the past. The study reported in this paper used data from subordinates on their managers' behaviour in order to classify how tough the managers were. A spectrum of "toughness" of management behaviour was generated. The managers' responses to a variety of measures including stress and mental health were examined as a way of trying to discriminate within the "toughness" spectrum. Results were non-significant. The study revealed differences in reporting of negative behaviour of managers and led to the suggestion that three types of manager behaviour might be present. The first is negative behaviour (typical of studies into bullying at work) that causes distress when it is present, but has no positive effect when it is absent – for example public humiliation. Another is spectrum behaviour that causes distress when it is absent and is enhancing to subordinates when it is present – for example being trusted with information. A third type was suggested as a result of the findings, but not included in this study. This third type could be termed positive behaviour (typical of leadership studies) and be enhancing when it is present, but not cause distress when it is absent – for example charismatic leadership. The results are discussed in the light of future research.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)47-64
    Number of pages18
    JournalInternational Journal of Management and Decision Making
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - 2004


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