Critical review of a report titled "The incidence of workplace bullying"

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Critical review of a report titled “The incidence of workplace bullying” conducted by Charlotte Rayner (1997). Source: Journal of Community and Applied Social Psychology, (1997, vol.7, pp.199-208.

Charlotte Rayner conducted a quantitative study in 1994 into workplace bullying in the UK. Her rationale for this study was founded on the lack of research into adult bullying as a phenomenon. Child-child bullying has received considerable attention, e.g. Besag (1989), Batch & Knoff (1994), and a yet there is a dearth of research, especially in the UK, into adult-adult bullying. Child-child bullying is recognized as a real and regular phenomenon in developed countries (Munthe 1989) yet adult bullying has predominantly only been researched in Scandinavia (e.g. Leymann 1992, Einarssen 1991).  The BBC, via various programmes, had raised awareness of adult bullying and Adams 1992, Bassman 1992 had reported on workplace bullying. Therefore Charlotte Rayner conducted this study to provide quantitative evidence for or against anecdotal accounts of workplace bullying. The study has no predictions or hypothesis to test but the aim is to investigate/measure the incidence of workplace bullying and use its findings to point to hypotheses or further research questions.

A two part self report questionnaire was used to gather data speedily and in quantity from a large sample of approximately 1100 respondents. The sample population was drawn from part-time students at Stafford University over a three week period. Aspects of the methodology are recognized as problematic by the research team. Definition of bullying is difficult because there is no legislation or legal terms for guidance, plus feeling bullied is a subjective and personal experience. Sexual harassment does have legal definition and has parallels with bullying so the team decided to use these as a starting point, although it is not made clear in the report how this process was drawn out to produce definitions. In fact there is no clear definition of bullying in the report except that the victim must have felt bullied. Table 11 gives examples of descriptors of bullying but there are issues within that which are discussed later. The use of a questionnaire is justified in this study due to the restricting parameters mentioned above, however more rich and reliable data would probably be gathered by using a semi-structured interview then analyzing replies for key words, feelings and behaviours. This qualitative data could then be processed quantitatively to produce more reliable results that could be reproduced across subsequent studies. Questionnaires are primarily the methodology of the Psychometrics perspective and as always raise questions about reliability and validity. When linked to the definition issue it is prudent to question whether this particular questionnaire has dependability and/or construct validity. It is not possible to comment fully on these issues as there is not a copy of, or a link to, the questionnaire in the report to allow inspection and discussion of its strengths and weaknesses.

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Relying on an individual “feeling bullied” as meaning “being bullied” is a very subjective basis on which to conduct a quantitative study. It raises concerns as to participant’s honesty, interpretations of events and individual differences, i.e. sensitivity to conflict situations. One person’s perception of bullying will differ from another’s. The time delay between the incident and the reporting could allow modification of meanings and the reality of the event. An example of this would be where justified performance management processes are later reconstructed by the recipient as “bullying” in order to bolster self esteem, modify other’s interpretations or cover ...

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