Under university policy, bullying behaviors are prohibited. OSU defines bullying as “Conduct of any sort directed at another that is severe, pervasive or persistent, and is of a nature that would cause a reasonable person in the victim’s position substantial emotional distress and undermine his or her ability to work, study or participate in his or her regular life activities or participate in the activities of the University…”
Early intervention is essential to prevent cases of bullying from continuing, escalating, and potentially causing harm to individuals and the organization. The first step is to understand the dynamics and effects of bullying:
Behaviors perceived as bullying characteristics can be direct or indirect, deliberate or subconscious. Regardless of the initiator’s personal characteristics or intent, their actions are unwanted by the recipient who perceives themselves as the target of ongoing behaviors that cause the target “distress and undermine his or her ability to work, study, or participate in [life or University] activities.” Bullying is not determined by an isolated incident. Generally, conduct must be “pervasive or persistent” over time to be defined as bullying behaviors. By way of example, the following behaviors do not constitute acts of workplace bullying: appropriate corrective feedback regarding work performance, discussion of topics from conflicting perspectives, and establishing reasonable performance standards. When cases of bullying are left unattended, or mishandled, they can escalate to all or some of the following: employee turnover, students leaving, poor work or academic performance, absenteeism, and health issues ranging from depression to harming one’s self or others. The costs are increased when you include the effects on co-workers, bystanders, and the organization.
Bullying can be viewed as the result of a process which progresses through identifiable stages, occurring on a continuum of various and increasing severity and effect on targets and bystanders. Behaviors of concern may not rise to the level of prohibited bullying early on, but supervisors who are aware of the typical pattern can intervene earlier to avoid escalation and the most harmful impacts on targets and the organization. Einarsen (1999) provides a model which identifies four stages of bullying: 1) Aggressive Behavior, 2) Bullying, 3) Stigmatization, and 4) Severe Trauma. Early incidents of conduct that may escalate to bullying are identified in the first stage as “aggressive behavior.” Once these behaviors toward the target become frequent, the process has moved from subtle, direct, or indirect aggressive behavior, and ultimately, may lead to bullying prohibited by OSU policy. At this point, the target typically becomes unable to defend him or herself. This leads to stress, which can cause inhibited work performance. Soon the inabilities of the target become the focus of the perceived bully, some bystanders, and management. This leads to a stigmatization of the target and is typically the point at which administrators and third parties are brought in to intervene. If managers cannot address the situation without further victimizing the target, this can lead to severe trauma for the recipient of the abuse. Cyber bullying can accelerate and amplify the stages of bullying. In cases where people are bullied repeatedly over time by one or more initiators, a single act of cyber bullying can magnify their experience to an unbearable level.
Supervisors, managers, and bystanders can help prevent this pattern of concern from escalating into bullying behaviors that create an unhealthy campus climate and cause harm to individuals. In collaboration with the Office of Equal Opportunity and Access and Human Resources, the University Ombuds Office offers a series of educational sessions for supervisors and managers, as well as open trainings on conflict management and understanding bullying. Please contact the Ombuds for more information at 541-737-4537.
Bullying and Harassment in the Workplace: Developments in Theory, Research, and Practice
Contexts of the Dark Side of Communication
Mobbing: Causes, Consequences, and Solutions
Preventing and Managing Workplace Bullying and Harassment: A Risk Management Approach
Workplace Bullying in Higher Education