The Perception of Postgraduate Students With Regard to Workplace Bullying

The main objective of the study includes the analysis of the experiences of postgraduate students regarding workplace bullying. These postgraduate students are employed in various business industries in South Africa. This study highlights the seriousness of workplace bullying. Actions need to be taken by all parties concerned to ensure that workplace bullying is adequately addressed in workplaces through policies and procedures, and by legislation. Until these changes are made, workplace bullying will continue to be a costly problem for employers and employees. An NAQ-R (Negative Act Questionnaire Revised) instrument is designed and employed to evaluate exposure to workplace bullying. The questionnaire elicits personal derogation (humiliation and personal criticism), work-related harassment (withholding of information and having one’s responsibilities removed), social isolation, physical violence, and intimidation and work overload. The research evidences that people do not recognise bullying when they experience it or do not realise when they are being bullied. The behaviour is hidden and trivial criticisms and isolating actions occur behind closed doors. In addition, professional people are too afraid to admit that they are being bullied. Interestingly, they are embarrassed, blame themselves and fear that the phenomenon would escalate.

 ...The self-righteous bully is a person who cannot accept that they could possibly be in the wrong. They are totally devoid of self-awareness and neither know nor care about the impact of their behaviour on other people. They are always right and others are always wrong. R. Namie and G. Namie (2009) described bullies as individuals who falsely believed they had more power than others did. Bullying seems not connected to gender (Peyton, 2003, p. 39). Peyton (2003) listed the following common characteristics of bullies:

(1) They are quicker to anger and sooner use force than others;
(2) They tend to have little empathy for the problems of the other person in the victim/bully relationship;
(3) They often have been exposed to models of aggressive behaviour themselves and chronically repeat the behaviour;
(4) They inappropriately perceive hostile intent in the actions of others;
(5) They focus on angry thoughts and are revengeful;
(6) They see aggression as the only way to preserve their self-image;
(7) They need to control others through verbal threats and physical actions;
(8) They exercise inconsistent discipline procedures at home;
(9) They perceive physical image as important for maintaining a feeling of power and control;
(10) They suffer physical and emotional abuse at home and have more family problems than usual;
(11) They create resentment and frustration in a peer group;
(12) They exhibit obsessive or rigid actions;
(13) They distort truth and reality and blame other people for errors;
(14) They are charming in public;
(15) They tend to be very insecure people and take credit for other people’s work;
(16) They do not want to hear the other side of the story.

The workplace bullying is a person with a history of aggressive behaviour. Their repetitive behaviour becomes habitual, which grows into a way of life, and in the case of the bully, it becomes the chosen method of relating to other human beings. This behaviour is harmful, destructive and often illegal (Lines, 2008).

...Some 25.6% of the respondents have experienced negative behaviour “now and then”, while 3.2% experienced negative acts of intimidation, rumours and gossiping behind their backs, facing insults and name calling on a weekly basis. Some 26.0% of the respondents have experienced physical and social isolation, prevented access to opportunities, being ignored and excluded, while 2.6% have experienced these negative acts weekly. Another 45.5% of the respondents experienced a threat to their professional status “now and then”, which included the withholding of information that negatively affected their performance, the removing of their responsibilities and to be replaced with unpleasant tasks as well as professional humiliation.

In total, 10.9% of the respondents have experienced these negative behaviours on a weekly basis. Excessive overwork, intimidation and tasks with unreasonable or impossible targets or deadlines are also negative behaviours experienced by most of the respondents. A third (33.5%) has experienced these negative acts “now and then”, while 6.5% have experienced it weekly. One of the worst negative behaviours of workplace bullying is physical violence which involves being shouted at, or being the target of spontaneous anger or rage. Some 21.3% of the respondents have experienced this behaviour “now and then”, while 0.6% has experienced it on a weekly basis.

One can perceive through the research done in the empirical study that people do not recognise bullying when they experience it or realise when they are being bullied as the behaviour is covert and trivial criticisms and isolating actions occur behind closed doors. What one person may consider to be bullying, another may not and this makes the management of the problem difficult. Bullying and harassment cases are not clear-cut and sometimes people are unsure whether the way they are being treated is acceptable or not. Another problem identified through research done is that many highly professional people are too afraid to admit to anyone outside or even to themselves that they are being bullied. They are too embarrassed and afraid that it would escalate or that it might even be their fault...

C. J. Botha, I. M. Herbst, A. Buys, Journal of US-China Public Administration, ISSN 1548-6591, October 2011, Vol. 8, No. 10, 1173-1195