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Workplace bullies ‘pick on diligent and timid workers’


Conscientious workers with high levels of organisational skill are the most likely to be bullied by bosses and colleagues and should be offered assertiveness training to prevent it, according to new research oresented to the British Psychological Society conference.

After comparing the innate personality traits of victims of workplace bullying with those of a control group of colleagues who were not bullied in two organisations in Dublin, researchers at Hull University say that they have discovered that the victims were far more likely than the non-victims to be conscientious, dependent, introverted, anxious, submissive and unstable individuals.

Iain Coyne, co-author of the study, said that the findings had far-reaching practical applications. They showed that those companies that wanted to eradicate bullying from the workplace may have more success if they concentrate on identifying the likely victims and giving them additional support, rather than try simply to root out the bullies.

"Arguably, it may not necessarily be personality that causes someone to be bullied, as bullying could be more the result of the organisational culture of the company, such as a highly competitive culture," Mr Coyne said.

"But personality does give us indications as to who is bullied and shows us what may be the trigger to a bully to choose one individual to victimise rather than someone else."

According to the Trades Union Congress, five million people are estimated to be bullied at work at some point in their lives and every office has someone who is a victim of workplace bullying. Previous studies have estimated that between 8 per cent and 14 per cent of employees experience bullying.

Until now, however, research has concentrated on the extent of bullying, the effects of bullying and the trigger factors leading to bullying. Little research has focused on personality as an explanation of why certain individuals are victims of workplace bullying and others are not.
Mr Coyne drew up a profile of 30 employees who were bullied and 30 who were not in a large public sector employer using a personality inventory known as ICES, which tests for four traits - independence, conscientiousness, extroversion and stability.

The victims in the study were sought out by researchers, rather than asked to come forward to avoid any element of self-selection.

Mr Coyne repeated the same process in a private sector company and achieved almost identical results.

One way that may prevent those identified as being at a high risk of bullying from actually becoming victims would be to offer them counselling, assertiveness training or mentoring sessions before any bullying could occur, Mr Coyne said.
He told the annual occupational psychology conference of the British Psychology Society in Brighton, yesterday, that the ICES personality inventory may provide employers with a useful tool in identifying staff most likely to benefit from such training and support.

He did acknowledge, however, that if not used carefully, the process may be used unfairly to label staff as victims, when in fact they had not been bullied at all.

My Coyne now intends to conduct more research to see how effective the ICES test is for predicting bullying.


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