Distinguishing between workplace bullying behaviours, workplace incivility behaviours and reasonable management action: an exploratory study

Ziman, Julia
Journal Title
Journal ISSN
Volume Title
Many studies have investigated the negative effects of Workplace Bullying (WPB) and Workplace Incivility (WPI) for both individual and organisational outcomes. WPB and WPI have been shown to lead to a wide range of deleterious outcomes for both the individual and the organisation. In spite of this, organisations struggle to define WPB and WPI and differentiate these concepts from Reasonable Management Action (RMA). This creates a problem for both subordinates and managers. Subordinates often struggle to attain relief from acts of WPB and WPI and managers are often accused of bullying or being uncivil to their staff when they are trying to reasonably manage them. The absence of clear and objective criteria distinguishing these behaviours enhances the difficulties that Human Resource Practitioners (HRPs) and managers have in adequately dealing with claims of WPB and WPI. This research set out to address this gap in the literature and distinguish these three sets of behaviours; WPB, WPI and RMA. The main aim of this study was to explore the perceptions held by managersand HRPs as to how they differentiate WPB, WPI and RMA. An exhaustive literature review was conducted which enabled the researcher created a check-list of WPB, WPI and RMA behaviours based on existing scales, literature, government websites and consultation with subject matter experts. This led to a checklist of 115 behaviours. The survey also asked participants open-ended questions as to how they define and deal with WPB, WPI and RMA in order to gather more depth and insight into their perceptions of these behaviours. A final sample of 145 participants completed the survey. The checklist was quantitatively analysed and presented using percentages in order to itemise what behaviours the majority of participants consider WPB, WPI and RMA. The open-ended responses were qualitatively analysed using Conventional Content Analysis (CCA) and from this it emerged that five broad themes influence how participants perceive WPB, WPI and RMA; 1) Context may be paramount in order to ascertain whether the behaviour is workplace bullying, workplace incivility or reasonable management action 2) Poor management or leadership skills that may be “unreasonable management actions” 3) Lack of a workplace bullying policy and clear grievance procedures 4) Defining behaviour in terms of the outcomes it causes 5) Bullying and incivility from the bottom up: The impossibility of effectively managing.
A research report submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Masters of Arts by Coursework and Research Report in the field of Organisational Psychology to the Faculty of Humanities, School of Human and Community Development, University of the Witwatersrand, 2021