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Managers with 'dark traits' encourage bullying

‘Dark’ traits like narcissism and psychopathy resulted in an increase in workplace bullying of between 30% and 52%

Bosses who display ‘dark’ traits are associated with higher rates of workplace bullying, according to research from the University of Manchester’s business school.

‘Dark’ traits, defined in the study as narcissism and psychopathy, resulted in an increase in workplace bullying of between 30% and 52% when present in managers. Psychopathy was found to be the most successful predictor of bullying out of the two characteristics.

Bullying as a result of these traits was not necessarily instigated by the manager, but could be the result of a toxic atmosphere created by them, according to the research. Lead researcher Abigail Phillips told HR magazine that bullying is typically the result of a “bit of both”.

“From other research we know around 70% of those bullied at work cite their manager as the source,” she said. “However, a leader with dark traits could be fostering an environment of bullying. For example, their subordinates might feel the need to retaliate against the injustice they are experiencing.”

Colleagues are less likely to step in to defend a victim of workplace bullying than they would personal bullying, according to another recent study by Iain Coyne, senior lecturer in organisational psychology at Loughborough University’s School of Business and Economics, and colleagues.

In an experiment subjects were shown instances of bullying then asked to rank the statement ‘I would respond to this situation in some way’ from one (denoting ‘strongly disagree’) to five (‘strongly agree’).

When the bullying shown was personal in nature the statement gained an average ranking of 3.8. When it was work-related it scored 3.5.

When asked how much they supported the perpetrator from one (lowest support) to five (highest support), personal bullying resulted in a score of between 1 and 1.5. But workplace bullying resulted in much higher support for the perpetrator, with a score of 2.5.

Coyne highlighted the important role of bystanders. “Bystanders are people who witness bullying but are not involved directly,” he said. “These individuals can discourage or escalate bullying by speaking up on the victim’s behalf, or supporting the bully either actively or passively.

“So if bystanders do not intervene they can be seen as providing passive support to the perpetrator to continue with their actions. If their support can reduce bullying then understanding bystander behaviour online and developing approaches to enhance positive support online is a key intervention.”