Workplace bullying: an examination of power and perpetrators

Helen De Cieri, Cathy Sheehan, Ross Donohue, Tracey Shea, Brian Cooper

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

37 Citations (Scopus)


Purpose: The purpose of this paper is to apply the concept of power imbalance to explain workplace and demographic characteristics associated with bullying by different perpetrators in the healthcare sector. Design/methodology/approach: All 69,927 members of the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (Victoria) were invited to participate in an online survey in 2014; 4,891 responses were received (7 per cent response rate). Participants were asked about their exposure to workplace bullying (WPB) by different perpetrators. The questionnaire addressed demographic characteristics and perceptions of workplace characteristics (workplace type, leading indicators of occupational health and safety (OHS), prioritisation of OHS, supervisor support for safety and bureaucracy). Analysis involved descriptive statistics and regression analyses. Findings: The study found that the exposure of nurses and health workers to bullying is relatively high (with 42 per cent of respondents experiencing WPB in the past 12 months) and there are multiple perpetrators of bullying. The research revealed several demographic predictors associated with the different types of perpetrators. Downward and horizontal bullying were the most prevalent forms. Workplace characteristics were more important predictors of bullying by different perpetrators than were demographic characteristics. Research limitations/implications: There are limitations to the study due to a low response rate and the cross-sectional survey. Practical implications: Practical implications of this study emphasise the importance of focussed human resource strategies to prevent bullying. Originality/value: The key contribution of this research is to draw from theoretical explanations of power to inform understanding of the differences between perpetrators of bullying. The study highlights the workplace characteristics that influence bullying.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)324-341
Number of pages18
JournalPersonnel Review
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 4 Mar 2019


  • HR strategies
  • Occupational health and safety
  • Perpetrators
  • Power
  • Quantitative
  • Workplace bullying

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