The Emotional Impact of Workplace Bullying

Alexander M. Fireman
Alecia M. Santuzzi*

Department of Psychology
Northern Illinois University


The following study examined the prevalence and impact of workplace bullying. To achieve this goal, a survey was administered through Amazon.com’s Mechanical Turk (n =122). The study set out to determine if workplace-bullying experiences could be correlated with other emotional states. Positive correlations were found among workplace bullying intensity, workplace incivility, and paranoia, while a negative correlation was discovered between workplace bullying intensity and self-esteem.

The Emotional Impact of Workplace Bullying

Bullying is defined as persistent, nonphysical, and inappropriate treatment expressed towards one or more people (Namie & Namie, 2004, as cited in Namie & Namie, 2009), which occurs at least once a week for six months or more. Workplace bullying or incivility is defined as an act that is not a blatant attempt to harm but nevertheless causes distress (Cortina, Magley, Williams, and Langhout, 2001). Although the public has recently become more aware of school bullying, the media often ignores workplace bullying. According to Namie and Namie (2009), counseling for workplace bullying began just 12 years ago in the United States, while research on the topic has only spanned a decade.

There is no agreed upon statistic denoting the severity of workplace bullying (Martin & Lavan, 2010). This finding may be due to the fact that there is widespread disagreement as to the behaviors that constitute workplace bullying (Lutgen-Sandvik, Sarah, Alberts, & Jess, 2007). Therefore, the prevalence of this behavior may in fact be higher than the current reported incidence rate suggests.

In order to effectively prevent workplace harassment, it must be examined more closely. Understanding this behavior is the primary goal of the present study. To achieve this goal, the researcher administered a survey containing measures of workplace bullying prevalence as well as those assessing emotional states likely to be affected by these experiences. The secondary goal of this study is to measure the relationships between these emotional states and the presence of workplace bullying.


Workplace Bullying Intensity and Workplace Incivility

The Negative Acts Questionnaire (NAQ) and the Workplace Incivility Scale (WIS) were used to measure workplace bullying intensity and workplace incivility, respectively.
Because workplace incivility exhibits a form of relational aggression (as opposed to overt aggression), this behavior is more likely to occur because it is less likely to be punished (Cortina, Magley, Williams, & Langhout, 2001). Due to the fact that workplace bullying has also been prevalent (Lutgen-Sandvik, Tracy, & Alberts, 2007), the present study anticipates a positive correlation between both constructs.

H1: A positive correlation will be found between intensity of workplace bullying and workplace incivility.

Workplace Bullying Intensity and Self-esteem

Mathiesen and Einarsen (2007) found that those who were deemed victims of workplace bullying exhibited lower levels of self-esteem. The present study expects results similar to those found in this study. Therefore, the following hypothesis has been developed:

H2: A negative correlation will be found between workplace bullying intensity and self- esteem.

Workplace Bullying and Depression

Bi6rkqvist Osterman, and Hjelt-Bdck (1994) detected a significant relationship between harassment at work and depression. Given the conclusions drawn from this research, the present study forms the following hypothesis.

H3: A positive correlation will be found between workplace incivility and depression.

Workplace Bullying and Positive Affect

Because research contends that positive affect is negatively correlated with depressive symptoms (Watson, Clark, & Tellegen, 1988). The current study has hypothesized the following:

H4: A negative correlation will be found between workplace bullying intensity and positive affect.

Workplace Bullying Intensity and Public Self-Consciousness

Bi6rkqvist, Osterman, and Hjelt-Back (1994) concluded that victims of workplace harassment felt as though their personalities caused them to be bullied. Due to the fact that this claim is only speculative, the current study forms the following hypothesis in an attempt to examine the topic in greater detail:

H5: A positive correlation will be found between workplace bullying intensity and public self-consciousness.

Workplace Bullying and Social Paranoia

Fenigstein and Vanable (1992) have found a positive correlation between social paranoia and self-consciousness. Previous studies measuring workplace bullying and social paranoia were unable to be found. However, studies of bullying among children could be reviewed. Campbell and Morrison (2007) discovered that 14 to 16 year-old children who have been bullied were more likely to develop symptoms of paranoia. The present study predicts a similar diagnosis for victims of adult bullying. Therefore, the following hypothesis was formulated:

H6: A positive correlation will be found between workplace bullying intensity and social paranoia.



To better understand how workplace-bullying incidents are related to psychological traits and states, a random sample of 122 Mechanical Turk users were electronically surveyed in order to get their feedback on these issues. The self-reported race/ethnicity for the participants was distributed as follows: 83.5 percent White, 9.6 percent Asian or Pacific Islander, 5.2 percent Black or African American, 1.7 percent Hispanic/Latino, 1.7 percent, American Indian, 0.9percent Multicultural. (Participants were able to identify as belonging to multiple ethnic backgrounds; thus, the total percentage across groups exceeded 100.) The sample had the following age characteristics: M=35.83, SD=12.94. Several participants received an advanced education: 9.6 percent High School Graduate, 39.1 percent Some College, 4.3 percent Trade/Technical/Vocational Training, 33.0 percent College Graduate, 3.5 percent Some Post Graduate Work, 10.4 percent Post Graduate Degree. Participants were 37.4 percent male, and 62.6 percent indicated they were female.

Measures and Apparatus

The Negative Acts Questionnaire (NAQ). Because workplace bullying has not been studied widely in the United States, finding a measure that is sensitive to its culture is difficult. Einarsen, Staale, Hoel, Helge, Notelaers, and Guy (2009) indicated that even research from the UK, a region that has been found to have strong concern for workplace bullying, showed that few measurements for these antisocial incidences have been proposed. One of the most widely used measures of workplace bullying is The Negative Acts Questionnaire (NAQ) (2009). The NAQ is a 21 item survey that contains a response set with the following options 1=Never, 2=Now and Then, 3=Monthly, 4=Weekly, 5=Daily. An item on the NAQ is Had information withheld that affected your performance.

In addition to being used in several international studies (Einarsen, Staale, Guy, Hoel, Hodge, & Notelears, 2009; Trijueque & Gomez, 2009; Vie Glaso & Einarsen, 2010), the NAQ and variations of it have been applied to domestic research as well (Lutgen-Sandvik, Tracy, & Alberts, 2007). These researchers measured workplace-bullying intensity by averaging the score of the entire NAQ. In the present study, the NAQ was found to have high internal consistency with Cronbach’s alpha equal to .937.

The Beck Depression Inventory (BDI). According to Shean and Baldwin (2008), the Beck Depression Inventory (BDI) is one of the most widely used measures of depression. Their study on a random sample of college students found that the scale accurately assessed this emotional state. The BDI has 21 items with a scale that ranges from 0 (emotion is not at all present) to 3 (emotion is very severe) (Beck, Ward, Mendelson, Mock, & Erbaugh, 1961). The BDI includes items such as Sadness and Worthlessness. There is no universal threshold score to diagnose depression. Higher scores on the BDI indicated more severe levels of this trait. Cronbach’s alpha of the BDI for the present study was found to equal .924.

The Rosenberg Self-esteem Scale (RSS). To assess self-esteem among the participants, the study used the Rosenberg Self-esteem Scale (RSS). The RSS contains 10 items: 5 of the scale items are phrased positively while the other 5 have negative phrasing. Total scores range from 10 to 40. Higher scores suggest higher levels of self-esteem. Items on the RSS include I feel that I’m a person of worth, at least on an equal plane with others and All in all, I am inclined to feel that I am a failure. The RSS is a ten-question survey with a 4 point rating scale ranging from 1 (strongly disagree) to 4 (strongly agree). The measure has been found to accurately measure self-esteem (Rosenberg, 1965). For the present study, Cronbach’s alpha equaled .901.

The Narcissistic Personality Inventory (NPI). Twenge and Campbell (2009) indicated that the Narcissistic Personality Inventory (NPI) is the most common measure of narcissistic behavior. The researchers indicated that the NPI has been found to have a high reliability rating (r =.85). The NPI contains 40 items and has dichotomous response options. The scale is scored by giving narcissistic responses 1 point. Higher mean scores indicate higher narcissistic tendencies (Twenge, Konrath, Campbell, Foster, & Bushman, 2008).

The Positive Affect Negative Affect Schedule (PANAS). The PANAS is a measure of state affect. The PANAS contains 20 items. The authors of the scale found a Cronbach’s alpha of .87 for the positive affect schedule and one of .88 for the negative affect schedule. The PANAS is a combination of two affect subscales used in previous research (Watson & Clark, 1984). Both measures ask respondents the degree to which they experience particular emotional states. Response options range from 1 (very slightly or not at all)to 5 (extremely). The positive affect scale includes items such as interested, excited, and strong. The Negative Affect Schedule includes items such as guilty, upset, and distressed. The items within the two measures are averaged in order to determine the levels of the corresponding constructs being assessed. A higher score on each of these scales indicates larger amounts of the corresponding type of affect (Watson, Clark, & Tellegen, 1988). The two scales can be analyzed in isolation to determine how much each type of affect is present in a given sample, or they can both be used conjunctively to calculate overall affect. The current study will use the former method in its analysis. Cronbach’s alpha for the Positive Affect Scheduled totaled .902, while that of the negative affect schedule equaled .930.

The Revised Self-Consciousness Scale. According to Scheier and Carver (1985), the Revised Self-Consciousness scale is one of the most commonly used of its kind. The revised self-consciousness scale was found to be highly accurate (Schier & Carver, 1985). This scale has 22 items with response scale ranging from options 3 (a lot like me) to 0 (not at all like me). An item from this scale is I’m concerned about my style of doing things. The scale contains three subscales that measure feelings regarding private self-consciousness, public self-consciousness, and social anxiety. Higher scores on each of these scales indicate higher levels of the psychological states they are attempting to measure. The private self-consciousness subscale contains nine items. In the present study, Cronbach’s alpha for this subscale equaled .765. The public self-consciousness subscale includes seven items. Cronbach’s alpha for the scale in the present study equaled .831. The social anxiety subscale contains six items. Cronbach’s alpha for this scale in the present study totaled .567.

The Social Paranoia Scale. Fenigstein and Vanable (1992) created the Social Paranoia Scale to assess social paranoia. The researchers determined that those who scored highly on this measure were also found to have characteristics similar to those outlined in the current clinical definition of social paranoia. The Social Paranoia Scale contains 20 items. A sample item is Someone has it in for me.Response options range from 1 (very slightly or not at all like me) to 5 (extremely like me). Cronbach’s alpha for this scale equaled .924.

The Workplace Incivility Scale(WIS). According to Cortina, Magley, Williams, and Langhout (2001), the Workplace Incivility Scale was found to be highly reliable. A sample item of the WIS is Made demeaning rude or derogatory comments about you. The workplace incivility scale contains 7 items each with Likert-type response scale options ranging from 1 (not at all) to 5 (very often) (Kain, 2008). The WIS is scored by adding corresponding values of the response options chosen. Higher scores suggest more severe experiences of workplace incivility. The WIS was found to have a Cronbach’s alpha value of .854.

The Perceived Stress Scale (PSS). Cohen, Kamark, and Mermelstein (1983) explained that the perceived stress scale (PSS) is a 14-item measure that assesses the ability to manage general stressors. An item from the PSS is In the last month, how often have you been upset because of something that happened unexpectedly. The scale contains response options ranging from 0 (Never) to 4 (Very Often). The PSS is scored by adding the total values of the response options. Cohen, Kamarak, and Mermelstein (1983) found the PSS to be highly reliable. In the current study, the PSS was found to have a Cronbach’s alpha value of .850.

The General Health Questionnaire(GHQ). The General Health Questionnaire (GHQ) comes in various forms. The version of the GHQ used in this study contains 12 items with a response scale ranging from 1 (Less than usual) to 4 (much more than usual) (Goldberg & Blackwell, 1970). The GHQ contains items such as Lost much sleep and Felt that you are playing a useful part in things. Higher scores on the GHQ indicate better general health quality. In the present study, the Cronbach’s alpha for the GHQ was .879.


The survey was created using SurveyMonkey. The link to the survey was posted on Amazon.com’s Mechanical Turk website as a weblink. A consent form detailing the purpose of the study was given to the participants before they completed it. Participants were informed that one dollar would be placed in their Amazon payments account as compensation for taking the survey. The participants were invited to take a survey that was being conducted to examine the effects of workplace bullying. Because the Negative Acts Questionnaire (NAQ) measures workplace-bullying incidences within the last 6 months, participants were first asked if they had been employed within this time frame. Only those individuals who answered “yes” were invited to complete the entire survey package (n=102). Those that answered “no” were only asked general personal questions. Mean scores for the scales were computed in order to learn of the overall psychological health of the sample. However, only variables that were relevant to the hypotheses were included in the analyses. Pearson correlational analyses were conducted in order to test the hypotheses of the current study.


The survey analysis found that 19 people had not worked within the last 6 months. These individuals were omitted from the analysis. Scores on the workplace incivility scale may range from 8 to 40. The workplace incivility score among those who had worked was somewhat low. (M=15.7, SD=5.69). Scores on the Negative Acts Questionnaire may range from 0 to 88. Scores for this scale in the present study were moderately high (M=38.65, SD=14.40). The analyses for all variables measured in this study are summarized in Table 1.

Table 1. Means for Measures Used in the Present Study

Scale Mean Standard Deviation
Workplace Incivility Scale
Bullying Intensity
Workplace Bullying Frequency
Beck Depression Inventory
General Health Questionnaire
Rosenberg Self-esteem Scale
Perceived Stress Scale
Social Anxiety Scale
Private Self-consciousness Scale
Public Self-consciousness Scale
Negative Affect Schedule
Positive Affect Schedule


The correlational analyses were conducted using continuous survey measures. All correlations were two tailed with significance found at the 0.01 level. The researcher discovered a strong correlation between workplace bullying intensity and workplace incivility (r =.658). The study surmised that as workplace-bullying intensity increases, self-esteem levels will decrease. The analysis found a significant negative correlation between these two variables (r = -.289). No significant positive correlation was found between positive affect and workplace bullying intensity (r = .110). As found in previous research and as predicted in the current study, analyses found a strong relationship between workplace incivility and depression (r = .658).
Furthermore, a positive correlation was found between workplace-bullying intensity and paranoia (r = .568). However the current study failed to find a significant correlation between workplace bullying intensity and public self-consciousness (r = .164). The results support hypotheses 1, 2, 3, and 6 but not those of 4 and 5.


The present study conducted Pearson correlational analyses and discovered the following:

  1. A positive correlation between workplace bullying intensity and workplace incivility
  2. A negative correlation between workplace bullying intensity and self-esteem
  3. A positive correlation between workplace incivility and depression
  4. D. A positive correlation between workplace bullying intensity and social paranoia

Due to the limitations of the current study, it is unclear which of these variables holds temporal precedence. Previous research addressed similar concerns. Paranoia is a symptom of a principle known as hostile attribution bias (Dodge & Newman, 1981). The researchers measured this condition in grade school children. They concluded that those who were originally highly aggressive expressed a hostile attribution bias when provided with an ambiguous stimulus. Epps and Kendall (1995) found similar results in adults. This study provides a unique prospective on the issue of workplace bullying as it suggests that people who feel they are victims of this treatment may be perceiving harassment where none exists.

Caution should be used when interpreting the other results as well. High levels of workplace bullying may be causing low self-esteem and high levels of depression. However, the converse interpretation could also be an accurate assessment of what is actually occurring. Perhaps victims with these particular traits are more likely to be bullied. The perpetrators of bullying may see these individuals as easy targets.

Several people are aware of school bullying because it is given strong media attention. However, few understand the harm caused by workplace bullying. Perhaps those who were once victims of school bullying are currently being abused at their places of employment. The researcher recommends that a longitudinal study be conducted in order to determine the extent to which developmental variables such as the onset of psychological trauma can impact mental health.


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