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Workplace Bullying in New Zealand Institutes of Technology and Polytechnics: Prominence, processes, and emotions

This is a study of workplace bullying in New Zealand in the higher education sector. A number of western countries, including the USA, Australia, and many European countries, have identified bullying as a serious issue and interest in the phenomenon has grown worldwide. Recently, there has been a surge of research interest in New Zealand. However, a number of important questions remain unanswered. These questions relate to the extent of bullying, the absence of a comprehensive understanding of the process as targets experience it, and the emotional experience of bullying. Therefore, the purpose of this study is to establish the extent of workplace bullying in the New Zealand context and explore the ways in which targets construct their experiences. Specifically, the research investigated three questions: (1) To what extent does workplace bullying exist in New Zealand Institutes of Technology and Polytechnics (ITPs)?, (2) How do targets construct the process of workplace bullying?, and (3) How do targets use metaphor to construct the emotional experience of bullying? Several hypotheses were tested to probe these questions further. The study uses multiple methods, including quantitative and qualitative analyses, to enable a deep and comprehensive exploration of bullying (Cowie, Naylor, Rivers, Smith, & Pereira, 2002). An internationally recognised measure, the Negative Acts Questionnaire, was used to collect quantitative data from 151 workers in half of the ITPs in New Zealand, whilst semi-structured interviews with 31 workers, from nine ITPs, gathered qualitative data. Survey findings suggested that New Zealand ITP workers experienced negative acts at a higher level when compared to European workers. Being in a low-power position did not necessarily equate to a greater likelihood of being a target. Women and men reported similar levels of bullying, whilst part-time and temporary workers reported less than full-time and permanent workers. However, Maori, the indigenous people of New Zealand, reported significantly higher levels of bullying than non-Maori workers. Results from a thematic analysis of interviews indicated that targets of bullying constructed their experiences as a complex process that typically starts and ends with a change in an already troubled workplace. During the episode of bullying, various resistance strategies are possible and these have differing degrees of success. Although complex, the process followed a pathway that was similar for all targets, regardless of the differences in their experiences and backgrounds. Targets punctuated their experiences as extending well beyond the bullying behaviours themselves. Furthermore, they discussed a range of approaches to resistance that were associated with a variety of constraints to agency (Thompson, Nalder, & Lount, 2006; Deutsch & Coleman, 2006). Targets perceived their job satisfaction as negatively affected by bullying-related behaviours, but their job performance to be unaffected. Enjoyment of, or a commitment to, the job itself appeared to mitigate the effects of bullying on performance. Targets were emphatic about the difficulties they encountered in seeking organisational support. Organisations sequestered their responsibility for managing bullying and consequently contributed to its continuation. Severing the immediate work relationship was the only way in which bullying ended, although the parting occurred in several different ways, and this finding has particular implications for management. The themes formed a process model that comprises the broad range of experiences, contexts, and outcomes, presenting a challenge and an extension to existing models. Finally, the research identified naturally occurring metaphors. These were analysed using a systematic process to explore targets’ emotional experiences of bullying. Key findings were that targets described bullying in terms of violence, madness, natural forces, desert islands, water, games and hell. Based on an analysis of these metaphors, sadness, shame, and pain, emerged as the most prominent emotions. These findings provide a contribution to the small body of research into metaphors of bullying and emotions. In addition to providing insight into New Zealand ITP-specific experiences and making a comparison with those of other in countries, the thesis adds to existing research in several ways. The development of a comprehensive model, which uses the perspectives of those who have experienced bullying and highlights the context in which it occurs, extends existing conceptualisations of the bullying process. Identification of the metaphors that are common to the experience of bullying both supports and extends existing research. Finally, construction of targets’ emotions from their metaphors extends previous research into the emotional experience of bullying and addresses certain methodological shortcomings of earlier studies.
Type of thesis
Thirlwall, A. (2011). Workplace Bullying in New Zealand Institutes of Technology and Polytechnics: Prominence, processes, and emotions (Thesis, Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)). University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10289/5537
University of Waikato
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