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Caught in the Cross Fire—When HR Practitioners Become Targets of Bullying

Recent studies about the prevalence of workplace bullying have confirmed that between 27 percent and 35 percent of employees in the United States report that they have been the target of bullying at work.

Although there are several studies of bullying among US employees at large, there are only a few that examine bullying and its impact among HR professionals. The most recent study found that 36 percent of the 526 practitioners responding to a LinkedIn poll reported that they had been bullied at work. In addition, a study conducted in 2008 reported a prevalence rate among HR practitioners of 80 percent.

Of the 102 HR professionals completing the study, 31.4 percent reported that they had been bullied at work. This finding was consistent with the 2009 LinkedIn poll but was significantly lower than the 2008 study.  The rates of bullying directed toward HR practitioners in this study fall within the 27–35 percent prevalence range experienced by employees at large, suggesting that HR professionals are not targeted with any greater frequency than other employees.

Participants reported experiencing bullying that fell into three major categories: (1) verbal abuse (33.3 percent), (2) offensive conduct (24.2 percent), and (3) work interference or sabotage (42.4 percent).

This survey data was probed further during the follow-up interviews. For those reporting verbal abuse, the most common bullying behaviors experienced by the HR professionals in this study included insults, yelling, screaming, cursing, “in-your-face” confrontations, and angry tirades. Offensive conduct most commonly included threats, harassment, intimidation, and a hostile work environment, as well as blaming and humiliation in front of others. Reports of work interference/sabotage included a flagrant disregard for the recommendations of the HR professional, unjustified and frequent criticism, challenging decisions in a hostile manner, negative and derogatory e-mail notes and/or verbal comments, spread of lies or rumors to discredit the HR professional, or attempts to circumvent the system by isolating them and failing to include the HR practitioner in important decisions and meetings.

Full article: Teresa A. Daniel, Published online in Employee Relations Today, Wiley Online Library ( DOI 10.1002/ert.21349

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