This qualitative study explored the way in which Human Resource (HR) professionals describe the phenomenon of workplace bullying—and how they distinguish bullying from situations where a manager is simply operating as a "tough boss." In-depth interviews were conducted with HR practitioners working in the United States, and followed a semi-structured format. The data were analyzed based on constructivist grounded theory methodology, using constant comparative analysis.
Specifically, the participants described workplace bullies as typically being unfair and inconsistent, subject to frequent emotional outbursts, misusing their power and authority, and operating with a personally-motivated focus (often without regard to the legitimate business interests of their organization). Their actions at work were interpreted as being predominantly negative , including: intimidation, threats, exploitation, control, humiliation/embarrassment, a failure to communicate, manipulation, ostracizing or ignoring employees, engaging in a pattern of obstructive behavior, and gossiping or spreading rumors.
Conversely, participants described "tough bosses" as typically being objective and fair, self-controlled, results-oriented, and organizationally-focused. Their actions at work were interpreted as predominantly positive, including: interactive, two-way communication, mentoring and tutoring their subordinates, and engaging in fair and honest conflict intended to resolve issues and problems in the best interest of their organization.
As a result of these findings, a new theory—expressed as a conceptual model—was developed which suggested that it is the presence or absence of malice that is determinative in the evaluation of whether or not a conflict situation at work is workplace bullying.
Key words: bully, workplace bully, workplace bullying, mobbing, malice, constructivist grounded theory