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Keywords:

  • workplace bullying;
  • social support;
  • social relationships;
  • women;
  • grounded theory

Abstract

This article reports a qualitative study, which investigated social processes in workplace bullying, based on in-depth interviews with ten British women professionals who were targets of workplace bullying. Data were analysed using grounded theory methods. The resulting analysis showed links between disclosures of bullying, reactions of others, and some impacts on targets' psychological health. Key themes which emerged from the data included ‘being heard’ which describes how others reacted to disclosures of bullying behaviours, and the ‘ripple effect’ which describes how bullying impacted upon targets' significant others; these predominantly describe relationships with others outside the workplace. The theme of ‘withdrawal’ describes how targets and others managed relationships within the workplace, and ‘denial’ and ‘personalizing problems’ describe how others within the workplace responded to knowledge of bullying behaviours. The theme ‘maintaining self’ describes how participants responded to changed relationships and struggled to maintain a coherent sense of self during and subsequent to bullying. This research emphasizes the role of social processes and social environments, rather than individual or personality characteristics, in explaining the development of workplace bullying and its impacts on targets. Copyright © 2004 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.