• attribution;
  • bullying;
  • gender;
  • harassment;
  • perception

The aim of this study is to analyse the significance of gender for whether non-observing third parties label negative behaviour as bullying, what they perceive to be the likely consequences and how they explain the occurrence of negative behaviour. This was accomplished by analysing 293 respondents' qualitative replies to three different versions of a case description of bullying with different target–perpetrator configurations. The results indicate that the gender of the target, the gender of the perpetrator and the gender of the non-observing third party all were important for whether negative behaviour was perceived as bullying. In addition, whereas men to a higher degree than women conceptualized bullying as an individual problem, women to a greater extent conceptualized it as an organizational problem and more strongly emphasized both organizational antecedents and organizational consequences. The implications that these gender differences in perceptions have for human resource management are discussed.