Walking the Tightrope: Workplace Bullying and the Human Resource Professional



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Human resource professionals have extensive involvement in workplace bullying situations and workplace bullying research is not reflective of their experience. This study sought to better understand how HR professionals understood and defined bullying, how they made sense of bullying situations and their position in them, and how policies associated with bullying activities were understood and utilized. Using qualitative methods, the findings indicate that HR professionals define and understand bullying as targets do, except they differed in what elements actually turn bullying behaviors into a situation they would label as "bullying." They also felt that addressing and dealing with bullying was complicated due to its definitional state and their low power position. Still, they felt they took complaints of bullying very seriously and acted in these situations. The HR professionals also made sense of how and why bullying happened by pointing to issues like management style, conflict skills, and personality clashes. Additionally, the roles they played in bullying situations were marked by contradiction and paradox and equated to ?walking a tightrope?. Although many felt their organizations had policies that addressed bullying, it was found that most were ambiguous in regards to bullying or did not mention it at all. This study suggests a number of implications for both theory and practice. The findings also point to many necessary areas of future research which could further our understanding of workplace bullying and where organizations in the U.S. formally stand on the issue.