Journal Article

Bullying of Social Workers: Outcomes of a Grounded Study into Impacts and Interventions

Kate van Heugten

in The British Journal of Social Work

Published on behalf of British Association of Social Workers

Volume 40, issue 2, pages 638-655
Published in print March 2010 | ISSN: 0045-3102
Published online February 2009 | e-ISSN: 1468-263X | DOI:
Bullying of Social Workers: Outcomes of a Grounded Study into Impacts and Interventions

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Workplace bullying has become recognized as a costly workplace problem that may be relatively common in the human services. However, the topic remains underexplored with respect to social workers. In the absence of discipline-specific information, relying on data derived from research with other professions can lead to untested assumptions about causes and about appropriate interventions. A qualitative study was undertaken with seventeen social workers who reported that they had been bullied in the workplace. Whilst participants had experienced significant distress and reported at least a temporary decline in work-related confidence, most considered themselves wiser as a result of their experiences and did not perceive a lasting diminishment of their professional opportunities. There were, however, exceptions to this positive outcome and these appeared to be related to discrimination against participants with minority group status. Grounded analysis led to explanatory theories that locate bullying in the context of stressful changing workplaces in which professional people experience status uncertainty, and compete for job control and respect. Conversely, prevention and intervention require the adoption of health-promoting organizational policies that foster supportive working environments and relationships.

Keywords: Social workers; workplace; bullying; social support; bystanders

Journal Article.  7060 words. 

Subjects: Social Work

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