This thesis is concerned with an aspect of workplace bullying that has hitherto been examined in limited ways. Its aim is to explore what is involved in responding to the phenomenon of workplace bullying and to develop a model encapsulating the elements of the process. In doing so, it constructs the experience of responding as more than the enactment of various strategies. It therefore seeks to explore the relevance or otherwise of processes involving the integration of core assumptions of the self that have been threatened as a result of bullying. The research aims to locate response processes in their context by examining influential and inhibiting factors to such processes, including those connected with occupational parameters. It incorporates the importance of perceptions of and attributions about the phenomenon and the 'processual' dimensions, all of which are integral to the experience of workplace bullying. Furthermore, given the limited existing Australian research on bullying, the micro-processes of responding will be contextualised with an exploration of the dimensions of the problem as a whole.
The study positions itself in the social services sector and utilises a dual stage methodology. In stage one, 454 social service workers participated in a survey exploring understandings and dimensions of the experience of bullying. This provides a descriptive backdrop of the kinds of experiences in this industry group leading to processes of response. It also provides a sample for the second stage, being in-depth interviews with thirteen workers. These interviews explore response processes and their influential and inhibiting contextual factors. The methodology aims to incorporate the subjectivity, multi-dimensionality, complexity and the influence of occupational parameters in bullying experiences. The findings are integrated into the formulation of a model depicting what is involved in responding to this workplace problem.
The research concludes that responding to bullying involves more than just the utilisation of strategies. Indeed, this constitutes one element interacting with another that centres on the creation of understandings or meanings around the phenomenon. This second element is crucial to the experience of bullying as a whole and to the responding process and is intimately connected with the subjectivity of this workplace problem. It is also linked with the integration of core shattered assumptions of the self. The culminating model can be utilised as a foundation for further exploration of response processes using larger and more diverse samples. Findings from both methods of this research also underpin considerations for the future development of approaches for counsellors working with people in bullying, for those actually in the experience and for organisations. This thesis ends with implications for future research into this workplace phenomenon.