This study reports on the development and revision of an instrument to measure the relationship between workplace bullying and envy, as reported by the perpetrator of bullying. In the pilot study, referred to as Phase A, measures of workplace bullying, direct envy and indirect envy were developed. The constructs of envy and bullying were captured without the undesirable labels of ‘bullying’ and ‘envy’. The pilot instrument was administered to a random sample of 200 employees. A total of 74 questionnaires were returned, resulting in a 37% response rate. Psychometric analysis included Cronbach’s alpha and exploratory factor analysis. Written participant feedback was sought on question clarity and construct validity. The results indicated that the envy and bullying subscales had satisfactory internal reliability and construct validity and that the indirect participant-character methodology was the preferred measure of envy for the affect of anger. The relationship between envy and workplace bullying was investigated using Pearson product moment correlation coefficients. Results showed a positive relationship between envy and informal bullying. It was concluded that the instrument was a reliable and valid self-reported measure of envy and workplace bullying.
The pilot instrument was adapted in Phase B of the study to improve its psychometric properties. Using the revised instrument, self-reported data on envy and workplace bullying were collected from a population of Australian workers in nursing, teaching and electrical trades. There were 1545 questionnaires distributed. A total of 413 usable questionnaires were returned, giving a response rate of 27%. Psychometric analysis included Cronbach’s alpha and confirmatory factor analysis. Gossip related behaviours were found to be related to a different construct than ‘bullying’ and these items were deleted from the analysis. A one way between-groups analysis of variance (ANOVA) with post hoc tests was performed to explore the impact of industry (nursing, teaching and electrical trades) on bullying scores. Results showed small yet significant between-industry differences for informal bullying, with significant moderate differences for total bullying.
In Phase B of the study, the relationship between envy and workplace bullying was investigated for the sample (N = 413) and ‘high anger’ envy groups, using Pearson product moment correlation coefficients. ‘High anger’ was not measured as ‘overt aggression’, but as envious anger felt toward the possessor of superior traits. The major findings from this research were that envy had a positive significant (p < .05) relationship with all types of workplace bullying: informal bullying, formal bullying and total bullying. Further, the correlations between envy and all types of workplace bullying were found to increase for ‘high anger’ groups. Large (r > .70) significant (p < .05) correlations were found for some of the highest anger groups. As envious anger increased, the strength of the correlation between envy and workplace bullying increased.
An important finding to emerge from this research was that it is the psychoanalytic view of envy, marked by a ‘feeling of envious anger at the possessor of superior traits’, which was most associated with all types of workplace bullying. The results demonstrated that the self-report study managed to overcome some of the methodological challenges of studying bullying from the perspective of the perpetrator and of measuring undesirable concealed emotions such as envy.
Several recommendations for future research and preventative workplace practice arose from the findings of this study. Future research should apply the objective methodology employed in this study to longitudinal self-reported studies. Such studies could provide insight into whether bullying is a static or an escalating process. Related to this, future studies need to investigate why bullying, as reported by the perpetrators of bullying in this study, is either not deterred by organisations or not formally reported by targets. The role of organisations in monitoring and preventing workplace bullying and the apparent inadequacy of workplace bullying policies and internal grievance processes warrant further research.
There needs to be greater awareness of the potential for organisations to elicit [harmful] envy through workplace ‘rewards’. Investigation of the ‘progression of envious feelings’ at work may assist organisations to mitigate the escalation of envious feelings toward anger, which was found to be most associated with workplace bullying in this study. Importantly, organisations need to be aware of the potential for rewarded and talented workers to become targets of workplace bullying. As such, further workplace research is needed on narcissists, who envy those who receive more attention, praise or acknowledgement than themselves (Australian Government Department of Employment and Workplace Relations, 2007). Given the ubiquitousness of envy reported on in this study, the ‘spectrum’ of narcissistic tendencies in the general population (Foster & Campbell, 2007) should be measured.