McGregor, Frances-Louise (2015) When Is a Bully Not a Bully? A Critical Grounded Theory Approach to Understanding the Lived Experience and Organisational Implications of Being Accused of Being a Workplace Bully. Doctoral thesis, University of Huddersfield.

This research addresses the question “When is a bully not a bully?” through grounded theory using a purposive sample of volunteer participants who had been accused of workplace bullying. The aim of the study was to critically evaluate the lived experience and organisational implications of being accused of being a workplace bully, from the perspective of the (alleged) bully. The research did not set out to consider if an (alleged) bully had been guilty or innocent of the allegation put to them; it was considered that if this was deemed a criteria by the potential participant it may reduce engagement with the study.
This study will contribute to the body of knowledge around the phenomenon of bullying and offers an insight into both research and further development of good organisational practice. Whilst the research on other parties involved in the issue and management of workplace bullying have developed, Einarsen (2014), Jenkins, Zapf, Winefield and Sarris (2012), Notelaers (2014) and Samnani and Singh (2012) express concern that research which explores and examines the perpetrator’s experience is scarce and needed as a priority in acknowledging the gap in current research and to develop a fuller understanding of the phenomena of workplace bullying.
In a qualitative study with eight participants from a particularly difficult to access group, the researcher offers an early contribution to the current gap in literature, research and understanding of the perspective of the alleged workplace bully. Participants engaged in individual, confidential, unstructured interviews with the researcher and spoke candidly about their perceptions and the impact the accusation had on them. This was then analysed, evaluated and developed through a classical grounded theory approach to develop the theoretical model guilty until proven innocent. In discussing the participants’ concerns in this model, the research widened understanding and academic knowledge and narrowed the gap of information of the (alleged) bully’s perspective. In dealing with allegations, (alleged) workplace bullies identify with concerns of feeling bullied back, emotional reactions, self-coping mechanisms and managerial responsibility and action, from which the grounded theory guilty until proven innocent emerged.
The main findings of the research emerged from the participant’s interviews; key highlights included being isolated by their organisations and subject to negative acts which would, in themselves be considered bullying behaviours. Participants then described how they would separate themselves from the organisation, despite feeling a sense of disconnected loyalty towards it. The structure of HR functions and the anti-bullying related policy had a significant influence on the negative treatment participant’s experienced, with a continual theme around the presumption the participant was guilty from the outset, by virtue of an allegation being raised. This perception was reinforced in the different way (alleged) bullies were supported and treated by their organisations from the claimants. The participants had been negatively affected by identifiable victim effect (Hamilton & Sherman, 1996), dispute-related claims (Einarsen, 1999; Keashly & Nowell, 2003) and the claimant being managed under a separate formal management procedure. The study also suggested that allegations of bullying could in themselves be a form of bullying and that there may be an element of discrimination in this on the grounds of protected characteristics.
The main recommendations consider the structure of HR functions and the need for a visible and accessible personnel element necessary to begin to balance the support available for all parties, including the alleged, the alleger, bystanders, witnesses, line managers, HR and investigation managers.
Further research, which tests the grounded theory of guilty until proven innocent with larger samples will extend and develop this study and test some of the resolutions and solutions offered.

Final thesis - McGregor.pdf - Accepted Version
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