Bullying in context: a risk management perspective

John Dumay, Lisa Marini

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Purpose – This paper aims to outline the financial and human cost of bullying in the workplace. The authors investigate how bullying is perpetrated so that management controls to prevent bullying can be put in place, reducing financial and human costs, and the risks posed to organisations by bullying. Design/methodology/approach – The authors' study uses an exploratory on-line survey, designed from a practice perspective. The instigator is an Australian management consultancy working on managing organisational risk. The study is based on sense-making research using open-ended questions, delving into life experiences to recall potential bullying incidences in their work life. The authors then develop hypotheses from their review of the literature and compare these to the results of their survey. Findings – Most of the authors' findings contradict both academic and practitioner notions of bullying. They find that bullying happens mostly between peers rather than being perpetrated by people in positions of power over weaker colleagues, extends into all levels of the organisation, is perpetrated as part of the normal day-to-day interactions between people, rather than in special circumstances, and is often perpetrated between peers in the presence of other peers. To explain this behaviour the authors introduce the concept of “tournaments” from agency theory and the personal characteristics of perpetrators and victims. Research limitations/implications – From a management control and accounting perspective, managers controlling and accounting for bullying can also be the perpetrators and their participation in organisational politics and competitive tournaments may well be preventing the recognition and control of bullying, counter to what is good for the organisation. Originality/value – This paper's risk management approach to understanding bullying in the workplace is novel; it outlines implications from a management control and accounting perspective. It also uses the concept of “tournaments” to propose why Australian managers tend to want to “sweep the issue under the carpet” and how the authors' research methodology offers a way forward to raise awareness so bullying can become an important part of management control in organisations.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)281-301
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of human resource costing and accounting
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • Bullying
  • Financial and human cost
  • Management control and accounting
  • Managers
  • Tournaments


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