American Journal of Industrial and Business Management, 2013, 3, 33-38 Published Online October 2013 ( 33
Are Rational Self-Interested Leadership Behaviors
Contributing to the Workplace Bullying Phenomenon in
Canada and the United States?
Lisa M. S. Barrow1*, Sandy Kol berg2, Jim Mirabella3, Annette Roter4
1Goodman School of Business, Brock University, St. Catharines, Canada; 2School of Management, Walden University, Minneapolis,
USA; 3Operations Management & Statistics, Jacksonville University, Jacksonville, USA; 4Dahl School of Business, Viterbo Univer-
sity, La Crosse, USA.
Email: *,,,
Received September 10th, 2013; revised September 28th, 2013; accepted October 3rd, 2013
Copyright © 2013 Lisa M. S. Barrow et al. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution Li-
cense, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
Workplace bullying is a phenomenon in American and Canadian organizations that has been ignored for many years
and as a result targeted employees are suffering [1-3]. Workplace bullying is at epidemic proportions with little done to
address the issue. The workplace for bullied employees has become an uncivilized and hostile environment [4]. Leaders
who embrace a rational self-interested approach to leading are contributing to the workplace bullying phenomenon.
Using Chi Square tests of independence, the study was conducted to determine the extent to which rational self-inter-
ested leaders rely on bullying behaviors when interacting with employees. Three hundred fifty-five employees were
asked to complete a survey consisting of fifteen bullying behavior statements. The results of the Chi Square tests indi-
cate a significant relationship exists between employee demographics vs. certain bullying behaviors associated with
threats to personal standing, professional status and destabilization. The results further reveal that rational self-inter-
ested leaders are relying on bullying in three areas: threat to personal standing, threat to professional status and destabi-
lization. It was also noted that if the rational self-interest leader did not make changes the problem of workplace bully-
ing would continue to escalate. The recommendation was that rational self-interested leaders could benefit by changing
their perspective on employees to include more personal and humane treatment, rewards, and recognition.
Keywords: Leadership; Bullying; Leaders; Workplace Bullying; Leadership Behaviors
1. Introduction
Workplace bullying is a prevalent phenomenon in Ame-
rican and Canadian workplaces. It is the systemic perse-
cution of employees [4]. Workplace bullying is a coun-
terproductive behavior [5]. An estimated 37 percent of
employees were subjected to ongoing bullying behavior
[6]. With bullying at an epidemic level, the time has
come for organizational leaders to take the necessary
steps to address the issue.
Leaders can begin to address workplace bullying by
examining their personal interactions with employees to
determine if their attitudes and behavior are contributing
to the problem. The leaders can further explore their
adopted leadership approaches to determine if they are
helping to promote bullying behaviors in the workplace.
A review of the literature revealed leaders who embrace
rational self-interest leadership approaches appear more
apt to resort to bullying behaviors than leaders who em-
brace other-oriented leadership approaches [7].
Given the severity of the workplace bullying problem
and the literature finding around rational self-interest
leadership, the research for the current article centered on
the rational self-interest leader behavior and its effect on
employees. Rational self-interest behavior is defined as
“thinking and acting in a manner that is expected to lead
to an optimal or maximum result for a person on the ba-
sis of consideration of the person’s values and risk pref-
erences” (p. 946) [8]. Because relationships are seen as
transactional in nature and void of emotion, rational self-
interested leaders rely on systematic reasoning to ensure
that their personal goals are met. Rational self-interested
leaders tend to concern themselves with organizational
objectives coupled with a self-emphasis [7].
*Corresponding a uthor.
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. AJIBM
Are Rational Self-Interested Leadership Behaviors Contributing to the Workplace Bullying Phenomenon
in Canada and the United States?
Unlike rational self-interested leaders, other-oriented
leaders focus their attention on organizational objectives
coupled with a human resource emphasis [7]. Other-ori-
ented leaders rely on the internalization, adherence and
enforcement of societal norms rather than systematic
reasoning [9]. Other-oriented leaders embrace prosocial
behaviors that promote and uphold the value of employ-
2. The Rational Self-interested Leader and
Transactional Leadership
Transactional leadership is an example of a leadership
approach that projects self-interest by nature. Transac-
tional leadership focuses on the exchange between lead-
ers and followers, with both parties receiving something
of value [10]. The employees perform tasks and leaders
monetarily reward them for their efforts. Transactional
leaders as those leaders who do not focus on the individ-
ual needs of their followers; rath er they look to exch ange
things of value to advance their own and their followers’
agendas [11]. Transactional leaders use positive and
negative motivation. Positive mot ivation focu ses on prai-
se, promise and rewards. Negative motivation focuses on
negative feedback, threats or disciplinary action [12].
Transactional leaders avoid taking positive action as
long as the goals of the organization are being met [13,
14]. They use either contingent awards or management
by exception. Contingent awards focus on the exchange
of rewards for meeting goals or objectives. Management
by exceptio n foc use s on neg ative f eedb ack an d co rr ec tiv e
action, a punitive app roach to management [11]. In other
cases of management by exception, leaders take a hands-
off approach and avoid leading.
With transactional leadership, the transaction becomes
more important than the employees wellbeing. Leaders
are not interested in nurturing and preserving relation-
ships with employees; they are interested in ensuring that
tasks are completed in order to achieve d esired outcomes.
This myopic view of the leader-employee relationship
sets the foundation for toxic interactions, as preserving
the humanness and dignity of employees is not a priority
3. Workplace Bullying
Workplace bullying is a chronic stressor, which nega-
tively affects employees and organizations [15]. Bullying
is the reliance on repetitive hostile or aggressive behaviors,
which offend, humiliate, and harass targeted individuals,
thus causing them significant stress [15]. Workplace
bullying is repetitive, abu sive behavior that devalues and
harms people in the work environment [1]. Workplace
bullying is not limited to one individual but can include
groups, even functioning organizational units [16].
Workplace bullying has a devastating effect on the in-
dividual and the organization [17]. It intimidates and
torments the targeted individual, putting his or her self-
esteem and overall health at risk [1,18]. Workplace bul-
lying i s an extrem e social p henomeno n that is triggered by
social stressors and social defeats that cause negative bio
psychosocial stress reactions and health hazards for the
targeted individuals [19]. It is a form of stress at work
caused by repeated, systematic exposure to negative acts
[20]. Work plac e bul ly ing i s a si gnifi can t h ealt h and safety
issue that occurs between leaders, managers, coworkers
and employees. It is prevalent across industries and at all
levels within the organizational structure. No one is ex-
empt from experiencing workplace bullying.
Bullies often have a desire to dominate their relation-
ships and are controlling and manipulative [21]. Bullies
tend to display little compassion toward targeted indi-
viduals and rely on exploitative behavior as a way of
dominating t he relationshi ps t hey have with others. When
bullying occurs in the workpl ace, it is difficult for targeted
individuals to stop the behavior [22]. Targeted employees
are often not aware of the bullying until an extended pe-
riod of time has passed. They suspect that something is
wrong yet may not understand that what they are experi-
encing is being bullied [1 ].
4. Method
A quantitative method utilizing a correlational design
was used in the study to determine the extent to which
rational self-interested leaders rely on bullying behaviors
when interacting with employees. The participants were
355 American and Canadian employees employed in a
variety of industries such as healthcare, manufacturing,
financial, retail, public service, and education. Data were
collected over an 8-month period using an onlin e survey.
The Research Ethics Board at Brock University approv ed
the study. Participation was voluntary. Due to the sensi-
tive nature of the topic, participants’ identity remained
anonymous. Participants prov ided consent by completin g
and submitting the survey.
Participants indicated their gender, age, employment
status and length of service. These data were collected to
determine to what extent employees may experience
bullying behaviors based on their gender and age [23].
Data were also collected to see if a relationship existed
between demographics and their length of service and
employment status as the literature is devoid of analysis
pertaining to the variables as they relate to workplace
bullying. Eighty percent of the participants were women.
Forty-five percent of the participants were between the
ages of 46 and 65 years old. Forty-one percent were be-
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. AJIBM
Are Rational Self-Interested Leadership Behaviors Contributing to the Workplace Bullying Phenomenon
in Canada and the United States? 35
tween the ages of 31 and 45 years old and 14% wer e be-
tween the ages of 18 and 30 years old. Eighty-six percent
were full-time employees and 14% were part-time em-
ployees. Fifty-six percent had a length of service between
1and 10 years and 44% had a length of service between
11and 30 ye ars.
A workplace interaction online survey was created us-
ing The survey consisted of 15
statements (See Table 1) representing common bullying
behaviors [24]. Using a 5-point Likert type scale rating
from Strongly Disagree (1) to Strongly Agree (5), par-
ticipants were asked to rate bullying behaviors based on
their experiences. The categories for bullying behaviors
1) Threat to Professional Status: humiliating the per-
son in public or sabotaging the person’s work.
2) Threat to Personal Standing: name calling, spread-
ing malicious rumors about a person, teasing or intimi-
dating a person.
3) Isolation: preventing access to opportunities or iso-
lating the person physically or socially.
4) Overwork: imposing undue pressure to produce
work and setting impossible deadlines.
5) Destabilization: failing to give cred it where it is due,
failure to acknowledge or reward, assigning meaningless
tasks, removing responsibility or settin g the person up for
Some of the statements refer to co-workers because
employees often mimic the behavior that their leaders
display. Leaders will subtly encourage employees to in-
teract with targeted individuals in the same manner that
they do. The mimicking behavior is known as mobbing,
which occurs when individuals experience harassment by
leaders and colleagues causing them to be socially ex-
cluded at work [25].
Table 1. Fifteen bullying behavior statements.
I have been publicly humiliated and embarrassed by a supervisor o
My boss constantly watches me.
I have been ostracized at work.
I have been regula rly d enied pr omo tions even though I was qualified f o
the position.
I have been teased at work.
I have been physically assaulted or received threats of assault at work.
My work has been sabotaged.
I am not acknowledged nor rewarded for doin g a good job.
I have not received credit for work I have completed.
My boss displays intimidating behavior towards me, such as yelling &
tempers tantrums.
I am regularly assigned meaningless tasks or less desirable tasks.
I am often talked to in a sarcastic manner and often feel “put down”.
I am regularly given unreasonable deadlines.
Abusive or degr ading language is often used by my boss or c o -worker.
I have been the target of malicious rumors.
Source: Workplace Interaction Survey, 2009.
5. Results
To answer the research question, “What is the likelihood
that American and Canadian employees will experience
workplace bullying?” four hypotheses were tested to de-
termine if there is a relationship between having experi-
enced bullying behavior vs. the employee’s age group,
gender, employment status and length of service. A Chi
Square test of independence was performed for each hy-
pothesis. The results of the Chi Square tests indicate a
significant relationship exists between employee demo-
graphics vs. certain bullying behaviors associated with
threats to personal standing, professional status and de-
For the statement “I have been the target of malicious
rumors”, which is a threat to one’s personal standing,
Tables 2-4 show the cross tabulation of the Likert type
responses vs. employee age, gender and length of service.
Table 2. Rumors vs. age cross tabulations.
18 - 30 31 - 45 46 - 65 Total
Strongly Disagree 32 45 56 133
Disagree 11 45 35 91
Undecided 2 17 14 33
Agree 1 20 28 49
Strongly Agree 3 17 27 47
Total 49 144 160 353
Note: Pearson Chi Square = 27.216, Sig. level = 0.001**.
Table 3. Rumors vs. gender cross tabulations.
Male Female Total
Strongly Disagree 29 104 133
Disagree 13 78 91
Undecided 12 21 33
Agree 6 43 49
Strongly Agree 12 34 46
Total 72 280 352
Note: Pearson Chi Square = 10.337, Sig. level = 0.035*.
Table 4. Rumors vs. length of service c r o ss-tabulations.
0 - 1
year 2 - 10
years 11 - 20
years 21+
years Total
Strongly Disagree23 65 25 20 133
Disagree 8 40 27 16 91
Undecided 2 13 13 5 33
Agree 2 23 16 8 49
Strongly Agree 3 18 12 14 47
Total 38 159 93 63 353
Note: Pearson Chi Square = 21.036, Sig. level = 0.049*.
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. AJIBM
Are Rational Self-Interested Leadership Behaviors Contributing to the Workplace Bullying Phenomenon
in Canada and the United States?
While about one-third of the oldest group agreed with
the statement regarding rumors; one-fourth of the middle
group also agreed, and less than one-tenth of the youngest
group agreed. The results imply that the longer one is in
the workplace, the more likely he/she will experience
being the target of malicious rumors.
Whereas a similar percentage of men and women
agreed that they experienced rumors, a significantly lar-
ger group of women disagreed while more men were
undecided as to whether they experienced malicious ru-
mors (See Table 3). It can be concluded that experienc-
ing malicious rumors is gender-neutral; while men are
more likely to be uncertain or noncommittal as to
whether it is true.
As with age, the employees with a longer length of
service were more inclined to have been the targets of
malicious rumors (See Table 4 ). There was n o indication
when the experience may have occurred during one’s
employment. Given time, an employee’s chances of be-
ing the target of rumors grows, as evidenced by 13% of
the newer employee group agreeing, vs. 26% of the 2 -
10 years group, vs. 30% of the 11 - 20 years group vs.
35% of the 2 1+ years group.
For the statement “I have been publicly h umiliated and
embarrassed by a supervisor or coworkers,” which is a
threat to one’s professional status, Tables 5-6 show the
cross tabulation of the Likert-type responses vs. em-
ployee status and length of service.
Table 5. Public humiliation vs. employment status cross
Full-time Part-time Total
Strongly Disagree 59 10 69
Disagree 77 17 94
Undecided 16 0 16
Agree 83 3 86
Strongly Agree 66 7 73
Total 301 37 338
Note: Pearson Chi Square = 12.816, Sig. level = 0.012*.
Table 6. Public humiliation vs. length of service cross tabu-
0 - 1
year 2 - 10
years 11 - 20
years 21+
years Total
Strongly Disagree 14 36 11 11 72
Disagree 10 39 28 19 96
Undecided 5 8 4 2 19
Agree 5 44 26 14 89
Strongly Agree 5 32 24 18 79
Total 39 159 93 64 355
Note: Pearson Chi Square = 21.209, Sig. level = 0.047*.
While about half of the full-time employees agreed
with the statement regard ing humiliation , only abou t one-
fourth of the part-time employees also agreed. The im-
plication is that the more time one spends in the work-
place, the more likely he/she will experience public hu-
miliation from supervisors or co-workers. The finding
could also be attributed to the fact that a part-time em-
ployee is not likely to remain with the company as long
as a full-time employee.
Similar to the statement about rumors, the employees
with a longer length of service were more inclined to
have been the targets of public humiliation at the hands
of their bosses and co-workers (See Table 6). The find-
ing makes sense since more time on the job presents
greater opportunities for such bullying. While about one-
fourth of the newer employee group had a public hu-
miliation experience, half of t he 21+ years group also di d.
For the statement “I am not acknowledged nor re-
warded for doing a good job,” which is a destabilization
behavior, Table 7 shows the cross tabulation of the
Likert type responses vs. employee status.
The test results revealed th at full-time employees were
more likely than part-time employees to feel they were
not acknowledged or rewarded for their job performance.
When employees are not acknowledged or rewarded,
employees become demotivated and may not want to
contribute to the organizational efforts. Subsequently,
employees may begin to disengage from the organization,
resulting in a decrease in organizational commitment and
an increase in efforts to exit the company [22,26]. Part-
time employees are not typically eligible for rewards, and
so may be less inclined to feel troubled by not being ac-
knowledged or rewarded for their efforts.
6. Discussion
Evidence from the results of the study support the prem-
ise that American and Canadian employees who interact
with rational self-interested leaders will likely experience
behaviors that are associated with workplace bullying. In
the rational self-interested leaders’ efforts to achieve de-
Table 7. Acknowledgement/reward vs. employment status
cross tabulations.
Full-time Part-time Total
Strongly Disagree 66 11 77
Disagree 79 14 93
Undecided 42 3 45
Agree 76 2 78
Strongly Agree 35 7 42
Total 298 37 335
Note: Pearson Chi Square = 10.283, Sig. level = 0.036*.
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. AJIBM
Are Rational Self-Interested Leadership Behaviors Contributing to the Workplace Bullying Phenomenon
in Canada and the United States? 37
sired organizational and personal outcomes and to uphold
their personal value, they may seek to devalue employees
by threatening their professional status and personal
standing. The rational self-interested leaders may rely on
public humiliation and rumors to ensure that targeted
employees are not identified as valuable contributors to
the organization. Rational self-interested leaders may
further seek to devalue employees by not acknowledging
and rewarding them for their positive work performance,
which confirms the leaders’ belief that the targeted em-
ployees are of little value to the organization and are not
worthy of receiving positive reinforcement. By adopting
bullying be haviors, th e rational self-interested leaders are
personally contributing to the creation of a hostile work
environment, which will inevitably negatively affect both
the targeted employees and the organization’s overall
effectiveness. Employees most likely to experience bul-
lying are full-time, employees who have been with the
organization for a long period of time as evidenced by
the findings of the study. More likely than not long term
employees’ professional status and personal standing will
be threatened as rational self-interested leaders seek to
harm and devalue them. Regardless of the employees’
positive job performance, their efforts may not be ac-
knowledged or rewarded. Employees who are neither
acknowledged nor rewarded for their efforts may begin
to adopt negative attitudes about themselves and the or-
ganization. The negativity experienced by the targeted
employees could affect their ability to positiv ely contrib-
ute to the organization putting the employees at risk of
disciplinary action and possible job loss. The negative
outcomes could be in alignment with the rational self-
interested leaders’ agenda and could have a devastating
effect on targeted employees and further reduce organ-
izational productivity. Finally, the negative interactions
observed by part-time employees may cause them not to
seek full-time employment status for fear of becoming
targets of workplace bullying. The part-time employees
may further decide not to contribute to the organization
at their fullest potential because th eir efforts are likely to
go unnoticed and unrewarded. Workplace bullying has a
domino negative effect on full-time employees, part-time
employees as well as organizations. Organizations may
lose valuable and talented employees as a result of bul-
lying behaviors that exist. Not only will organizations
lose talented employees, they will carry the financial
burden of replacing such individuals. Employees, who
leave the workplace due to negative interactions, either
involuntarily or voluntarily, cost American companies
billions of dollars per year. Stress, loss in productivity
and replacement of employees are contributing factors to
the indirect and direct costs incurred by organizations.
7. Conclusion
Rational self-interested leaders contribute to the work-
place bullying phenomenon by relying on behaviors that
threaten the employees’ personal standing, professional
status and are destabilizing. The workp lace bullying phe-
nomenon will continue to increase if rational self-inter-
ested leaders continue to embrace attitudes and behaviors
that devalue employees and do not uphold their human-
ness. Rational self-interested leaders seeking to lead
successfully in the 21st century will need to restrain their
bullying behaviors and embrace behaviors that are pro-
social and other-oriented. Bullying behaviors are learned
behaviors indicating that rational self-interested leaders
may need to learn how to incorporate more positive be-
haviors in their interactions with employees. In choosing
positive choices of action, rational self-interested leaders
will need to explore their pre-existing knowledge of
workplace bullying and engage in meaningful learning
that occurs at the conceptual level [27]. Addressing
workplace bullying in a proactive manner will set the
foundation for rational self-interested leaders to adopt
behaviors that are prosocial and other-oriented. Embrac-
ing prosocial and other-oriented behaviors will contribu te
to the eradication of bullying in the workplace and will
promote a safe and healthy work environment for all em-
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