The Abetting Bully: Vicarious Bullying and Unethical Leadership in Higher Education

Leah P Hollis
Journal for the Study of Postsecondary and Tertiary Education  •  Volume 4  •  2019  •  pp. 001-018

The purpose of this paper is to examine the phenomena of vicarious bullying, or an abetting bully, when a bully’s subordinate is used to inflict abuse on the target. This study examines who is most affected by this multi-faceted organizational abuse in American higher education.

Workplace bullying has received international attention. Recent studies in the United States have focused on workplace bullying in higher education. However, workplace bullying emerges from an elaborate social structure. This research article brings the unique perspective of vicarious bullying for analysis.

A data collection from 729 American higher education professionals was used to answer the following three research questions which were addressed in this study: RQ1: What is the overall prevalence of vicarious bullying in American higher education? RQ2: What is the likelihood of experiencing vicarious bullying in American higher education based on gender? RQ3: What is the likelihood of experiencing vicarious bullying in American higher education based on a woman’s race? A chi-square analysis was used to examine which demographic groups are more susceptible to vicarious bullying.

This article expands the literature on workplace bullying in American higher education by considering how unethical leadership can contribute to and inspire abetting and vicarious bullies who are enabled to maintain the toxic work culture.

This article expands the literature on workplace bullying in American higher education by considering how unethical leadership can contribute to and inspire abetting and vicarious bullies who are enabled to maintain the toxic work culture.

Vicarious bullying occurs when the organization fails to curtail managerial abuse. The result is higher turnover for women employees. Working with chief diversity officers and EEO officials can develop policies that stifle this behavior.

While workplace bullying has gained international attention, the organizational behavior of vicarious bullying is a unique organizational perspective that warrants further study.

Data confirm that women are more likely to leave their organizations to avoid workplace bullying. Women’s departures weaken an organization when they take their insight and knowledge with them.

Future research can consider the relationship between ethical leadership at the department level and executive level of higher education, and how that might have an impact on the prevalence of workplace bullying.

higher education, workplace bullying, vicarious bullying, gender, race
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