The Influence of Personality Traits on the Relationship between Bullying at Work, Health Complaints and Absenteeism

M. Pouwelse, H. Populaire, T. Völlink

    Research output: Contribution to conferencePosterAcademic


    Aim: Bullying and harassment at work is widespread and could have negative effects on both the victims and the organizations in which it occurs. Literature about the influence of the personality of the victims on health outcomes is scarce. Starting from the Michigan Stress Model (Caplan, Cobb, French, Pinneau, & Van Harison, 1975), we investigated the relationships between the Big Five personality traits, being bullied at work, physical health complaints and absenteeism. Bullying is defined in this paper as the repeated, systematic, intentional negative behavior of one or more individuals directed at another individual (Olweus,1993). A distinction was made between person-related bullying, e.g. giving names, insulting and gossiping, and work-related bullying, e.g. giving unreasonable deadlines or too much or too few work. We expected victimization to have a significant positive relationship with health complaints and absenteeism. Personal traits were assumed to moderate both relationships. Method: An online survey with validated self-report questionnaires among 2650 Belgian government employees (age range 18-65, response rate = 41%, 36 % male, 64 % female) was conducted. Bullying was measured with the Negative Acts Questionnaire (NAQ, α= .92), the personality traits with the NEO-Five Factor Inventory (NEO-FFI, α= .88 - .94 ), physical health complaints with the Dutch version (VOEG) of the Questionnaire Research Experienced Health (α= .88) and absenteeism with one item of Questionnaire Organizational Stress-D (VOS-D). Results and conclusions: Hierarchical regression analysis showed that both work-related bullying and person-related bullying influenced reported physical health negatively. Contrary to our hypothesis the personality traits did not moderate this relationships. A correlation was found between person-related (but not work-related) bullying and absenteeism: victimized employees were more absent compared to non-victimized colleagues. The personality trait openness moderated this relationship. Opposite to our expectations the relation between being bullied and absenteeism was stronger for employees who score high on openness. In addition it was found that the personality traits neuroticism and conscientiousness partly mediated the relationship between being bullied (total bullying) and health complaints, but not that between being bullied and absenteeism. Those correlations are positive: being bullied is related with higher scores on neuroticism and conscientiousness and with more health complaints. These results illustrate the need for future studies into the influence of personality traits on the effects of bullying on victims and show the relevance of the difference between person-related and work-related bullying. Caplan, R.D., Cobb, S., French, J.R.D., Pinneau, Jr, S.R. & Van Harison, R. (1975) Job demands and worker health; main effects and occupational differences. Cincinnati, OH. National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (publication 75-168). Olweus, D. (1993) Bullying at school: What we know and what we can do. Malden: Blackwell.
    Original languageEnglish
    Publication statusPublished - 2014
    Event9th International Conference on Workplace Bullying and Harassment : Promoting Dignity and Justice at work - Università degli Studi di Milano - State University of Milan (Italy), Milan, Italy
    Duration: 17 Jun 201420 Jun 2014


    Conference9th International Conference on Workplace Bullying and Harassment
    Abbreviated titleIAWBH
    Internet address


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