Workplace Harassment Can’t Simply be Blamed on Personality Clashes

By Stephen M. Pfeiffer, Ph.D.

It may be easier to say that harassment in the workplace is due solely to personality clashes – that person A and person B simply have two conflicting personality types. It’s not that simple, however. In most cases, the cause of harassment is the workplace itself; it’s the


the people are working in, not the people.

Dr. Michelle Tuckey of the University of South Australia (UniSA) published her findings earlier this year in the British Psychological Society’s

Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology


According to Dr. Tuckey’s conclusions, more research needs to be done as to the role of the organizations involved in workplace harassment. Too often, the focus is solely on the persons involved (victim and harasser). Dr. Tuckey stresses the importance of this further research because of the far-reaching impact that workplace harassment has.

“For individuals, adverse impacts include greater mental health problems, more physical health complaints, greater burnout and, in the worst case scenario, suicide.” Dr. Tucker also points out that the individual is not the only one affected. “Organizations also lose out – they face compensation costs, higher turnover, and lower job satisfaction and commitment to work.”

“Research shows workplace harassment is generally not an issue of personality conflicts but rather a reflection of the whole organizational system.”

This conclusion and call for more research came as a result of Dr. Tuckey and colleague Annabelle Neal’s thorough and far-reaching review of workplace harassment literature written over the last three decades.

“Eighty-five percent of studies only include information from one data source – most commonly the target or victim,” Dr. Tuckey states. “Research looking into workplace harassment from multiple perspectives, such as witnesses and supervisors, will provide a better understanding of what factors are associated with workplace harassment.”

Seeing as how up to 12% of employees may be exposed to harassment at any one time, the need for more research as to the organization’s role in enabling or preventing harassment is pertinent.

Dr. Tuckey states that, “In order to design better prevention initiatives, we need to discover more about the process involved in harassment situations.”

Ultimately, this additional research can aid in prevention, which Dr. Tuckey believes is most vital. “Prevention needs to take place at a number of levels. Organizations must have a clear bullying and harassment policy, and clear channels for resolving conflict before it escalates. In addition, senior management should build a culture that reinforces respectful behavior and gives workers a voice to quickly resolve threats to mental health and well-being.”

Harassment in the workplace should not be tolerated by the individual or the organization. For more information on harassment, bullying, or stress in the workplace, please feel free to contact me at

or at my website