Bullying and Harassment as a Consequence of Workplace Change in the Australian Civil Service: Investigating the Mediating Role of Satisfaction With Change Management

AuthorBjorn Kleizen,Jan Wynen,Jan Boon,Jolijn de Roover
Published date01 March 2023
Date01 March 2023
Subject MatterArticles
Review of Public Personnel Administration
2023, Vol. 43(1) 56 –79
© The Author(s) 2021
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/0734371X211036732
Bullying and Harassment as a
Consequence of Workplace
Change in the Australian Civil
Service: Investigating the
Mediating Role of Satisfaction
With Change Management
Bjorn Kleizen1, Jan Wynen1, Jan Boon1,2,
and Jolijn de Roover1
Public sector organizations frequently restructure due to shifting management trends,
crises, and political developments. Earlier research indicates that the sometimes-drastic
reforms implemented in government strongly affect employees, causing psychosocial
effects such as frustration, stress, and negative work environments. This may in turn
increase the likelihood of severe phenomena such as workplace bullying and harassment.
It remains unclear, however, how public organizations can introduce changes while
preventing side-effects such as bullying and harassment. The goal of this article is twofold.
First, we test whether evidence on the relationship between workplace change and
bullying and harassment holds when using a large, public sector-wide sample. Second, we
investigate whether satisfaction with change management plays a mediating role. Using
cross-sectional and strata-based panel data analyses on Australian data, results indicate a
positive relationship between workplace change and workplace bullying and harassment,
but also suggest that satisfaction with change management mitigates this effect.
bullying and harassment, workplace change, change management, organizational
1University of Antwerp, Belgium
2Antwerp Management School, Belgium
Corresponding Author:
Bjorn Kleizen, Department of Political Science, Research Group Politics & Public Governance (PPG),
University of Antwerp, Faculty of Social Sciences, Sint Jacobstraat 2, Antwerpen 2000, Belgium.
Email: bjorn.kleizen@uantwerpen.be
1036732ROPXXX10.1177/0734371X211036732Review of Public Personnel AdministrationKleizen et al.
Kleizen et al. 57
Recent years have seen public organizations implementing workplace change at
breakneck speeds, for example, combining downsizing efforts following the financial
crisis with pressures toward digitalization, defragmentation, and new forms of coop-
eration with other public or private organizations (Pollitt & Bouckaert, 2017). We
know from earlier studies that intrusive workplace changes—in particular when these
changes are not supported by employees—may foster various problematic psychoso-
cial effects, ranging from uncertainty to frustration and cynicism (Oreg et al., 2011;
Qian & Daniels, 2008). When such adverse psychosocial effects are generated, it is
possible that the organization’s work environment will increasingly facilitate negative
interpersonal interactions.
There is a growing level of support that workplace change may even stimulate bul-
lying and harassment, as frustrations mount and the uncertainty brought about by
change provides opportunities for multiple forms of harassment (Baillien et al., 2019;
Hutchinson et al., 2005; Skogstad et al., 2007). Opportunities for various forms of bul-
lying and harassment increase during change transitions, with some individuals using
otherwise legitimate restructuring processes as a means of harming their targets
(D’Cruz et al., 2014; Hutchinson et al., 2005). Also, individuals may vent change-
related frustrations and stress on colleagues, subordinates, or superiors (Baillien & De
Witte, 2009; Baillien et al., 2019; Salin, 2003; Skogstad et al., 2007). In some cases,
these antagonistic behaviors may repeatedly be perpetrated against a target, causing
the behavior to develop into long-term workplace bullying and harassment (e.g.,
Baillien et al., 2019; D’Cruz, 2014; Nielsen et al., 2020; Skogstad et al., 2007).
Despite the increasing evidence supporting the existence of a link between work-
place change and workplace bullying and harassment (Baillien et al., 2019; D’Cruz
et al., 2014; Hutchinson et al., 2005; Skogstad et al., 2007), hardly any research has
been devoted to how transitioning organizations could influence the level of bullying
and harassment behavior through (change) management. A notable exception is Holten
et al. (2017), who investigate whether leadership quality could moderate the change-
bullying relationship, although their findings do not provide support for such a moder-
ating role (they instead find that leadership quality has a direct effect on bullying).
Such a lack of research is surprising when considering that workplace bullying and
harassment is both a widespread and a substantially harmful phenomenon in public
sector workplaces (D’Cruz et al., 2014; Hutchinson et al., 2005; Venetoklis & Kettunen,
2016). For instance, in the Australian federal civil service, survey results consistently
place the overall percentage of employees experiencing workplace bullying and
harassment behavior between 13% and 16% (Australian Public Service Commission
[APSC], 2019, p.58), while some regional governments even observe rates exceeding
20% (Office of the Commissioner for Public Employment, 2017). Workplace bullying
and harassment is also substantially damaging to both its victims and the organization,
as bullying and harassment has inter alia been linked to heightened anxiety, depres-
sion, sick leave, turnover, and even symptoms akin to posttraumatic stress syndrome
(e.g., Einarsen & Nielsen, 2015; Nielsen et al., 2015; Venetoklis & Kettunen, 2016).

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