Construct Validity in Workplace Bullying and Harassment Research

Reference work entry
Part of the Handbooks of Workplace Bullying, Emotional Abuse and Harassment book series (HWBEAH, volume 1)


In this chapter, we scrutinize the construct validity of quantitative empirical research on workplace bullying and harassment during the last 5 years. We aim to respond to the question to what degree inferences can be legitimately made from the operationalizations in workplace bullying and harassment studies to the theoretical constructs on which those operationalizations were based. After carefully studying common definitions of workplace bullying and harassment, we found that scholars are largely in agreement (up to 90%) about two definitional issues: bullying is repeated and systematic negative social behaviour that endures over a longer period of time. In the light of these two definitional characteristics, we found that construct validity in this scholarly field is largely threatened in quantitative studies. Therefore, to improve the construct validity, we suggest some strategies. For researchers using behavioural inventories, we firstly recommend employing better-informed research designs and, in particular, sampling strategies. Researchers must sample enough targets or victims of bullying to be able to profoundly go into the discourse of bullying. Secondly, we advise these researchers to categorize their focal study variable to increase its construct validity. Researchers who use primarily the self-labelling approach are appealed to use definitions that operationalize, in a similar or equivalent way, the two fundamental features explained above that are shared by an overwhelming majority of bullying definitions. In addition, we invite researchers to use equivalent response sets. Finally, we call researchers to move away from a definitionalist view on construct validity by embracing a more relationalist view on workplace bullying and harassment, enabling them to investigate the issue of construct validity in relation to neighbouring or related concepts such as workplace incivility, counterproductive workplace behaviour, abusive supervision, workplace aggression and conflicts.



This work was supported by the Research Council of Norway, Grant Number 250127.


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© Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2021

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Psychosocial ScienceUniversity of BergenBergenNorway
  2. 2.Institute for Management ResearchRadboud UniversityNijmegenThe Netherlands
  3. 3.Open University of the NetherlandsHeerlenThe Netherlands
  4. 4.Ghent UniversityGhentBelgium
  5. 5.Hubei UniversityWuhanChina
  6. 6.Kingston UniversityLondonUK

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