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Scenes from The University of Rhode Island

URI business professor believes the Miami Dolphins enabled workplace bullying

Media Contact: Ericka Tavares, 401-874-2935

KINGSTON, R.I., Nov. 13, 2013 - University of Rhode Island College of Business Administration Professor Anthony R. Wheeler has researched bullying in the workplace* and believes the Miami Dolphins organization should be held accountable for creating an environment in which bullies have thrived.

“Workplace bullies thrive in hands-off, laissez faire environments; environments such as NFL locker rooms, which are known to be players' not coaches' sanctuaries,” said Wheeler, the Spachman Professor of Human Resource Management who directs URI’s one-year master of business administration program. “People become bullies not by some personality defect but by feeling that their workplace resources are threatened. In the hyper-competitive NFL, every player works under the constant threat of resource loss, whether it’s losing a starting job, a paycheck, or their health through an injury. This is where organizational leadership and culture matter.”

Wheeler’s research has shown that if an organization tacitly approves of aggressive and bullying behaviors, that organization will get exactly those behaviors.

“Employees will do what they are rewarded for doing, and those rewards come in the form of more than just money,” Wheeler said. “Somewhere in the Dolphins organization and probably in many NFL organizations, the very leaders who now condemn Richie Incognito's reported behaviors likely knew of these behaviors and did nothing about them until Jonathan Martin left the team.”

* The interactive efforts of abusive supervision and entitlement on emotional exhaustion and co-worker abuse. Anthony R. Wheeler, Jonathon R.B. Halbesleben, and Marilyn V. Whitman. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, 2013. The British Psychological Society.

* Eating their cake and everyone else’s cake too: Resources as the main ingredient to workplace bullying. Anthony R. Wheeler, Jonathon R.B. Halbesleben, and Kristen Shanine. Business Horizons, 2010.