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SPRINGER BRIEFS IN PSYCHOLOGY

Premilla D'Cruz

Depersonalized Bullying
at Work
From Evidence to
Conceptualization
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Premilla D’Cruz

Depersonalized Bullying
at Work
From Evidence to Conceptualization

13
Premilla D’Cruz
Organizational Behaviour
Indian Institute of Management
Ahmedabad
Ahmedabad
Gujarat
India

ISSN  2192-8363 ISSN  2192-8371  (electronic)


ISBN 978-81-322-2043-5 ISBN 978-81-322-2044-2  (eBook)
DOI 10.1007/978-81-322-2044-2

Library of Congress Control Number: 2014947391

Springer New Delhi Heidelberg New York Dordrecht London

© The Author(s) 2015


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Acknowledgements

The phenomenon of depersonalized bullying unfolded through my various empirical


research projects in the field of workplace bullying and taking forward the concept
emerged naturally as the next step. Through this book, depersonalized bullying has
an opportunity to come into its own. I hope that the endeavour will not only cata-
lyze more enquiries which allow the concept to be further honed and developed but
also pave the way for appropriate interventions which address its accompanying
challenges.
No field-based study in the behavioural and social sciences can ever take off
without the willingness of people to share their experiences and perspectives and
I am indebted to all my participants for their trust and openness.
Appreciation is due to my secretary, Ankur Sumesra, who is ever dependable
and provides efficient and effective assistance.
Interactions with Shinjini Chatterjee and Nupoor Singh of Springer have been
very pleasant and encouraging. The meticulous production-related inputs by
Kavitha P. of Scientific Publishing Services are praiseworthy.
My husband and colleague, Ernesto Noronha, deserves a special mention for
cheering me on with his infinite optimism, patient understanding and practical
suggestions during the completion of this book.

v
Contents

1 The Significance of Understanding Depersonalized


Bullying at Work. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1
References. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4

2 Interpersonal Bullying at Work as the Conceptual Benchmark


for Depersonalized Bullying at Work . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7
Manifestation. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8
Targets’ Experiences. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9
Bullies’ Experiences . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10
Target Orientation. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 11
Power. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 11
Temporality. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 12
Employer Organizations. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 13
Bystanders. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 14
Theoretical Frameworks. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 14
Interventions. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 15
References. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 16

3 Experiencing Depersonalized Bullying at Work . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 21


Study I: Target Experiences. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 22
Method. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 22
Findings. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 27
Study II: Bully Experiences . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 39
Method. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 39
Findings. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 42
Conclusion. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 55
References. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 56

vii
viii Contents

4 Theorizing About Depersonalized Bullying at Work. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 59


Features of Depersonalized Bullying at Work. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 60
A Theoretical Framework of Depersonalized Bullying at Work. . . . . . . . . 64
Interventions Addressing Depersonalized Bullying at Work . . . . . . . . . . . 68
References. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 72
About the Author

Premilla D’Cruz  holds a Ph.D. in Social Sciences from the Tata Institute of Social
Sciences, Mumbai, India, and is currently Professor of Organizational Behaviour
at the Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad, India, where she teaches Micro
Organizational Behaviour and Workplace Creativity. Dr. D’Cruz’s research inter-
ests comprise workplace bullying, emotions in organizations, self and identity at
work, organizational control, and ICTs and workplaces. Her studies on workplace
bullying in the Indian context have been pioneering both in terms of geographi-
cal location and substantive issues. Dr. D’Cruz’s research has been published in
reputed peer-reviewed international journals such as International Journal of Hu-
man Resource Management, Economic and Industrial Democracy, Information and
Organization, Industrial Relations Journal, New Technology, Work and Employ-
ment and Employee Relations as well as in several authored books. She has pre-
sented key note speeches at the 2010 Work, Employment and Society Conference
(WES—­Brighton, UK) and at the 2012 Association of Industrial Relations Academ-
ics of Australia and New Zealand Conference (AIRAANZ—Gold Coast, Australia),
in addition to invited talks at Yale University and Cornell University in the USA. Dr.
D’Cruz has been a visiting research scholar at leading European and Australian uni-
versities and has been awarded (along with Ernesto Noronha) a number of multilat-
eral and bilateral research grants. She is currently the Secretary of the International
Association on Workplace Bullying and Harassment (IAWBH).

ix
About the Book

The book advances the nascent concept of depersonalized workplace bullying,


highlighting its distinctive features, proposing a theoretical framework and mak-
ing recommendations for intervention. Furthering insights into depersonalized
bullying at work is critical due to the anticipated increased incidence of the phe-
nomenon in the light of the competitive contemporary business economy which
complicates organizational survival.
Drawing on two hermeneutic phenomenological enquiries set in India focusing
on targets and bullies, the book evidences that depersonalized bullying is a socio-
structural entity that resides in an organization’s structural, processual and con-
textual design. Enacted by supervisors and managers through the engagement of
abusive and aggressive behaviours, depersonalized bullying is resorted to in the
pursuit of competitive advantage as organizations seek to ensure their continuity
and success. Given the instrumentalism associated with the world of work, tar-
gets and bullies encountering depersonalized bullying display largely ambivalent
responses to their predicament. Ironically, then, organizations’ gains in terms of
effectiveness are offset by the strains experienced by these protagonists.
The theoretical generalizability of the findings reported in the book facilitates
the development of an integrated framework of depersonalized workplace bully-
ing, laying the foundations for forthcoming empirical and measurement endeav-
ours that progress the concept.
The book recognizes that whereas primary level interventions mandate repo-
sitioning the extra-organizational environment and/or recasting organizational
goals to balance business and employee interests, secondary level and tertiary level
interventions encompass various types of formal and informal social support to
address targets’ and bullies’ interface with depersonalized bullying at work.

xi
Chapter 1
The Significance of Understanding
Depersonalized Bullying at Work

The study of workplace bullying originated in Scandinavia in the 1980s with the
work of Heinz Leymann who used the term ‘mobbing’ to describe the phenome-
non (Einarsen et al. 2011; Leymann 1996; Zapf and Einarsen 2005). As a result of
his efforts, mobbing caught the attention of the Scandinavian public, researchers,
unionists and workplace health and safety personnel (Zapf and Einarsen 2005). It
was in the 1990s that interest in the subject began in the United Kingdom (UK)
following journalist Andrea Adams’s book and documentary on ‘bullying’ at work.
Publicity about Leymann’s and Adams’s work brought awareness to the issue of
workplace mobbing and bullying in various European countries such as Austria,
Hungary, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands as well as in Australia (Einarsen
et al. 2011; Lewis et al. 2008). In the United States of America (USA, also referred
to as US), workplace bullying has received limited academic attention so far
(Lutgen-Sandvik 2005) and is only recently gathering momentum (Keashly and
Jagatic 2011), in spite of Brodsky’s report on workplace harassment published in
1976 (Einarsen et al. 2011). Concomitantly, empirical enquiries on workplace bul-
lying are now emerging from all parts of the world (Branch et al. 2013) including
the Asia-Pacific region (India, Japan, China, Singapore, New Zealand, to name a
few), Africa (South Africa, Uganda, Nigeria) and South America (Brazil, Uruguay,
Argentina, to name a few) as well as other European (France, Belgium, Spain,
Turkey, Greece, Poland, to name a few) and North American (Canada, Mexico)
nations (see, for example, Abe and Henly 2010; Ceja et al. 2012; Cooper-Thomas
et al. 2013; Cunniff and Mostert 2012; da Paixao 2012; Franco and Vasquez 2010;
Galanaki and Papalexandris 2013; MacIntosh et al. 2011; Power et al. 2013;
Sieglin 2012; Sims and Sun 2012).
Alternatively known as workplace mobbing, workplace harassment, workplace
victimization, workplace psychological terror, workplace aggression, workplace
incivility, emotional abuse at work and generalized workplace abuse (Branch
et al. 2013; Einarsen et al. 2011; Keashly and Jagatic 2011), workplace bullying

© The Author(s) 2015 1


P. D’Cruz, Depersonalized Bullying at Work, SpringerBriefs in Psychology,
DOI 10.1007/978-81-322-2044-2_1
2 1  The Significance of Understanding Depersonalized Bullying at Work

falls under the rubric of negative, dysfunctional and counterproductive workplace


behaviours (Fox and Spector 2005) and has two features that are simultaneously
ubiquitous yet distinctive. Firstly, workplace bullying is described as unethical
behaviour. Going against universal social rules of acceptability (Ramsay et al.
2011), it violates basic normative principles of utilitarianism, moral rights, dis-
tributive justice, care and virtue (LaVan and Martin 2008). Secondly, workplace
bullying is complicated by its context. Since daily attendance at work is gener-
ally mandatory, linked to the fulfilment of basic adult obligations of providing for
oneself and one’s family, workplace negativity cannot be avoided (Einarsen and
Raknes 1997; Lutgen-Sandvik 2005).
Conventionally, workplace bullying has encompassed an interpersonal level
of analysis and has been defined as ‘… harassing, offending, socially excluding
someone or negatively affecting someone’s work tasks. In order for the label bul-
lying (or mobbing) to be applied to a particular activity, interaction or process,
it has to occur repeatedly and regularly (e.g., weekly) and over a period of time
(e.g., about 6 months). Bullying is an escalating process in the course of which
the person confronted ends up in an inferior position and becomes the target of
systematic negative social acts. A conflict cannot be called bullying if the incident
is an isolated event or if two parties of approximately equal “strength” are in con-
flict’ (Einarsen et al. 2011: 22). Manifested through unwelcome, obvious and sub-
tle and direct and indirect hostile and aggressive psychological behaviours such
as making insulting remarks, excessive teasing, spreading gossip or rumours, con-
stant criticism, giving unreasonable deadlines or unmanageable workloads, exces-
sive monitoring of work and assigning trivial, meaningless or no tasks (Einarsen
and Hoel 2001), interpersonal bullying is characterized by a target orientation
where a superior, peer and subordinate single out and persistently harass a col-
league, victimizing the latter to the point of powerlessness and defencelessness
(D’Cruz 2012; Einarsen et al. 2011). Under such circumstances, bullying is per-
sonalized and entails a sociorelational conceptualization (Keashly and Harvey
2006).
Yet, there is an emergent perspective about depersonalized bullying which is
also termed as organizational/institutionalized bullying (Einarsen et al. 2011;
Liefooghe and Mackenzie-Davey 2001) and invokes a sociostructural ‘organiza-
tion-as-bully’ conceptualization (Keashly and Harvey 2006). Depersonalized bul-
lying refers to the routine subjugation of employees by contextual, structural and
processual elements of organizational design, which are implemented by supervi-
sors and managers who involuntarily resort to abusive and hostile behaviours in
an impersonal way to achieve organizational effectiveness. The organizational
agenda, determined by extra-organizational dynamics and intra-organizational
aspirations, lays the foundation for the internal organizational environment, influ-
encing managerial ideology and organizational culture via organizational poli-
cies, practices, structure, technology, controls and leadership. Together, these
components of organizational design suppress employees, ensuring their defer-
ence to organizational expectations. Supervisors and managers, whose responsi-
bilities lie in ensuring organizational competitiveness, implement organizational
1  The Significance of Understanding Depersonalized Bullying at Work 3

requirements across the workforce, resorting to intimidation and aggression with-


out targeting any particular employee or harbouring any intention other than the
realization of organizational imperatives. It is the presence of abusive and hostile
behaviours that distinguishes depersonalized bullying from technobureaucratic and
socioideological organizational controls (D’Cruz and Noronha 2009).
Interestingly, instances of interpersonal bullying occurring within a depersonal-
ized bullying work environment, termed ‘compounded bullying’ by D’Cruz et al.
(2014: 1454), have been reported in the literature (D’Cruz and Noronha 2010a, b,
2011, 2012; D’Cruz et al. 2014). These cases indicate that emotional abuse of a
personalized, targeted nature can coexist with but be experienced distinctively
from impersonal emotional abuse associated with institutional interests.
The extant literature on workplace bullying focuses on the interpersonal level,
throwing light on various aspects such as source, manifestation, antecedents,
course and consequences such that a well-developed understanding has resulted.
Insights from this body of work are critical in informing interventions to address
the phenomenon. Indeed, the importance of managing interpersonal bullying
at work is borne out by its adverse outcomes on targets and bystanders as well
as bullies at the individual and group levels (D’Cruz 2012; Jenkins et al. 2011;
Nielsen and Einarsen 2012) and on workplaces at the organizational level (Hoel
et al. 2011). Attempts to contain these effects have resulted in the design, execu-
tion and evaluation of various applications, triggering further research as well as
practice and action (Ferris 2009; Tehrani 2012; Vartia and Leka 2011).
A similar degree of understanding is warranted into the depersonalized level
of workplace bullying. That depersonalized bullying involves the engagement of
abuse and hostility in the pursuit of organizational effectiveness has two implica-
tions. On the one hand, the reliance on such negative behaviour can be predicted to
have adverse consequences for its targets, which in turn colours the organizational
environment and interferes with organizational functioning. It will not be surpris-
ing if such effects of depersonalized bullying take away from the organizational
goals sought to be realized. On the other hand, the degree of competitiveness in
the contemporary business economy complicates the quest for organizational suc-
cess. Workplaces, in striving for competitive advantage, are likely to increasingly
resort to intimidation and aggression in order to ensure employee compliance with
the organizational agenda (Beale and Hoel 2011; Hoel and Beale 2006). Given
these circumstances, systematically investigating and theorizing about depersonal-
ized bullying at work cannot be postponed. Insights derived from such attempts
lay the foundation for appropriate interventions that address the issue.
This volume is a step in the aforementioned direction. In presenting two empir-
ical studies on target and bully experiences of depersonalized bullying at work,
the book takes forward the nascent stage of research into the phenomenon and
sets the groundwork for theorization and intervention. Chapter 2 synthesizes the
available literature on interpersonal bullying at work, providing an overview of
current knowledge here. In detailing the source, manifestation, aetiology, course
and outcomes of interpersonal bullying, not only do its unique features emerge but
also pointers for achieving a similar extent of understanding into depersonalized
4 1  The Significance of Understanding Depersonalized Bullying at Work

bullying are set. In other words, interpersonal bullying at work serves as the
conceptual benchmark for depersonalized bullying at work. Chapter 3 reports
two field-based enquiries on depersonalized bullying at work. Study I examines
the experiences of targets while Study II discusses the experiences of bullies.
Embedded in hermeneutic phenomenology (van Manen 1998) and conducted in
India, these enquiries point to ambivalence as targets’ and bullies’ response to their
interface with depersonalized workplace bullying. Both these studies go beyond
this finding to provide further insights into depersonalized bullying at work.
Harnessing the breadth and depth of the findings, Chap. 4 theorizes about dep-
ersonalized workplace bullying at two levels. First, it describes depersonalized
bullying in terms of source, manifestation, antecedents, course and consequences,
bringing in parity and facilitating comparison with interpersonal bullying. The dis-
tinctive character of depersonalized bullying is thus established. Second, it devel-
ops a theoretical framework of depersonalized bullying at work, integrating extant
knowledge and highlighting gaps and areas for further research. On both these
counts, Chap. 4 advances depersonalized bullying at work as an area of scholar-
ship. In closing, Chap. 4 proposes primary, secondary and tertiary prevention
activities derived from the base enquiries and their subsequent theorizing. Overall,
by progressing the concept of depersonalized bullying, this book provides indi-
cators by which researchers and practitioners in the field of workplace bullying
can more clearly differentiate between the two levels of the phenomenon and so
sharpen their respective pursuits of enquiry and intervention.

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Chapter 2
Interpersonal Bullying at Work
as the Conceptual Benchmark for
Depersonalized Bullying at Work

Workplace bullying encompasses subtle and/or obvious negative behaviours


embodying aggression, hostility, intimidation and harm, generally characterized
by persistence, displayed by an individual and/or group to another individual and/
or group at work, privately and/or publicly, in real and/or virtual forms, in the con-
text of an existing or evolving unequal power relationship (Adapted from D’Cruz
and Noronha 2013; Einarsen et al. 2011; Hoel and Beale 2006; Tracy et al. 2006).
These behaviours operate at two levels of organizational analysis, namely the
interpersonal level and the depersonalized level. Interpersonal bullying, a sociore-
lational phenomenon (Keashly and Harvey 2006), dominates the discourse within
the substantive area. Having been systematically investigated and theorized about
across the globe over the last 20 years (Branch et al. 2013; Einarsen et al. 2011;
Samnani and Singh 2012), interpersonal bullying has evolved into a singular entity
whose source, manifestation, antecedents, course and consequences are well rec-
ognized. Depersonalized bullying, a sociostructural phenomenon (Keashly and
Harvey 2006), has emerged only recently as an inductive outcome of field-based
research (D’Cruz and Noronha 2009; Liefooghe and Mackenzie-Davey 2001).
The acknowledgement of its potential adverse effects (D’Cruz and Noronha 2009)
and penetration into contemporary workplaces (D’Cruz 2012; D’Cruz et al. 2014)
must be accompanied by further empirical efforts to comprehend the phenomenon
better. Interpersonal bullying provides the basis for moving meticulously towards
this aim. The knowledge already available on the personalized level of workplace
bullying sets the stage for developing a similar parity about its institutionalized
counterpart.
An overview of the basic hallmarks of interpersonal workplace bullying, as
­provided in this chapter, serves as an appropriate point of departure in the quest
to uncover the essence of depersonalized workplace bullying as such an endeav-
our highlights the various attributes pertinent to establishing equivalences between
the two concepts. Through dimensions such as source, visibility, form, aetiology,
target orientation, temporality, power dynamics and outcomes for targets, bullies,

© The Author(s) 2015 7


P. D’Cruz, Depersonalized Bullying at Work, SpringerBriefs in Psychology,
DOI 10.1007/978-81-322-2044-2_2
8 2  Interpersonal Bullying at Work as the Conceptual Benchmark …

Table 2.1  The distinctive features of interpersonal bullying at work


Dimension Interpersonal bullying at work
Source Downwards, upwards, horizontal or cross-level co-bullying
Visibility Public and/or private
Direct, overt and obvious and/or indirect, subtle and ambiguous
Form Real (traditional) and/or virtual (cyber)
Aetiology Target characteristics
Bully characteristics
Work environment factors
Target orientation Specific—singling out of a person or group of persons
Temporality Usually persistent but also includes single incident
Power dynamics Illegitimate personal ‘power’ of bully
Outcomes for targets Adverse physical and mental health
Growing powerlessness
Exit response
Outcomes for bullies Mixed depending on aetiology and trajectory
Outcomes for bystanders Adverse as per current research but anticipated to be mixed
depending on stand taken
Outcomes for Negative in terms of financial and non-financial indicators
organizations

bystanders and organizations, the particular nature of interpersonal bullying at


work is presented below and summarized in Table 2.1.

Manifestation

The sources of and visibility and forms through which interpersonal bullying at
work is demonstrated are varied. Though downwards bullying (from superior to
subordinate) is the most common source (Branch et al. 2013; Einarsen et al. 2011),
horizontal (between peers) (Einarsen et al. 2011), upwards (subordinate to supe-
rior) (Branch et al. 2007) and/or cross-level co-bullying (where peers and/or sub-
ordinates join superiors) (D’Cruz and Rayner 2012), involving a single or multiple
bully(ies) and target(s) (Lutgen-Sandvik 2006), are also reported. Instances of tar-
gets turning into bullies, termed as provocative victims by Olweus (2003), have
been documented, underscoring that exposure to negative acts can trigger bully-
ing as a ripple or reciprocal effect and blur the line between the two protagonists
(De Cuyper et al. 2009; Hauge et al. 2009). The direct, obvious and in-your-face
and/or indirect, subtle and behind-your-back manifestations (Bloch 2012; Samnani
2013) of bullying could be enacted privately and/or publicly (Lutgen-Sandvik
2006). Boundarylessness, concreteness, permanence, invisibility and anonym-
ity inhere within virtual/cyber forms of bullying, adding to the features it already
shares with real/traditional (face-to-face interactions in a physical site) bullying
Manifestation 9

(D’Cruz and Noronha 2013). Visibility and form have implications for the extent
to which bullying becomes a communal experience (Lutgen-Sandvik 2005) and
whether evidence of its enactment becomes available, complicating target coping
(D’Cruz and Noronha 2013; Samnani 2013).

Targets’ Experiences

Employees subjected to interpersonal workplace bullying undergo severe strain,


represented physically, emotionally and behaviourally and indicative of poor
health and decreased well-being (Nielsen and Einarsen 2012). Low self-esteem,
poor self-confidence, self-hatred, sleep problems, anxiety, anger, depression, nerv-
ousness, insecurity, suspicion, bitterness, concentration difficulties, chronic fatigue
and various somatic problems as well as suicidal thoughts are commonly reported
(Hogh et al. 2011). By and large, targets are unable to successfully apply prob-
lem-focused coping strategies to ameliorate or halt the situation and end up opting
for emotion-focused, passive and avoidant coping strategies. Indeed, attempts at
redressal through formal organizational measures, generally linked to workplace
human resource management (HRM) practices, further victimize targets who,
being cornered and bereft of options, quit the employer organization (D’Cruz and
Noronha 2010a, b). Targets’ exit response is usually considered to be unsuccessful,
maladaptive and destructive for the individual and for the organization (D’Cruz
and Noronha 2010a, b; Hogh and Dofradottir 2001; Hogh et al. 2011; Niedl 1996;
Rayner 1997, 1999; Zapf and Gross 2001), pointing out that targets feel cor-
nered, helpless and powerless over time, emphasizing that bullying develops into
a no-win and no-control situation for them (D’Cruz and Noronha 2010a, b). As
Samnani and Singh (2012) state, target outcomes are both person-related (psycho-
logical and physiological) and work-related. Lutgen-Sandvik (2005) maintains
that targets’ defencelessness arises only after their display of agency and efforts
to resist and resolve the situation have failed. Interpersonal bullying is believed to
be a more crippling and devastating problem for employees than all other work-
related stress put together, constituting an extreme type of social stressor at work
(Zapf et al. 1996). Yet, recent enquiries speak of targets’ internal locus of control,
opportunity to start afresh, sense of well-being and renewed sense of self (D’Cruz
2010; D’Cruz and Noronha 2012; Lutgen-Sandvik 2008).
Concomitant with the recognition of the severe adverse impact, target charac-
teristics are seen as responsible for the onset of the bullying, forming part of an
agglomeration of factors linked also to the bully and the workplace that trigger
this misbehaviour. Target-related aetiology broadly includes personality, social
skills and group dynamics (Samnani and Singh 2012; Zapf and Einarsen 2011).
Interestingly, contemporary research describes instances where targets show
counteraggression (Hauge et al. 2009; Jenkins et al. 2012; Lee and Brotheridge
2006), turning into provocative victims (Olweus 2003) who bully the perpetrator
and/or other colleagues at the workplace. Counteraggression, which may/may not
10 2  Interpersonal Bullying at Work as the Conceptual Benchmark …

subsume revenge and retaliation, gives targets a chance to regain control and to
enhance self-worth (Hauge et al. 2009; Jenkins et al. 2012; Lee and Brotheridge
2006), notwithstanding its negative dimension.

Bullies’ Experiences

Whereas perpetrator behaviour in interpersonal workplace bullying is ascribed to


micropolitical strategies, attempts to protect self-esteem and lack of social skills
by studies that rely on mainly target, and sometimes bystander, accounts (Bloch
2012; Jenkins et al. 2012; Zapf and Einarsen 2011), bullies themselves provide
a different picture. Bloch’s (2012) participants (i.e., the bullies) maintained that
though targets were undergoing various personal or professional difficulties that
called for empathy and/or sympathy, participants viewed them as violating work-
place values and norms and challenging workplace hierarchy and positions, some-
times without any sense of propriety, concern and remorse. A few participants
pointed out that while their initial responses to the targets were those of sensitiv-
ity and compassion, complying with social requirements associated with the cir-
cumstances, these remained short-lived as they found targets taking advantage of
their positive stands and further disregarding workplace expectations. Participants’
consequent reaction which included contempt, resentment, anger, vengeance
and disgust caused them to engage in bullying. With considerations of moral-
ity undergirding bullying behaviour, participants sought to justify and legitimize
their actions not just individually by themselves but also jointly through their
work groups, in addition to making target-related attributions.
Accused bullies in Jenkins et al.’s (2012) research mostly denied a­ llegations
(though 26 % were substantiated). Apart from interpersonal differences as the
cited cause, managerial efforts to deal with difficult employees whose perfor-
mance was poor or behaviour was inappropriate while, in keeping with the for-
mer’s job requirements, were considered by the latter as being singled out for
harassment. Besides, conflicts arising due to organizational processes and prac-
tices that the manager was not responsible for were interpreted as bullying.
Whereas managers in stressful environments connected their negative workplace
behaviours to the context, considering their actions to be reasonable though
unpopular aspects of their role, inadequate coping could be the underlying factor.
Poor social skills, leading to inappropriate behaviour that is not perceived as prob-
lematic by the manager, who views the complainant as overly sensitive, emerged
as relevant. Interestingly, 66 % of Jenkins et al.’s (2012) participants described
themselves as targets of bullying. Where managers experienced upwards bully-
ing, they usually refrained from reporting it either due to discomfort about admit-
ting to such an experience and/or perceptions that handling such behaviour is part
of their job. Yet, it was not uncommon for their bullying subordinates to formally
complain against them, indicating the importance of timing in determining who
gets labelled as the bully versus the target. Nonetheless, not only does facing
Bullies’ Experiences 11

complaints about being a bully adversely affect managers, precipitating severe


emotional distress, but also the absence of union support available to subordinates
is brought home sharply. Twenty-five per cent of Jenkins et al.’s (2012) partici-
pants faced dismissal or were forced to quit the organization as a result of the alle-
gations of bullying against their names.

Target Orientation

That interpersonal bullying at work involves the singling out, harassment and
victimization of an individual or a group of individuals, who experience extreme
adverse effects as a result, highlights the target orientation of the phenomenon.
That is, the bully’s aggressive behaviour is discriminatory, focusing on a spe-
cific individual or set of individuals who are negatively impacted, rather than
being generally applied across workplace colleagues who are thereby spared
from harm (Einarsen 2000; Einarsen et al. 2011). Indeed, the systematic identifi-
cation, intimidation and cornering of targets by bullies to the point of powerless-
ness and defencelessness mark the interpersonal bullying situation (D’Cruz 2012;
Einarsen et al. 2011). Achieving a sense of one-up-personship (Branch et al. 2007;
Jenkins et al. 2012), either for predatory or conflict-related reasons (Einarsen et al.
2011), is seen as the motive behind interpersonal bullying. Nonetheless, the issue
of intent remains controversial, with targets and bullies likely to differ on this
dimension (Einarsen et al. 2011; Zapf and Einarsen 2005). Perception and attribu-
tion of intent are significant in and integral to targets’ assessment of their experi-
ence. Targets are convinced that bullying is not accidental but purports to harm
them and this view clinches their labelling of the situation as abusive (Lutgen-
Sandvik 2005). Yet, it is almost impossible to verify bullies’ intent as the deniabil-
ity dynamic provides them with an effective cover (Rayner et al. 2002). Further,
even where the motive giving rise to bullying can be determined, it may be purely
instrumental in achieving the bully’s and/or the organization’s goal rather than
linked to unleashing harm towards the target (Einarsen et al. 2011; Zapf and
Einarsen 2005). Obviously, including both target and bully perspectives not only
showcases the complexity that inheres in an interpersonal workplace bullying situ-
ation but also allows for a balanced account of the phenomenon to inform inter-
vention (Bloch 2012; Jenkins et al. 2012).

Power

Interpersonal bullying at work reflects an asymmetry of power between targets and


bullies (Einarsen et al. 2011). While authority linked to the organizational hier-
archy may play a role in situations of superior to subordinate bullying, this may
not be the case in instances where peer-to-peer bullying or subordinate to superior
12 2  Interpersonal Bullying at Work as the Conceptual Benchmark …

bullying takes place, being facilitated by issues of social affiliations, expert power,
target dependence/inadequacy, work group dynamics and so on (Branch et al.
2007, 2013). Yet, regardless of the formal workplace relationship, interpersonal
bullying contributes to the growing powerlessness of the target who over time per-
ceives himself/herself as having little or no recourse. That is, while initially tar-
gets may feel as strong as the bully, they gradually realize their weaker position,
ending up vulnerable and defenceless (Branch et al. 2013; Einarsen et al. 2011;
Zapf and Einarsen 2005). Interpersonal bullying is thus an interaction between two
unequally matched protagonists, indicating a sovereign conceptualization of power
as a zero-sum game (Lutgen-Sandvik 2005). Essentially, interpersonal bullying
involves the illegitimate use of personal power and the overstepping of widely
accepted limits of appropriate behaviour (Branch et al. 2007, 2013; Liefooghe and
Mackenzie-Davey 2001). Interestingly, emerging arguments counter this dichoto-
mous depiction, citing the dialectical character of power as evidenced in targets’
coping strategies. That is, while targets feel and describe their sense of impotence,
they simultaneously resist the bully even though these attempts may have lim-
ited and/or delayed outcomes (Lutgen-Sandvik 2005). Namie and Namie (2000)
point out that targets’ agency is empowering and central to feelings of control and
efficacy.

Temporality

Persistence, which includes both duration and repetition of hostile acts, has gener-
ally been associated with interpersonal workplace bullying. The length of bully-
ing appears to be closely related to the frequency of bullying, with those bullied
regularly reporting prolonged exposure (Einarsen and Skogstad 1996). It is this
persistence that sets interpersonal bullying apart from other misbehaviours at
work (Rayner et al. 2002) and gives it a corrosive nature (Lutgen-Sandvik 2005).
In terms of duration, bullying seems to move on a continuum from short-term to
long-lasting exposure to negative acts, with a 6-month time frame often being
used for the purpose of operationalization. The choice of temporal cut-off stems
from assessment procedures in psychiatric disorders which invariably result from
such a difficult and often traumatic experience (Einarsen et al. 2011; Zapf and
Einarsen 2005). Nonetheless, targets usually report that bullying continues beyond
the 6-month criterion (Lutgen-Sandvik 2005; Zapf et al. 2011). In terms of repeti-
tion, bullying is generally defined as habitual, patterned and systematic. Yet, while
an episodic recurrence of aggressive behaviours on a weekly basis is commonly
agreed upon, being bullied with even more regular frequency as well as being
subjected to a single severe bullying encounter experienced as a critical life event
are equally deserving of recognition (Einarsen et al. 2011; Lutgen-Sandvik 2005;
Zapf and Einarsen 2005). There is growing cognizance of the intensity of one-
off incidents, acknowledging the potential of a single extreme event to unleash
Temporality 13

grievous harm, particularly given individual differences in the appraisal of and


coping with various experiences (Branch et al. 2013).

Employer Organizations

Though interpersonal bullying involves essentially two sets of protagonists,


namely bullies and targets, workplaces influence and are affected by the phenome-
non. Bullying stems not just from protagonists’ characteristics but features of work
organizations form part of the multicausal view of interpersonal bullying (Branch
et al. 2013; Hauge et al. 2009; Salin and Hoel 2011).
Organizational antecedents such as organizational culture and climate, leader-
ship, job design and work organization and organizational change (Salin and Hoel
2011; Samnani and Singh 2012) operate within the work environment hypothesis
where situational factors give rise to bullying behaviour between individuals (Salin
and Hoel 2011). Organizations where interpersonal bullying is ignored or over-
looked indirectly permit it to continue even though it is not integrated into the work
culture or climate—in other words, bullying gets normalized and reproduced since
it is not addressed and nipped in the bud (Branch et al. 2007; Salin and Hoel 2011).
Tyrannical [(anti-subordinate and pro-organization), similar to autocratic or coercive
styles], derailed (anti-subordinate and anti-organization) and laissez-faire (where
abdication of responsibility prevails) forms of leadership exemplify three types of
destructive leadership behaviour which are associated with bullying (Aasland et al.
2010). A stressful work environment characterized by job insecurity, role conflict
and ambiguity, work group disharmony, heavy workload and intensification, high
job complexity, low job autonomy and poor ambient and ergonomic work condi-
tions provides a fertile ground (Baillien et al. 2009; Branch et al. 2007; De Cuyper
et al. 2009; Hauge et al. 2007, 2009). Various forms of organizational change
including restructuring, budgetary cuts, mergers, new top management, downsizing,
adoption of technology and altered employment patterns increase bullying either
directly or indirectly, often with greater emphasis on task-related misbehaviours
(Baillien and DeWitte 2009; Skogstad et al. 2007). With the foregoing studies incor-
porating an interpersonal level of analysis, Leymann’s (1996) view that anyone can
become a target of workplace bullying under the right circumstances is reinforced.
Yet, notwithstanding the organizational triggers, interpersonal bullying at work
entails numerous direct and indirect costs for employers such as sickness, absen-
teeism, reduced productivity, transfers, turnover and replacement, complaints and
grievance processes, litigation and target compensation (D’Cruz 2012; D’Cruz
and Noronha 2010a, b; 2011). While in monetary terms, an average case of work-
place bullying can cost an organization between US$ (United States dollar) 30,000
to US$ 100,000, the non-monetary costs of weakening of employee morale, moti-
vation, efficiency, satisfaction and commitment as well as damage to employer
reputation and loss of public goodwill are equally prohibitive (Hoel et al. 2011).
14 2  Interpersonal Bullying at Work as the Conceptual Benchmark …

Moreover, instances of workplace bullying reside in organizational memory and are


often relived among organizational members as well as passed on to new organiza-
tional members, sustaining a climate of apprehension (Hoel and Cooper 2000).

Bystanders

Organizational members/employees who, as colleagues of the bully(ies) and


target(s), observe and witness the interpersonal bullying situation double up as
bystanders. Despite the limited research attention accorded to bystanders thus far,
it is widely acknowledged that far from being a neutral force in the bullying situ-
ation, their stand is of crucial significance in determining its evolution (D’Cruz
2012; Mulder et al. 2013; Paull et al. 2012; van Heugten 2011). Playing a variety
of roles (see Paull et al. 2012 for a detailed typology), bystanders’ heterogeneous
behaviour varies from apathy to agency and can be broadly classified into actively
colluding with the bully, taking no position and supporting the target (D’Cruz
2012; van Heugten 2011). While fear stemming from job insecurity, paucity of
training and skills, lack of status and inexperience prompts passivity (van Heugten
2011), even among bystanders who wish to help (Rayner 1999), this silence
empowers bullies and underscores the acceptance of incivility while weakening
targets and furthering their victimization. Support promotes target coping, not only
restoring target confidence but also facilitating joint redressal attempts in spite of
target and bystander trepidation about consequences and limited success in resolv-
ing the situation (van Heugten 2011). Whereas D’Cruz and Noronha (2011) speak
of contextual factors such as workplace relationships and managerial ideology,
Mulder et al. (2013) point to bystanders’ target-related attributions and anticipated
stigma by association in the attempt to understand bystander behaviour.
Bystanders of interpersonal workplace bullying are known to suffer negative
outcomes such as increased stress and lowered motivation, job satisfaction, com-
mitment, efficiency and productivity, as a result of observing bullying, anticipating
being targeted and being/feeling unable to help targets (Hoel et al. 2011). It is not
uncommon for them to consider leaving the organization as a result of witnessing
bullying (Rayner 1999). Undoubtedly, the adverse effect of bullying on bystanders
adds to organizational costs.

Theoretical Frameworks

The most comprehensive models of interpersonal bullying at work integrating the


foregoing discussion are those of Einarsen et al. (2011) and Branch et al. (2013)
whose macro-, meso- and microlevel foci cover not just the antecedents, course
and consequences but also the ambiguities and complexities involved. Einarsen
et al. (2011) highlight the initiation of bullying, linked to perpetrator, target and
Theoretical Frameworks 15

organizational features, the role of perception, the impact of bullying on targets,


perpetrators and organizations and the influence of intervention as well as the
linkages between these factors, with cultural and socioeconomic contexts form-
ing the backdrop. Branch et al. (2013), drawing on Weiss and Cropanzano’s affec-
tive events theory (AET), describe both the societal, organizational and individual
characteristics, interactions and responses as well as the processual and temporal
dimensions that make up bullying, underscoring the dynamic and cyclical nature
of the phenomenon and identifying avenues for intervention. Samnani and Singh’s
(2012) framework, comprising target and bully qualities and group, organizational
and societal factors as well as effects at all these levels, encompasses similar
degrees of depth and breadth as Einarsen et al. (2011) and Branch et al. (2013),
presenting a more static depiction. Other models, noteworthy for the strength of
their explanatory power, are specific in scope, looking at causes (e.g., Baillien
et al. 2009), communication cycles (e.g., Lutgen-Sandvik 2003), social exchange
(e.g., Parzefall and Salin 2010), escalation of conflict (e.g., Zapf and Gross 2001)
and counselling (e.g., Tehrani 2011), to cite a few.

Interventions

Measures to address interpersonal bullying at work could operate at primary, sec-


ondary and/or tertiary levels, focus on targets, bullies, bystanders and/or organi-
zations and be located within and/or outside the workplace (D’Cruz 2012; Ferris
2004, 2009; Saam 2010; Tehrani 2012; Vartia and Leka 2011). Anti-bullying leg-
islations have been enacted in some countries (e.g., Sweden and the Netherlands)
or in provinces in other nations (e.g., South Australia in Australia) (Yamada 2011).
Organizations institute anti-bullying policies, culture building, awareness and
training sessions (including leadership coaching and bystander sensitization) as
well as grievance and redressal procedures, remedial and corrective actions and
assistance programmes (D’Cruz 2012; Ferris 2009; Namie and Namie 2009; Saam
2010; Salin 2009; Vartia and Leka 2011). Targets, bullies and their significant oth-
ers can access extra-organizational avenues such as legal advice, psychiatric and
psychological support and medical aid (Field 2010, 2011; Schwickerath and Zapf
2011; Tehrani 2011).
In spite of the availability of intra-organizational mechanisms, employer com-
mitment to resolving and eliminating workplace bullying is seen as critical to
successful intervention. Indifferent top management and weak HRM positions
promote rhetorical responses which further victimize targets and shield bullies
(D’Cruz and Noronha 2010a, b, 2011; Ferris 2004, 2009; Harrington et al. 2012;
Lewis and Rayner 2003) and boost the widely regarded view that collectivization
endeavours through trade union action and co-worker mobilization are the sole
effective solutions to workplace bullying (Beale and Hoel 2011; D’Cruz 2012;
D’Cruz and Noronha 2010a, b, 2011; Hoel and Beale 2006; Ironside and Seifert
2003).
16 2  Interpersonal Bullying at Work as the Conceptual Benchmark …

It is relevant to state that though interpersonal bullying at work is considered


distinctive from harassment arising from membership to social categories such as
gender/sex, race, sexuality, caste, religion and illness/disability, this point is con-
tentious. Some researchers seek to distinguish bullying from other recognized
types of harassment while their counterparts argue that these are closely linked
and hence cannot be differentiated to the point of emphasizing one and excluding
or trivializing the other (Lutgen-Sandvik 2005). Targets’ own experiences indicate
their inextricable enmeshment as social identities could trigger interpersonal bul-
lying and category-based harassment could precede/follow interpersonal bullying,
with targets themselves either failing to separate the two or considering their dual
experiences as unified and singular. Thus, while analytical differences are impor-
tant to tease out the simultaneous and sometimes subtle manifestations of numer-
ous convergent entities, their complex and dynamic intermingling to the point of a
nuanced fusion must be recognized and deciphered (D’Cruz and Noronha 2013).
Currently, there are empirical efforts underway, particularly in the UK (see Fevre
et al. 2012, 2013), to explore bullying in relation to social identity. Nonetheless, in
viewing the intersections between different types of harassment and interpersonal
bullying at work, it is pertinent to acknowledge that while both phenomena can be
jointly enacted particularly because social categories make some people easier to
target (Lutgen-Sandvik and Tracy 2012), they should not be conflated to the extent
of obscuring their particular nature and undermining their individual specificity,
visibility and need for action (Lee 2001).
The foregoing sections underscore that insights into interpersonal bullying at
work include source, visibility, form, aetiology, target orientation, temporality,
power dynamics and outcomes for targets, bullies, bystanders and organizations.
Moreover, theoretical frameworks with varying range of foci and explanatory capac-
ity as well as primary, secondary and tertiary interventions within and outside the
organization characterize the field. Knowledge of depersonalized bullying at work
must be developed on similar lines in order to come up to par and allow an even pro-
gress of the substantive area. Using the various dimensions of interpersonal bullying
at work known so far as benchmarks, the empirical studies included in Chap. 3 seek
to achieve equivalences in the understanding of depersonalized bullying at work.

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Chapter 3
Experiencing Depersonalized Bullying
at Work

Depersonalized bullying, where the organization is the bully due to the institu-
tionalization of negative behaviour as a means to organizational ends, is only
recently being acknowledged within the field of workplace bullying (D’Cruz
2012). As compared to interpersonal bullying at work which has been the sub-
ject of research for over 20 years (Branch et al. 2013; Einarsen et al. 2011;
Samnani and Singh 2012), very little is known about depersonalized bullying at
work other than its purpose, source, impersonal nature and organizational level
of analysis (D’Cruz and Noronha 2009; Liefooghe and Mackenzie-Davey 2001).
Experiences of protagonists, visibility, form, aetiological factors, issues of power
and temporality, bystanders, outcomes and interventions remain areas calling for
attention. Progressing knowledge on these fronts will take forward the concept
of depersonalized bullying, allowing for theorizing. Apart from scholarly motiva-
tion, the need to comprehend this phenomenon assumes urgency in the contem-
porary economic context where the race for competitive advantage predominates.
Given that depersonalized bullying comes to the fore in the pursuit of organiza-
tional effectiveness, it is expected that the use of abuse and intimidation charac-
terizes modern workplaces (D’Cruz 2012; D’Cruz et al. 2014). Further, insights
into depersonalized bullying become all the more relevant since such behaviour
is considered unethical and wrong (LaVan and Martin 2008; Ramsay et al. 2011).
A well-developed understanding of the concept, anchored in robust and rigorous
research, is the basis for sound applications that enhance benefits and minimize
adversities.
The empirical enquiries included in this chapter through their focus on target/
employee/recipient (Study I) and bully/supervisor/manager/implementer (Study
II) experiences seek to fulfil these aims. Each study is presented in terms of its
method and findings.

© The Author(s) 2015 21


P. D’Cruz, Depersonalized Bullying at Work, SpringerBriefs in Psychology,
DOI 10.1007/978-81-322-2044-2_3
22 3  Experiencing Depersonalized Bullying at Work

Study I: Target Experiences

Method
Study I draws on a larger enquiry (Noronha and D’Cruz 2009) whose objective was
to explore employees’ subjective experiences of work in international-facing call
centres in Bangalore and Mumbai, India (call centres are a part of the Indian ITES-
BPO [Information Technology Enabled Services-Business Process Outsourcing])
sector, also known as the offshoring–outsourcing sector—see note1). Adopting van
Manen’s (1998) hermeneutic phenomenology as its strategy, the research purported
to grasp the essential structure of the meaning of participants’ experiences as they
were lived (van Manen 1998). Phenomenology derives from the Greek word ‘phe-
nomenon’ which means to show, to put into light or to manifest something that can
become visible in itself (Heidegger, as cited in Ray 1994). According to Bishop and
Scudder (1991), ‘phenomenology attempts to disclose the essential meaning of
human endeavours’ (p. 5). More specifically, the enquiry aimed at grasping the
basic structure of participants’ lived experiences of employment in the offshoring
industry. This reflected van Manen’s (1998) hermeneutic phenomenology which

1 The call centre industry in India is located within the country’s ITES-BPO sector which

encompasses the offshoring and outsourcing of such processes that can be enabled with informa-
tion technology (IT). This sector has demonstrated impressive and consistent growth over time,
even in spite of the 2008–2009 financial crisis. ITES-BPO export revenues grew from US$ 9.9
billion in 2007–2008 to US$ 17.8 billion in 2012–2013 and domestic revenues increased from
Rs. (Indian rupees) 88.7 billion in 2008–2009 to Rs. 167 billion in 2012–2013 (NASSCOM
[National Association of Software and Services Companies] 2013). Offshored services are pro-
vided by international-facing Indian and foreign MNCs (multinational corporations) who serve
overseas clients and customers located in developed countries especially the USA and the
UK whereas outsourced services are provided by domestic organizations who serve local clients
and customers (NASSCOM 2013). India remains the pre-eminent global destination for off-
shored business activities, offering an unparalleled cost savings advantage (NASSCOM 2013).
The availability of quality talent at cost effective rates, focus on optimal cost efficiency and cli-
ent-centricity, creation of a supportive ecosystem and maintenance of a scalable and secure envi-
ronment form central pillars of India’s offshoring value proposition (NASSCOM 2013). Though
higher-end services and knowledge process outsourcing (KPO) are part of the Indian ITES-BPO
industry, the main focus remains lower-end services embodying the mass-customized model
(Noronha and D’Cruz 2012), operationalized through call centres and back offices (NASSCOM
2013). India’s ITES-BPO workforce was calculated at 917,000 for international-facing jobs and
640,000 for domestic jobs (in the latter case, the figure includes IT and ITES-BPO jobs) in 2012–
2013 (NASSCOM 2013), the industry having become a significant avenue for employment espe-
cially for the country’s youth (NASSCOM 2013). Despite ITES-BPO employees being covered
by several labour laws as promulgated in various Indian states as well as in central legislations,
the popular view held in Indian society (and maintained and promoted by ITES-BPO employers,
aided by government apathy) is that Indian labour legislation and related institutional measures
do not apply here (D’Cruz and Noronha 2010c). On the contrary, the image of the workforce
in this sector is that of white-collared professionals (Noronha and D’Cruz 2009). As Taylor and
Bain (2005) assert, India remains attractive to companies who wish to capitalize on the possibili-
ties for flexible labour utilization and the absence of trade unions in the Indian ITES-BPO indus-
try facilitates this.
Study I: Target Experiences 23

studies the world as it is experienced pre-reflectively rather than as it is conceptual-


ized, focusing on the structure of meaning of the experience for the individual, and
hence, this approach was selected. Van Manen (1998) portrays the methodical com-
position of phenomenology as a dynamic interplay between six research activities.
According to him, the researcher turns to a phenomenon which seriously interests
him/her and commits himself/herself to this abiding concern. The single-minded-
ness of purpose results in full thinking and deep questioning so that life can be
understood wholly. The experience is investigated as it is lived rather than as it is
conceptualized. In other words, the attempt is to renew contact with the original
experience and to become full of it. The researcher then reflects on the essential
themes that distinguish the phenomenon. A true reflection on lived experience is a
thoughtful grasping of what renders it special. The fourth activity is describing the
experience through the art of writing and rewriting. Language and thought need to
be applied to lived experience such that a precise depiction is made. In order to
achieve all of this, the researcher must ensure a strong orientation to the fundamen-
tal question underlying the enquiry so as to maintain direction and to come out with
valid findings. He/she also needs to balance the research context by considering
parts and wholes; that is, he/she must constantly measure the overall design of the
study against the significance that the parts play in the total structure.
Van Manen’s (1998) conversational interview was used to explore and gather
experiential narrative material that would serve as a resource for developing a
richer and deeper understanding of the experience being studied. Though unstruc-
tured, the process was disciplined by focusing on the fundamental question that
prompted the enquiry. The clarity of the research question did not preclude explor-
ing issues that emerged during the interview, since the researcher was aware that
they could generate important insights into the phenomenon under study. The
mandate of the interview was to capture participants’ immediate pre-reflective
consciousness as self-given awareness that belongs to and is possessed by him/her
rather than as something that is perceived or represented or exists apart from the
self. In this manner, the researcher explored participants’ original experience in its
full richness, depth and totality.
With organizations being unwilling to permit the researcher access to their
employees or the operations floor (only one call centre in Mumbai connected the
researcher to a few of its employees and this happened through personal contacts),
snowball sampling initiated via individual ties was resorted to. Through former
students who worked as managers or knew managers in international-facing call
centres and through trade unionists involved with this sector, the researcher was
able to get in touch with participants who also linked her with others. With multi-
ple sources of potential participants reflecting divergence, the researcher endeav-
oured to guard against homogeneity within the sample, in addition to ensuring that
the sample mirrored known sociodemographic trends in the sector (see D’Cruz
and Noronha 2010c) to facilitate transferability (Krefting 1991).
All interviews, held as per the convenience of the participant, were conducted
in English and were recorded on audio cassette with the permission of the par-
ticipant. No participant objected to the use of the recorder once its advantage of
24 3  Experiencing Depersonalized Bullying at Work

Table 3.1  Process of Inbound Outbound Inbound and Total


participants outbound
Bangalore 14 5 6 25
Mumbai 25 7 2 34
Total 39 12 8 59

Table 3.2  Gender of Male Female Total


participants
Bangalore 16 9 25
Mumbai 14 20 34
Total 30 29 59

Table 3.3  Age of 18–21 22–25 26–29 30+ Not Total


participants (in years) known
Bangalore 2 16 3 3 1 25
Mumbai 4 12 4 9 5 34
Total 6 28 7 12 6 59

accuracy was spelt out to them and its presence did not appear to hinder their
responses. During the interview, observations about the participants were made
and written up after the session ended. Data recorded on the audio cassette were
later transcribed verbatim by the research staff. Informed consent, voluntary par-
ticipation and confidentiality constituted the ethical protocol of the enquiry.
Fifty-nine agents, 25 from Bangalore and 34 from Mumbai, employed in a range
of international-facing call centres and serving overseas clients and customers, partic-
ipated in the study (see Tables 3.1, 3.2, 3.3, 3.4, 3.5 and 3.6 for participants’ sociode-
mographic details). Thirty-nine worked in inbound processes, 12 in outbound
processes and 8 in both inbound and outbound processes. All participants were
employed at the entry level of the organization, having been with their current
employer from 1 month to 3.5 years and in the ITES-BPO sector upto 6 years. While
there were 29 women and 30 men whose ages ranged from 20 to 55 years, the largest
number of participants was in the 22–25 years age group. Forty participants were
unmarried and forty were graduates. The average monthly salary of participants was
approximately Rs. (Indian rupees) 12,900, based on a range of Rs. 8,000 to
Rs. 25,000 (see note2). None of the participants were members of any trade unions.
The treatment and analysis of data followed van Manen’s phenomenological
reflection which entailed clarifying and making explicit the structure of meaning of
the lived experience. Given that meaning is multidimensional and multilayered, van
Manen (1998) advocates the use of thematic analyses as themes touch the core of the
notion the researcher is trying to understand, helping him/her to make sense. Since
2  Using a conversion rate of Rs. 40 = US$ 1.00, participants’ average monthly salary is equal
to about US$ 320. With the monthly expenses for a middle class existence being approximately
US$ 280 in cities such as Bangalore and Mumbai, participants expressed great satisfaction with
their salaries.
Study I: Target Experiences 25

Table 3.4  Marital status of participants


Unmarried Married Separated Widowed Not known Total
Bangalore 20 4 1 0 0 25
Mumbai 20 12 0 0 2 34
Total 40 16 1 0 2 59

Table 3.5  Educational qualification of participants


12th grade or Undergraduate Graduate Postgraduate Not known Total
less
Bangalore 0 5 19 1 0 25
Mumbai 0 9 21 0 4 34
Total 0 14 40 1 4 59

Table 3.6  Monthly salary of participants (in Indian rupees/Rs.)


Range Average Did not disclose Not known
Bangalore 8,000–25,000 13,300 approximately 1 2
Mumbai 8,000–23,000 12,500 approximately – 6
Overall average = Rs. 12,900 approximately per month

themes may not always completely unlock the enigmatic aspects of the experience,
related sub-themes including details and nuances may be required to provide a com-
prehensive picture. In the present study, themes were isolated through sententious
and selective approaches. In following the sententious approach (van Manen 1998),
each transcript was read as a whole to capture the basic meaning of participants’
experiences. That is, through a careful reading of the transcript, the fundamental
structure of the experience for the participant as evident from the complete text was
identified. With ‘being professional’ emerging from the entire contents of each tran-
script as the overarching dynamic that undergirded the whole range of participants’
complex experiences, it formed the core theme which depicted the essential meaning
of participants’ lived experiences at work (see note3). A selective approach (van

3 The core theme that portrayed the basic structure of agents’ experiences was ‘being profes-
sional’. The notion of professionalism embraced agents’ identity, altering their self-concept and
enhancing their self-esteem. According to agents, professionals possess superior cognitive abili-
ties, advanced qualifications and a sense of responsibility and commitment to work. They prior-
itize work over personal needs and inclinations, behaving in a dignified and restrained manner and
performing optimally and rationally while on the job. Professionals comply with job and organi-
zational requirements, absorbing emergent strain. Under such circumstances, not only do agents
perceive material gains accruing from their job as consistent with the notion of professionalism
but also transactional psychological contracts of employment as means of discipline are similarly
justified. Though resistance is displayed by some agents a few times, this is described as a tempo-
rary outlet to ease job-related strain, coexisting with professional identity—it is not an indicator of
anti-work or anti-employer sentiment. Indeed, agents’ professional identity precludes engagement
with collectivization attempts which are seen both as discrepant with the fundamental features of
professionalism and as redundant in instances where employers protect employee interests.
26 3  Experiencing Depersonalized Bullying at Work

Manen 1998) was then undertaken where the text is read and examined for the
meaning of statements which are particularly revealing in relation to the essential
theme. Through this process, sub-themes, themes and major themes that contributed
to the core theme were discerned. That is, each transcript was perused repeatedly
and significant statements relating to and illustrating the various dimensions of the
essential theme were demarcated. Labels were assigned to these sub-themes and
later standardized across transcripts. Within each transcript, sub-themes were exam-
ined for their interrelationships. A comparison across transcripts was done to high-
light congruence in the sub-themes and their linkages across participants. Next,
across transcripts, those sub-themes that dovetailed together in meaningful yet dis-
tinct ways were developed into themes. At the following stage, transcripts were com-
pared to ascertain relationships across themes and those themes that held together
were formed into major themes. In this manner, the data analysis process allowed for
a progression from the idiographic to the nomothetic (Karson 2007).
A major theme closely associated with the core theme that emerged during the
analysis process was that of an ‘oppressive work environment’. Participants repeat-
edly referred to this term when describing their work context. At the same time, par-
ticipants emphasized mixed responses towards the oppressive work environment.
Miles and Huberman’s (1994) data analysis techniques were used to explore these
findings further. That is, through the use of various tools such as charts, matrices,
event lists, causal networks and memos (Miles and Huberman 1994), the researcher
identified related categories and patterns emerging from the data (Crabtree and
Miller 1992; Marshall and Rossman 1999). Linkages between these categories and
patterns were examined with the help of Miles and Huberman’s (1994) techniques
and interpretations were made such that sub-themes were developed (Patton 1990).
Further analysis via Miles and Huberman’s (1994) data analysis tools allowed for
interrelationships and interpretations to be formulated at the level of sub-themes
such that themes were identified (Crabtree and Miller 1992; Marshall and Rossman
1999; Patton 1990). In this manner, all the sub-themes that made up the themes and
all the themes that dovetailed together to constitute a major theme were discerned
and advanced (Crabtree and Miller 1992; Marshall and Rossman 1999; Patton
1990). In organizing the categories, patterns, sub-themes, themes and major themes,
the focus on their linkages did not compromise their singularity (Guba 1978) but
privileged their individual and joint meaningfulness (Patton 1990). Through such
a process, internal convergence and external divergence (Guba 1978), within the
nomothetic framework (Karson 2007), were maintained.
Methodological rigour was incorporated through prolonged engagement
(Lincoln and Guba 1985), sample comparison (Krefting 1991), reflexivity
(Krefting 1991) and peer debriefing and consensual validation (van Manen 1998;
Lincoln and Guba 1999). As a result, theoretical generalizability, which is an
important outcome of qualitative research (Thompson 1999), was realized.
While the major theme of an ‘oppressive work environment’ was indicative of
depersonalized bullying, participants’ mixed responses to this work context were
developed into the major theme of ‘bounded benefits’ which is presented and dis-
cussed below.
Study I: Target Experiences 27

Findings

The major theme of ‘bounded benefits’, which encapsulates participants’ con-


comitantly pleased and dissatisfied reactions to their work experiences, subsumes
three themes, namely ‘appreciating benefits’, ‘recognizing boundaries’ and ‘han-
dling misgivings’. The themes point out that in valuing their professional identity
and material returns while ruing their oppressive work environment, participants
acknowledge that their gains are limited by but inextricably linked to workplace
demands. Perceiving no alternative to the continuity of their benefits, participants
emphasize positive aspects of their experiences to reduce their misgivings (see
Table 3.7 for a summary of themes and sub-themes under the major theme).

Appreciating Benefits

Participants considered their professional identity and material returns from their
jobs to be significant gains that aligned with their aspirations for social mobility
and thereby added to their sense of well-being. They reported a high degree of sat-
isfaction with their work-related benefits.
Describing themselves as professionals, agents took great pride in this identity. In
their view, professionals possess superior cognitive abilities, advanced qualifications
and a sense of responsibility and commitment to work such that they perform

Table 3.7  Themes and their sub-themes


Themes Sub-themes
Appreciating benefits Professional identity
• Employees’ professional self
• Organizational manifestation of professionalism
• Redundancy of collectivization
Material gains
• Compensation and its components
• Quality of life
• Job designations
• Organizational infrastructure, artefacts
and facilities
Recognizing boundaries Client requirements
Work organization
Job demands
Emotional labour
Technobureaucratic controls
Superiors’ abusive behaviour
Physical and mental strain
Handling misgivings Mixed reactions
Coping
Routine resistance
28 3  Experiencing Depersonalized Bullying at Work

optimally and rationally and behave in a dignified and restrained manner while on
the job as well as prioritize work over personal needs and inclinations, regardless of
the nature of organizational requirements and demands and of the ensuing strain.
Recognizing that professional identity is greatly valued as a symbol of social status
and upward mobility in the Indian context (see note4), participants capitalized on
this sense of self even though they had liberal arts/science/commerce backgrounds
which neither fall within the purview of professionalism nor automatically qualify
them for any skill-specific job (see note5). For agents, their professional identity was
a coveted possession that they would preserve and retain at all costs. The effects of
professional identity on participants’ self-concept and self-esteem were palpable.
We are basically professionals, devoted to our work and our companies. That is what a
professional is …someone company can depend on, someone who will always put work
first. You see these factory workers, they are so irresponsible…we are educated, trained,
disciplined…society respects us.

Professionalism was promoted by employer organizations both in relation to indi-


vidual employees and organizational processes. Through agents’ narratives and
interviews conducted with call centre managers (see note6), the context surround-
ing participants’ professional identity came out vividly. Organizations cultivated
the notion of professionalism in employees through induction training, ongoing
socialization, performance evaluation mechanisms and other elements of organiza-
tional design, with a view to gaining the latter’s compliance and commitment to

4  Notwithstanding the stereotype that Indian culture is collectivist, humanist and spiritual, the
co-occurrence of individualism, personalized and identity-based interactions and materialism
bring in complexity. In spite of their other-oriented and other-worldly stances, Indians pursue
individual interests, favour hierarchical and in-group relationships linked to categories such as
ethnicity, gender, caste, class, region, religion, age, ordinal position, etc., and value power, sta-
tus, success and security. Religious beliefs, social contagion and a resource poor environment
account for these contradictory dynamics (see Beteille 2006; Kakar and Kakar 2007; Sinha
2008).
5  It is important to acknowledge that participants are not professional by training or task. Their

simplified, standardized and routinized jobs do not entail expertise, autonomy and licensing and
are not characterized by authority, influence, regulation and a code of ethics, all of which are
hallmarks of true professions (Abbott 1988; Freidson 1983; Hughes 1963). Yet, the notion of
professionalism is invoked by employers as a means of socioideological control (Evetts 2003;
Fournier 1999). Harnessing the prized attributes of professionalism which cohere with the per-
ceived white-collared nature of call centre work and which are highly rated in India’s materi-
alistic society, employers engage this notion to regulate employee identity and circumscribe
employee behaviour.
6  Insights into the core theme of ‘being professional’ were deepened through in-depth interviews

conducted with 40 call centre managers in Bangalore and Mumbai, all employed with interna-
tional-facing call centre organizations. Transcripts, derived from the interview data (that were
audio-recorded with permission), were analyzed using Miles and Huberman’s (1994) techniques
and major themes (through related categories, patterns, sub-themes and themes) were developed
and interpretations were made (Patton 1990). Managerial perspectives supported the core theme,
showing that the notion of professionalism was used a tool to rein employee identity within the
ambit of socioideological control in order to ensure employee conformity and fulfil organiza-
tional goals.
Study I: Target Experiences 29

the realization of the organization’s agenda. Organizational purposes were served


as agents were eager to internalize and enact such a revered identity.
From day one, we are told we are professional, everyone here is professional, whole com-
pany is professional. Training, appraisal, daily issues, work values…all these are pro-
fessional. Company treats you like professional, you behave like professional, even the
building and office are professional. So you feel good, like important.

Organizational processes were seen as exemplifying the employer’s espousal of


professionalism. Various initiatives, cited as illustrations of the employer organi-
zation’s commitment to employees’ well-being, were viewed through this per-
spective. Among those that directly affected participants were employee career
opportunities and redressal avenues. Many organizations had tie-ups with edu-
cational institutions for business administration and management courses and
agents availing of these means towards career advancement were usually fully or
partially funded by their employers. Moreover, participants reported that organi-
zations created paths for vertical movement. Through internal job postings (IJPs)
circulated every quarter, communication about promotion possibilities was shared.
Organizations emphasized that career growth was determined by performance and
not by sociodemographic factors, seniority or intra-organizational social networks.
Organizational claims that merit and objectivity influenced promotion decisions
were interpreted by agents as testimony of its professional orientation. Besides,
movement was fast-paced in that, for top performers, the transition from an entry
level post to a junior level supervisory post happened within a year of joining the
organization.
Employer organizations prided themselves on the number and nature of redres-
sal mechanisms they provided their employees with. In keeping with a profes-
sional style of management, openness of communication in terms of content, form,
style and route was valued. Therefore, in addition to periodic employee satisfac-
tion surveys, skip-level meetings and open fora with superiors, employees with
grievances could approach anyone in the organization whether the CEO (chief
executive officer), the team leader (TL) or someone in between via email, letters,
telephone conversations or face-to-face meetings. That the professional atmos-
phere in the organization precluded the complainant’s victimization was strongly
emphasized.
Participants were honoured to be part of such a progressive workplace, consid-
ering it to be a sharp contrast to old economy Indian firms. That employer organi-
zations were taking care of their interests and concerned about their well-being
made agents feel valued and empowered.
See, we are getting everything in the company. Today’s companies are like that – valuing
employees, providing good facilities, solving their problems. So you also feel part of the
company.

Participants’ professional identity and their employer’s professional approach led


them to consider collectivization endeavours to be redundant. Both co-worker
mobilization and trade union action were seen as unnecessary under the cir-
cumstances. In terms of extra-organizational efforts, participants believed that
30 3  Experiencing Depersonalized Bullying at Work

professionals neither required nor should be linked with trade unions. They opined
that employees who were vulnerable due to lack of skill and employees who
shirked work needed these associations to protect them. Moreover, in instances
like theirs where employer organizations look after employee interests, unions
had no role to play. Such initiatives were relevant in workplaces where employee
well-being was being compromised and where basic facilities including redressal
avenues were absent or dysfunctional.
Participants stated that collectivization in the Indian ITES-BPO sector would
not augur well for its continuity and success. Currently, overseas clients appreci-
ated India as an offshoring destination not just because of the superior workforce
but also because of the macroeconomic business environment of the country.
Collectivization would pose a serious hindrance to this conducive context, result-
ing in relocation of offshoring to other places in South and South-East Asia and
South America. Such a development had microlevel consequences for agents as
employment prospects would be severely and adversely affected. It is no surprise,
then, that participants disregarded co-worker mobilization and were neither aware
of the existence of nor inclined towards being part of any trade unions in India’s
ITES-BPO sector.
Unions will be doom. See in other industries how unions have made things slow. Here,
there is no union, so it is all smooth. That’s why these foreign clients are coming. If we
start unions then they will pack off. And for what we need unions anyway? It is a profes-
sional company, so everything is taken care (of) well.

Agents’ position suits their employers. From agents’ narratives and manage-
rial interviews, it appeared that employers take pains to nurture this stand.
Cultivating agents’ professional identity is an important step in this direction.
Organizations then build on agents’ self-concept, highlighting the disconnect
between professionalism and collectivization which is strongly linked with blue-
collared work in the Indian context. Providing paths for grievances supports
organizations’ claims, promoting the view that co-worker mobilization and trade
unions are redundant under the circumstances. That employer organizations do
not recognize unions further complicates the perspective meted out to agents.
Agents were told by their employers that their ties with such associations could
result in them being dismissed from their jobs. Finally, organizations’ emphasis
that collectivization endeavours would hamper the growth of the Indian ITES-
BPO sector, with implications for employment opportunities, seals agents’ opin-
ions on the matter.
For what do we need unions? Professionals do not need unions. Unions are for factories
where workers are weak. Here we are all educated and independent. So what for a union?
And modern companies, they see to all aspects, so they will not tolerate all this. Our man-
agers and seniors have told us from the start that there cannot be unions here – if we join a
union, we will be chucked out of the job.

In terms of material returns, employees in the Indian ITES-BPO sector, particu-


larly those working for international-facing organizations, received attractive
pay packages. In addition to their salary, agents received performance incentives
Study I: Target Experiences 31

in financial and material forms such as gift vouchers, clothes and accessories,
movie and entertainment tickets, landline phone sets, cordless phone sets, mobile
handsets, iPods, DVD (digital versatile disc) players, etc. Various allowances such
as food allowance and night shift allowance (for those working in the night shift)
as well as transport facilities and medical/health services (including a doctor, a
counsellor and a nutritionist on call) formed part of the deal.
Given the limited employment opportunities for those with a liberal arts/sci-
ence/commerce degree as well as the poor compensation at the entry level in
many technical/professional fields, it is not surprising that the ITES-BPO sector
is widely regarded as the most viable means currently available to achieving a
decent quality of life. Those who had prior work experience in other industries,
which paid meagrely, compared the remuneration received from both the sec-
tors, highlighting in the process the reasons why the ITES-BPO industry was so
much sought after in spite of the challenges it presented. Participants emphasized
the sense of independence and self-reliance that their income allowed them, dem-
onstrating changes in their self-concept. Clearly, the ITES-BPO sector, especially
global offshoring, has altered India’s job market.
But again you know, something like this, probably 5 years ago, when graduates used to
come out of the colleges, what was there? Nothing. People got Rs. 2,000–3,000. Today, an
ITES professional, he will be earning not less than Rs. 10,000 a month. It’s a big amount
and especially for people as young as 22 and 23 years of age.
People can earn here. You will get salary, you will allowance for food, for night shift, you
will incentives if you meet the targets – like you could get cash or vouchers, event tickets,
iPods. Then the office is good. They give lots of facilities like canteen, internet, games.

Designations attached to call centre agents’ positions such as customer care


officer, call centre executive, customer care executive, contact centre representa-
tive and customer support executive invoked images of white-collared, profes-
sional work and upward mobility, enhancing agents’ self-esteem. Participants
experienced status improvement because of their association with overseas clients
and customers and employment with multinational corporations (MNCs), where
applicable, as well as because of opportunities to visit client locations in foreign
countries for training purposes, where applicable.
The physical infrastructure and material artefacts of the employer organization
augmented agents’ sense of gain. Employer organizations were located in ultra-
modern buildings, offering state-of-the-art conveniences. Concrete and glass were
aesthetically combined in constructing the outer structure while elevators, air con-
ditioning and artistic interiors characterized by wooden/marble/granite bases, bright
lighting, elegant but comfortable furniture, decorative items and electronic gadgets
installed for security purposes completed the internal premises. Facilities within the
office comprised individual lockers, cafeterias with wide-ranging menus at reason-
able prices, recreation and de-stress rooms with bean bags, computers with inter-
net access, music systems, televisions, indoor games such as carrom boards, table
tennis, chess, pool, etc., video games and reading spaces. Most employer organi-
zations sought to provide physical work environments of international standards,
32 3  Experiencing Depersonalized Bullying at Work

triggering in agents favourable self-comparisons with people in the West and with
Indian information technology (IT) professionals. Moreover, agents considered
themselves to be superior to employees in India’s government and public sectors
and traditional manufacturing and service industries.
Participants’ benefits strengthened their compliance with job demands and their
commitment to the employer organization. This was so because participants were
well aware that such gains were not available in other sectors of the economy, and
hence, it was in their interests to meet work requirements in order to safeguard the
continuity of their own employment and of the ITES-BPO industry.

Recognizing Boundaries

Participants acknowledged that their job-related benefits were bound to and


bounded by their work context. That is, though the oppressive environment they
worked in provided them with tangible and intangible returns, its demands took
away from their sense of gain and well-being. At the same time, they knew that
they would not get similar benefits in other sectors. This negative aspect of their
jobs which participants sought to but could not minimize stemmed from the pres-
ence of depersonalized bullying where all employees were exposed to the constant
and pervasive use of abusive and intimidating organizational practices and proce-
dures by managers and supervisors, as described later.
Participants shared that foreign firms were relocating their business to India
because the associated cost saving gains promoted their competitive advantage. To
ensure that the pursuit of this agenda proceeded concomitantly with service
requirements so that quality was not compromised, these firms (termed as clients
henceforth) entered into service-level agreements (SLAs) with India-based/Indian
service providers (termed as employers/employer organizations henceforth). The
SLA entailed a formalized relationship, either temporal or project-based, between
participants’ employer organizations (the offshored India-based/Indian service pro-
viders) and the overseas client to deliver stipulated services to clients’ customers
who were also situated abroad (see note7). SLAs laid down the process and out-
come specifications of the particular service, the fulfilment of which was critical to
the continuity and/or renewal of the contract between the two parties. Employer
organizations saw their own success tied in with the realization of the SLAs, and
with this in mind, they diligently implemented client expectations. Encompassing
a range of parameters that formed the basis for organizational design components
and managerial behaviours, SLAs set the work context for participants and were

7  The reader must note the distinction between clients and customers. Clients are entities seek-

ing services from India-based/Indian service providers while customers are the clients’ service
recipients who by virtue of being served by the agents/employees of the service provider are also
referred to by the latter as customers.
Study I: Target Experiences 33

seen as responsible for their oppressive work environment and experience of dep-
ersonalized bullying.
For everyone’s good, we have to go by the SLA. Clients come to India for profits and call
centres must guarantee this. Otherwise, they can go to other places and who will lose?
The company and I. So all the call centres just do what the client says. The managers do
not care for anything else.

While agents were engaged in different inbound and outbound processes, their
descriptions of their jobs underscored the performance of simplified, routinized
and standardized tasks, driven by stringent technology-linked quantitative and
qualitative criteria of service delivery, as stated in the SLAs. Agents functioned
within the mass-customized model (Batt and Moynihan 2002; Frenkel et al. 1998),
with job design elements that involved little complexity, variety and autonomy
but called for completion of high volumes and provision of good quality service.
Failure to meet the employer organization’s expectations based on client stipula-
tions resulted in punishments, ranging from warnings, retraining and suspension
to termination and dismissal. With termination and dismissal being used even in
cases of confirmed employees, the primacy of transactional psychological con-
tracts of employment (Rousseau 1995) was evident.
In order to meet client specifications, employer organizations created 8–9 hour
shifts with two 15-minutes breaks and one 30-minutes break and 5-day work
weeks. Since customers were located in the USA, the UK, Canada and Australia,
employer organizations developed work shifts to match the relevant time zones.
This translated not only in agents having to work during the Indian night but also
going through periodic changes in their work timings as shifts rotated fortnightly
or monthly. Participants worked in teams, headed by a TL, and were required to
report half an hour before their assigned shift for team meetings. During these meet-
ings, TLs indicated daily requirements, shared updates, provided individual and
team feedback and attempted to energize the team besides checking the function-
ing of work-related equipment and technology. Participants’ adherence to shift tim-
ings was recorded via login and logout data. Participants mentioned how such strict
observation of time meant that they could not log out of their systems or leave their
seats even to go to the restroom (if it was an emergency, they had to seek permission
from the TL to do so). During phases when call volumes were high or targets were
not being met, agents were made to stretch such that they took back-to-back calls
and had to forfeit or shorten breaks and/or work beyond shift hours or on weekly/
public holidays. Quite often, agents received no overtime for the work put in.
Even though they say 9 hours of work, it is never 9 hours. You put in 10 hours, 12 hours,
etc. After 9 hours of work, I have to meet my superiors, submit reports and all. So it will
all come to 12 hours of work. When I reach home 3 hours after work, there won’t be any
time for other things.
You cannot take a breather. Basically, you are tied down—until you have your break, you
have to take the calls. There will be calls one after another. There is no breather some-
times. You don’t even know who is sitting next to you. It is stressful. You cannot ask for a
break because calls are waiting. You have to finish your job. And everything is logged in
that system – our time in, our time out, our schedule.
34 3  Experiencing Depersonalized Bullying at Work

Qualitative and quantitative features of service delivery translated into various


measurable performance parameters. These comprised process-linked targets,
average handling time of the call (AHT), call wrap-up time, call waiting time, call
abandonment rates, call opening and closing, customer interaction including sen-
sitivity, politeness, warmth, understanding customer needs and handling irate cus-
tomers, adherence to the script, fluency in the English language, understanding of
the process, use of a neutral accent, maintenance of prescribed procedures including
assistance offered and information provided, accuracy of documentation and other
criteria specified by the client, all of which were constantly monitored via technol-
ogy-based mechanisms. Performance, which was linked to the award of incentives
over and above salary and to promotion opportunities, was evaluated at individual
and team levels. Agents were always encouraged to achieve beyond their specified
targets and being able to do so augmented their incentives and added to their vis-
ibility and chances for growth. Inability to reach the assigned target resulted in the
employee being sent for retraining which essentially meant notice before dismissal.
See, performance means how you handle the call, how long you took to pick, how much
time you needed to complete the process, did you speak properly, were you polite, could
you meet the target. Metrics will be done for you and for your team. Per day, per week,
per month, performance is tracked. So people who cannot deliver, they are put in PIPs
(performance improvement plans)—and still you cannot perform, you have to leave.

The performance of emotional labour (Hochschild 1983), so central to call cen-


tre work, was linked to SLAs. Communicating effectively and pleasantly with
customers was emphasized. This encompassed clarity and accuracy of the mes-
sage, adherence to scripts (and in some cases, use of accents and pseudonyms
and reliance on locational masking [Noronha and D’Cruz 2009]), politeness,
cordiality, sensitivity and patience. Agents were trained to believe that since cus-
tomers could decipher their moods, the espousal and display of a positive frame
of mind was important to induce a similar demeanour in customers, to enhance
the perceived quality of the service interaction and to leave behind a favourable
impression about the client. All this had to be accomplished in a virtual context,
concomitant with other process requirements and qualitative and quantitative per-
formance parameters (including customer satisfaction), in real time. To this end,
SLAs mandated that agents absorb customer reactions, including abusive behav-
iours and racial animosity, apologizing to the latter for any perceived or attributed
problem or inconvenience even if it was not their fault. Regardless of how they
felt about irate customers, agents could not retaliate as peeving and losing custom-
ers were ruled out. That is, though customer misbehaviour evoked disappointment,
distress and sadness in agents, the situation had to be handled with professional
finesse where empathy, forbearance and tact prevailed. Even a hint of reciprocat-
ing ­customers’ negative backlash would invite employee dismissal.
They (American customers) are very annoyed because their jobs have come here. As a
result, quite a few have no jobs there. They will be like, ‘Oh, you Indians! How do you
know how to help me?’ It is very personal and it hurts you sometimes. You cannot take the
next call because you are so upset. That will shatter you for those few minutes. You cannot
do anything about it. You have to go to the next call.
Study I: Target Experiences 35

Technology dominated participants’ work context and work experience, with


automated call distribution (ACD) and predictive dialling (PD) systems setting
the pace of tasks, calculating output and providing and maintaining performance-
related records. ACD systems were the means through which calls were distributed
and queue numbers and waiting times were indicated. With ACD technology sys-
tematizing control, management could decide and measure daily output without
the need for constant and direct intervention while agents experienced restricted
autonomy. Agents from inbound call centres recounted being confronted with
prominent digital displays which showed the number of stacked calls waiting to be
answered. PD in outbound call centres implied that customer calls were diverted
automatically to agents who were currently not engaged on another call.
The ACD system throws up a range of statistics and various ‘hard’ or quantita-
tive metrics are computed routinely and regularly for each call centre agent indi-
vidually as well as jointly with his/her work team. These include call waiting time,
average call handling time (AHT), call wrap-up time and call abandonment rates.
Call barging (where TLs, quality analysts and other superiors—and in some cases,
even clients—listen simultaneously but remotely on live calls to assess agents’
work) and side-jacking (where TLs, quality analysts and other superiors physically
sit next to the agent and listen and evaluate his/her call) also form part of perfor-
mance management. In addition, since all calls are recorded and stored in archives,
they can be retrieved at any time and analyzed for the purpose of appraisal.
One is on the edge all the time – everything is monitored from the time you step into the
call floor till the time your shift is over. So how many calls, how long each call lasted,
how you spoke, what you spoke, how long was the interval between calls … it never ends,
day after day. I feel tense and anxious all the time. And they keep records too. If you make
a mistake, quality will just scream at you. It has happened to some of my friends – it made
them so disturbed. But then one has to deliver or else get out.

This pervasive technology-based monitoring and surveillance did not spell the
end of human supervision. TLs, stationed at a central point on the call floor, were
always in a position to oversee the operations and keep an eye on the agents, in
addition to having a master screen on their computers which tracked and high-
lighted in real time the ongoing work of each individual member in the team.
Supervisors and managers routinely resorted to abusive and aggressive tac-
tics to ensure the fulfilment of the SLAs. Agents were pulled up privately and/
or publicly individually and/or in groups either for poor performance or for per-
formance enhancement. Anger, insults, threats, name-calling, labelling and other
negative behaviours featured prominently. Though participants acknowledged
that such experiences were harsh and upsetting, causing them emotional distress,
they asserted that superiors’ behaviour was both involuntary in that the latter had
no choice but were merely doing their jobs and impersonal in that the latter were
not targeting any particular agent but behaving similarly with the entire group.
Participants, while admitting how SLAs impacted them, emphasized that their
employer organizations were just enacting the SLAs, and hence, no particular
person in the workplace was considered to be responsible for the experience of
oppression. On the contrary, the dynamics of doing business in a globalized world
36 3  Experiencing Depersonalized Bullying at Work

played an important role. Clients were relocating their operations to low cost


developing countries to maximize revenues, minimize expenses and maintain
competitive advantage and their selection of nation and of service provider as
well as the nature of SLAs were in keeping with these ends. If service provid-
ers were unable to comply with the SLAs and to provide an environment condu-
cive for business to flourish, clients would move to other organizations. Moreover,
if the macroeconomic context in the country did not facilitate clients’ objectives,
migration to other more attractive destinations served as the solution. Under such
circumstances, employer organizations took pains to establish appropriate extra-
organizational and intra-organizational business environments and to fulfil SLAs.
Delivering on these counts facilitated the continued success of India’s ITES-BPO
sector and the competitive position of employer organizations.
Finally, everything boils down to the SLAs. They (SLAs) dictate the shifts, the targets,
the quality, the customer interaction. And they (employer organization) naturally have to
execute it – because if not, the process will go elsewhere. So they (employer organization)
don’t bother one way or the other – just deliver ruthlessly.
The team leader (TL) and the operations manager often just scream to get the work done.
But it is for the (employer) organization’s good. They have no choice. Clients’ expecta-
tions have to be met. If you do badly, they will humiliate you privately and publicly for
days on end. Someone or the other is always being pulled up on the call floor. So that
uncomfortable atmosphere is always there – and it is quite stressful. But it is not personal,
they are just getting the work done.

Participant narratives underscore employee subjugation through various elements


of organizational design as implemented by their supervisors and managers. The
experience of physical and mental strain, under such conditions of depersonal-
ized bullying, was inevitable. Health problems such as loss of appetite, changes in
body weight, acidity, nausea, constipation, colds and coughs, diabetes, blood pres-
sure, insomnia, chronic fatigue and drowsiness, musculoskeletal complications,
sensory–motor problems of a visual, oral and aural nature, repetitive strain injury
(RSI), anxiety, depression, irritability and cognitive disruptions were commonly
reported. While participants pointed out that they attempted to cope with physi-
cal strain and ill health through medical intervention and maximization of rest and
sleep, sick leave to recover from illness was not easily granted. Requests for leave
with no prior notice even during instances of ill health were examined in the light
of expected and/or ongoing call volumes and targets and accordingly were granted
or denied. Agents absenting themselves, whether with or without intimation, were
either warned or dismissed.
Stress means … you cannot describe. At work, you will not get one minute even to go to
the toilet, to eat. Then, sleep is all gone. I feel tired always. Earlier, it was worse because
(I was) not used to night shift so my health suffered. Then, over that, you are in problems
if you make mistakes or the targets are less. So tough, means, kaise bataoo aapko (how
can I describe it to you)?

Acknowledging their difficult work conditions, participants remained acutely


aware that their job-related benefits were inextricably linked to this context.
They indicated that no other industrial sector in India would provide comparable
Study I: Target Experiences 37

tangible and intangible returns for similar qualifications, and hence, their career
choices were limited to the options available here. But even within this industry,
a hierarchy of alternatives operated. Rating international-facing organizations as
superior to domestic organizations within the sector in terms of compensation
and workplace facilities, participants described varying degrees of task-linked
demands contingent upon the particular process but pointed out commensurate dif-
ferences in remuneration. Though call centres ranked above back offices in this
scheme of categorization, distinctions within the former were also made. Thus, US
processes involving ‘graveyard shifts’ and outbound processes involving telemar-
keting and collections were considered to be the toughest but also the best paying
because of higher allowances and more incentives while UK and Australian pro-
cesses and inbound processes were seen as relatively easier in terms of temporal
adjustments and process-related targets but came with lower returns.
Participants maintained that exiting this industry was an option only if they got
opportunities of the same type in other sectors or if they improved their qualifica-
tions and so moved to better positions in other industries. Otherwise, they were
left with intra-sectoral transitions across international-facing organizations and the
choice of these were determined by their individual circumstances including mon-
etary requirements, marital and family commitments, health issues, etc.
You cannot do much – move to different call centres, go to day-time shifts like UK or
Australia (processes), maybe go to a back office. Otherwise, do your MBA (Master of
Business Administration) or something like that and go to (a) different industry. It is a
trap situation – you will not get this salary at other places. So what to do? People pull on
somehow … where is the choice?

Handling Misgivings

The contradictions arising from the concomitance of the receipt of benefits and
of the experience of depersonalized bullying triggered qualms in participants. On
the one hand, agents took pride in and derived satisfaction from their professional
identity and material returns, seeing them as symbols of social status and upward
mobility. On the other hand, agents recognized both their stringent and hostile
organizational context and its inextricable link with their gains. They admitted
how the difficult challenges of their oppressive work environment precipitated
adverse physical and mental effects in them. With well-being and strain thus coex-
isting, participants reported a sense of discomfort arising from conflicting experi-
ences that were inevitable if their current benefits had to continue.
Focusing on long-term goals and aspirations, emphasizing positive aspects of
their experiences, considering work-related demands to be an unavoidable part of
their gains and invoking their professional identity were the mechanisms by which
participants coped with the situation.
Participants stated that jobs in the Indian ITES-BPO sector were means to a bet-
ter quality of life and social status. The tangible and intangible returns accruing from
these jobs cohered with participants’ objectives of securing a decent and comfortable
38 3  Experiencing Depersonalized Bullying at Work

standard of living and a respectable position. Highlighting the association between


these jobs and the realization of upward mobility, participants shared that appreciat-
ing their benefits and downplaying their difficulties was an important strategy for
them. Participants agreed that there was ‘no gain without pain’, that ‘one had to lose
some to gain some’ and that ‘one cannot get everything in life’. Elaborating further,
participants maintained their lack of options in the matter as the oppressive work
environment was ‘part of the territory’ and ‘nothing can be done about it’. Moreover,
participants said that being professionals, they had to manage such stringent organi-
zational contexts. In their view, adhering to job-related demands and managing
employer interests regardless of personal strain define professional behaviour.
It is tough, really tough. But then we are getting so much, who would have dreamt of this?
So I think of the good things, the money, the lifestyle…and I carry on. Kuchh paane ke
liye to kuchh jhelna padta hai, zindagi aasaan nahi hai (To gain something one has to put
up with some difficulty, life is not easy). This way, I manage the challenges.

Through these aforementioned processes, participants reconciled their inconsistent


experiences such that positive dimensions remained pre-eminent and uppermost in
their psyche most of the time while negative aspects were minimized and surged
to the fore to a lesser extent. Whenever misgivings surfaced, participants worked
through them by drawing on their professional identity and by focusing on their
benefits. Besides, comparing their current job situation to earlier available work
opportunities, participants expressed satisfaction. Yet, they acknowledged the pre-
sent inadequacies, indicating that at times they contemplated an ideal organizational
context that they would have preferred. Nonetheless, they continued in their para-
doxical employment predicament, believing that they should ‘make the most of it’.
That a few agents rely on various outlets to cope with work-related strain was
pointed out by some participants. Disorganized coaction (Martin and Meyerson
1998) through bounded performance, feedback diversions and vacillations was
reported. That is, extending the call wrap-up time during which relevant informa-
tion from the phone conversation is keyed into the system, altering their position
in the call distribution queue by pressing the release button on their phone, enter-
ing wrong customer email addresses into the system if the call did not proceed sat-
isfactorily (so that feedback could not be obtained from the particular customer),
extending restroom breaks, unnecessarily transferring customers’ calls, delaying
the disconnection of calls and stepping up performance during phases when call
evaluation was predicted were some of the ways in which a few agents got a bit
of breathing space. Customer abuse was at times dealt with either by placing the
phone in mute mode and cursing the customer aloud in the presence of team mem-
bers or by pressing the mute button and enabling the loudspeaker of the phone so
that the team could jointly listen to, make fun of and enjoy the customer’s tirade.
This reverse customer abuse facilitated collegiality on the lines of Korczynski’s
(2003) communities of coping but fell short of catalyzing collectivization action.
Participants maintain that such behaviour on the part of agents, which is occa-
sional and individualized, does not harbour any anti-work or anti-employer
sentiment but serves to release pressure, reflecting routine resistance (Prasad
and Prasad 1998). Agents engage in these activities in spite of their sense of
Study I: Target Experiences 39

professionalism while also knowing fully well that if their employers discovered
their behaviour, they would be dismissed.
Team members are all good friends. We will be talking about a good topic. In the midst of
the topic, some call comes. By the time I finish the call, the topic will be over and I miss the
conversation. So we play some tricks. If we disconnect the call, what happens is that if
the call gets monitored, it becomes a serious issue. Better than that, do a double click, you
are now the last person in the queue…One can at least get some breathing time that way.

Study II: Bully Experiences

Method
Study II aimed at understanding managers’ subjective experiences of implement-
ing a downsizing programme through a voluntary retirement scheme (VRS) in
a private sector manufacturing firm (henceforth also referred to as Company E)
located in an industrial city in India. Adopting van Manen’s (1998) hermeneutic
phenomenology as its strategy, the research purported to grasp the essential struc-
ture of the meaning of participants’ experiences as they were lived (van Manen
1998). Phenomenology derives from the Greek word ‘phenomenon’ which means
to show, to put into light or to manifest something that can become visible in itself
(Heidegger, as cited in Ray 1994). According to Bishop and Scudder (1991), ‘phe-
nomenology attempts to disclose the essential meaning of human endeavours’
(p. 5). More specifically, the enquiry sought to grasp the basic structure of par-
ticipants’ lived experiences of an organizational change effort. This reflected van
Manen’s (1998) hermeneutic phenomenology which studies the world as it is
experienced pre-reflectively rather than as it is conceptualized, focusing on the
structure of meaning of the experience for the individual, and hence, this approach
was chosen. Van Manen (1998) portrays the methodical composition of phenom-
enology as a dynamic interplay between six research activities. According to
him, the researcher turns to a phenomenon which seriously interests him/her and
commits himself/herself to this abiding concern. The single-mindedness of pur-
pose results in full thinking and deep questioning so that life can be understood
wholly. The experience is investigated as it is lived rather than as it is conceptual-
ized. In other words, the attempt is to renew contact with the original experience
and to become full of it. The researcher then reflects on the essential themes that
distinguish the phenomenon. A true reflection on lived experience is a thoughtful
grasping of what renders it special. The fourth activity is describing the experience
through the art of writing and rewriting. Language and thought need to be applied
to lived experience such that a precise depiction is made. In order to achieve all
of this, the researcher must ensure a strong orientation to the fundamental ques-
tion underlying the enquiry so as to maintain direction and to come out with valid
findings. He/she also needs to balance the research context by considering parts
and wholes; that is, he/she must constantly measure the overall design of the study
against the significance that the parts play in the total structure.
40 3  Experiencing Depersonalized Bullying at Work

Van Manen’s (1998) conversational interview was used to explore and gather
experiential narrative material that would serve as a resource for developing a
richer and deeper understanding of the experience being studied. Though unstruc-
tured, the process was disciplined by focusing on the fundamental question that
prompted the enquiry. The clarity of the research question did not preclude explor-
ing issues that emerged during the interview, since the researcher was aware that
they could generate important insights into the phenomenon under study. The
mandate of the interview was to capture participants’ immediate pre-reflective
consciousness as self-given awareness that belongs to and is possessed by him/her
rather than as something that is perceived or represented or exists apart from the
self. In this manner, the researcher explored participants’ original experience in its
full richness, depth and totality.
Participants were selected through two stages. Initially, the HR (human
resource) department of Company E identified a group of managers from differ-
ent functional areas and various levels of the organizational hierarchy (including
HR managers) who had been involved in the change endeavour. These potential
participants were approached by the HR department to ascertain their willingness
to contribute to the study. Those who agreed were put in touch with the researcher.
Sampling could be described as nominated but voluntary.
The research interviews were conducted in English at Company E’s premises.
In keeping with participants’ preferences, interviews were manually recorded.
That is, during the interviews, points discussed were noted in brief by the
researcher. After writing up the discussions in detail following each interview,
the narratives were shared with participants for their comments. Corrections for
accuracy and approval of contents were completed. Observations made during the
course of the interview were maintained as field notes. Informed consent, volun-
tary participation and confidentiality were adhered to as part of the ethical protocol
of the study.
Twelve managers from Company E were included in the enquiry. Participants
were all men whose ages ranged from 34 to 59 years and who had been with the
organization from 4 to 29 years. Apart from two participants who were graduates,
the rest held postgraduate qualifications. Whereas seven participants were HR
managers, administration, commercial services and finance were the others’ spe-
cializations. Participants belonged to different levels of the organizational hierar-
chy (see Table 3.8 for participants’ sociodemographic details).
The treatment and analysis of data followed van Manen’s phenomenological
reflection which entailed clarifying and making explicit the structure of mean-
ing of the lived experience. Given that meaning is multidimensional and mul-
tilayered, van Manen (1998) advocates the use of thematic analyses as themes
touch the core of the notion the researcher is trying to understand, helping him/
her to make sense. Since themes may not always completely unlock the enigmatic
aspects of the experience, related sub-themes including details and nuances may
be required to provide a comprehensive picture. In the present study, themes were
isolated through sententious and selective approaches. In following the senten-
tious approach (van Manen 1998), each narrative was read as a whole to capture
Study II: Bully Experiences 41

Table 3.8  Sociodemographic details of participants


Age (in Gender Designation Education Tenure with Company
years) qualification E (in years)
38 Male Manager, Human Postgraduate 4
Resources Diploma in Personnel
Management and
Industrial Relations
58 Male Director, Personnel Postgraduate 6
and Industrial Diploma in Business
Relations Management
49 Male Senior Manager, Postgraduate 17
Personnel Diploma in Business
Management
34 Male Senior Personnel Master of Business 9
Officer Administration,
Postgraduate Diploma
in Human Resource
Management
46 Male Senior Personnel Postgraduate Diploma 25
Officer in Labour and Social
Welfare, Bachelor of
Law
53 Male Deputy Manager Master of Arts, 28
Bachelor of Law
52 Male Chief Divisional Postgraduate 27
Manager, Diploma in Business
Human Resource Management
Development
Not known Male Deputy General Bachelor of 29
Manager, Engineering
Administration and
Commercial Services
59 Male Senior General Chartered Accountant, 11
Manager, Finance Master of Business
Administration
38 Male Assistant Manager, Bachelor of Science, 15
Administration Bachelor of
Education, Diploma in
Management
41 Male Deputy Manager, Master of Arts, 18
Personnel Postgraduate Diploma
in Labour and Social
Welfare
54 Male Deputy Manager, Master of Business 17
Administration Administration

the basic meaning of participants’ experiences. That is, through a careful read-
ing of the narrative, the fundamental structure of the experience for the partici-
pant as evident from the complete text was identified. With ‘unsettled satisfaction’
emerging from the entire contents of each narrative as the overarching dynamic
42 3  Experiencing Depersonalized Bullying at Work

that undergirded the whole range of participants’ complex experiences, it formed


the core theme which depicted the essential meaning of participants’ lived experi-
ences in relation to the organization change endeavour. A selective approach (van
Manen 1998) was then undertaken where the text is read and examined for the
meaning of statements which are particularly revealing in relation to the essential
theme. Through this process, sub-themes, themes and major themes that contrib-
uted to the core theme were discerned. That is, each narrative was perused repeat-
edly and significant statements relating to and illustrating the various dimensions
of the essential theme were demarcated. Labels were assigned to these sub-themes
and later standardized across narratives. Within each narrative, sub-themes were
examined for their interrelationships. A comparison across narratives was done
to highlight congruence in the sub-themes and their linkages across participants.
Next, across narratives, those sub-themes that dovetailed together in meaningful
yet distinct ways were developed into themes. At the following stage, narratives
were compared to ascertain relationships across themes and those themes that held
together were formed into major themes which comprised ‘fulfilling organiza-
tional expectations’, ‘grappling with dilemmas and quandaries’ and ‘maintaining
individual interests’. In this manner, the data analysis process allowed for a pro-
gression from the idiographic to the nomothetic (Karson 2007).
Methodological rigour was incorporated through prolonged engagement
(Lincoln and Guba 1985), member checks (Krefting 1991), reflexivity (Krefting
1991) and peer debriefing and consensual validation (van Manen 1998; Lincoln
and Guba 1999). On account of this, theoretical generalizability, which is an
important outcome of qualitative research (Thompson 1999), was achieved.
Data analysis yielded the core theme of ‘unsettled satisfaction’ which subsumed
the three major themes of ‘fulfilling organizational expectations’, ‘grappling with
dilemmas and quandaries’ and ‘maintaining individual interests’. The core theme
and the major themes not only indicated that depersonalized bullying marked man-
agers’ implementation of the VRS programme but also pointed out managers’ con-
tradictory responses to their predicament. Following a description of participants’
work context, the findings are elaborated upon.

Findings

‘Unsettled satisfaction’ encapsulates participants’ simultaneous contentment and


distress with their job-linked experiences in relation to the organizational change
effort. As participants worked towards organizational survival, thereby indirectly
securing their own positions, they involuntarily adopted impersonal abusive and
intimidating tactics to ensure employee compliance to newly introduced organi-
zational imperatives, breaking away from the long-standing pro-employee organi-
zational culture on both counts. Participants struggled with the difficulties of
Study II: Bully Experiences 43

compromising personal and professional standards and precipitating employee


strain through the change endeavour and the use of depersonalized bullying,
drawing comfort from their contribution to organizational continuity while also
acknowledging their own individual gain (see Table 3.9 for a summary of major
themes, themes and sub-themes under the core theme).

Work Context

Participants were employed as managers in Company E, a loss-making manufac-


turing organization whose survival hinged on the closure of an obsolete though
profit-making plant (Plant A) in order to promote the optimal functioning of two
modern but underutilized plants (Plants B and C) whose advanced technological
features guaranteed competitive advantage. Company E had a history of a colle-
gial and democratic organizational ethos which privileged relational psychological
contracts of employment (Rousseau 1995) and favoured employee rights and well-
being and where management–union ties were driven by trust and cordiality.

Table 3.9  Major themes and their themes and sub-themes


Major themes Themes and sub-themes
Fulfilling organizational expectations Prioritizing employer goals
• Participating in the change endeavour
• Laying the groundwork
• Implementing the change process
Engaging depersonalized bullying tactics
• Involuntary adoption
• Experiencing discomfort
• Facing the backlash
Restoring credibility
• Retaining the human touch
Grappling with dilemmas and quandaries Sources of distress
• Alterations in organizational culture
• Compromise of employee interests
• Use of depersonalized bullying tactics
• Discrepancy with personal principles
• Inconsistency with professional standards
Sources of contentment
• Achieving organizational survival
• Sustaining organizational loyalty
• Observing legal and institutional frameworks and
maximizing employees’ separation benefits
• Securing one’s own job
Maintaining individual interests Ensuring one’s own well-being
Working through dilemmas and quandaries
44 3  Experiencing Depersonalized Bullying at Work

Various developments in the extra-organizational environment mandated that if


Company E had to regain its effectiveness, it must cease the operation of Plant
A and rely on Plants B and C. With regard to Plant A, raw materials were nei-
ther easily available nor reasonably priced while technological improvements were
ruled out due to the discovery of better alternatives. With regard to Plants B and C,
the superior equipment provided numerous advantages which Company E had so
far not capitalized upon. Apart from maximizing efficiency so as to meet demand
requirements and maintain market share, Company E’s products could conform
to international standards, thereby expanding their reach. On all these counts,
Company E’s competitiveness would be strengthened to the degree that it could
settle its debts and ensure profitability and growth.
With Company E’s pursuit of organizational success thus determined, its
organizational culture guided the transition towards the inevitable closure of Plant
A. On these lines, Company E’s management and union worked together on the
way forward starting from Time 1. Beginning with the management apprising the
union of the organization’s circumstances and possible courses of action, periodic
meetings between the two groups were held as the management kept the union
abreast of its plans and received and incorporated their feedback. Union support
was considered critical by the management. Understanding the organizational
situation and appreciating the management’s procedural correctness and goodwill
towards the employees of Plant A, the union endorsed the management’s stand
and efforts.
The first step was to offer the employees of Plant A (who were all men) the
option of transferring themselves to Plants B and C. Notwithstanding the well-
publicized anticipation of closure, most employees did not make this shift due
to the productivity of Plant A which made them not only disbelieve the manage-
ment’s indications regarding the planned shutdown but also adopt the position that
the government would disallow such a move. Their stand remained unchanged
over a period of 2 years (i.e., till Time 2) in spite of union and management per-
suasion. When the closure of Plant A became unavoidable at Time 2, Company
E’s management undertook a number of initiatives, working along with the union
throughout. Concomitant with the submission of the application for the shutdown
to the government, the management decided to provide exiting employees with
a VRS. Not only did the management apply for the closure of Plant A with the
confidence that the government would give permission in the larger and long-term
interests of the organization but also, in keeping with the pro-employee ethos, the
management developed an attractive VRS for the plant’s employees. To do this,
they checked previous records to see whether there had been any such measures
in the past. A scheme from about a decade earlier was found and modified to pro-
vide employees with the best possible package. In this manner, the management
was able to give separating employees benefits which far exceeded those legally
stipulated under circumstances of closure in spite of the organization’s negative
balance sheet. About 2,500 employees had to be removed from Company E under
this programme, with the closure of Plant A and the success of the VRS being seen
Study II: Bully Experiences 45

as pivotal to the organization’s turnaround. The execution of the programme was


entrusted to personnel and line managers, whose key result areas (KRAs) were
linked to its completion.

Fulfilling Organizational Expectations

Company E’s strategy for survival was finalized and adopted after much delibera-
tion based on a well-considered anticipation of positive outcomes. Acceptance and
enactment of this plan by all managers was undisputed, with individual interests
being tied in. Participants were no exception here, and hence, the implementation
of the VRS proceeded as per organizational requirements.
Once the VRS was announced, about 700–800 employees immediately came
forward to avail of it. Employees who voluntarily opted to separate from the com-
pany requested for some changes in the package which were acceded to. That is,
while the initial scheme gave a lumpsum payment, employees indicated a pref-
erence for monthly payments as well as some concessions for housing, electric-
ity and training for themselves and/or their children and these wishes were looked
into and accommodated. Sometimes, when increments were asked for, such
appeals were also conceded. This initial scheme came to be known as Scheme 1
and is depicted in Fig. 3.1. Assistance and advice about investments was given
during the process of separation. Personnel from financial institutions (including
banks) were called to show the separating employees how best they could manage
their money.
Employees who chose the VRS of their own volition were those with employ-
ability, that is, skilled and able-bodied people who were confident of getting
alternative jobs. Employees who resisted the VRS were guided by not just the
profit-making position of Plant A and the general reluctance of the government to
permit closures but also their interrelatedness in that productive units are unlikely
to be shut down. Comprised of people with liabilities, poor employability and/or
doubts about the avenues (and related effects) available to them, concerns about
status and identity also played a role.
When the scheme was launched, (a) number of workers jumped at it. These people
thought that they would get the benefit from here and plus get another job or do some
business, so get (the) best from two places. So the initial part was easy. Then there was
a slow down. Workers were not convinced ki (that) profit-making unit bandh kaise hoga
(how a profit-making unit can be closed down).

After this first group of 700–800 employees who selected the VRS route of their
own accord, the momentum stalled, putting pressure on Company E to evolve
mechanisms appropriate to its realization. That is, notwithstanding the support
of the union in the endeavour, employees asserted their independent stand, main-
taining an adamant position against exiting the organization. From this juncture
onwards, managers responsible for executing the VRS had to expend consider-
able effort to get the remaining group to separate from the company. Given both
organizational imperatives and individual predicaments, depersonalized bullying
46 3  Experiencing Depersonalized Bullying at Work

1. Under Scheme 1:
a. Employee of 50+ years: 75 % of last drawn monthly salary payable per month upto 60
years.
b. Employee less than 50 years: 75 % of last drawn monthly salary payable per month for
72 months.

2. Under Scheme 2:
a. Employee of 50+ years: 100 % of last drawn monthly salary payable per month upto
60 years.
b. Employee less than 50 years: 100 % of last drawn monthly salary payable per month
for 72 months.

3. Medical benefits common to Schemes 1 and 2


a. Medical benefits upto 60 years: For self and dependents

In same city, at In different city, upto Rs.


designated hospital 30,000 per annum upon
payment of Rs. 100 per head
per annum

b. Medical benefits after 60+ years: For self and spouse, as per rules for retiring
employees.

Fig. 3.1  Benefits under the Voluntary Retirement Scheme (VRS) offered by Company E

characterized the organizational context and coloured managerial behaviour.


Participants described a sudden change in the organizational culture where intimi-
dation and hostility predominated. To elaborate, in order that competitive advan-
tage be attained, the company’s leaders and managers maintained a single-minded
focus to the extent of engaging harsh and abusive means completely contradictory
to the previous amicable and participative organizational ethos. Yet, the adoption
of aggression precluded targeting any specific employee.
Me and other managers were responsible for execution. So what to do? Workers are not
coming forward (to avail of VRS). Our KRAs are on the radar. Company is sinking and
we are made to hold it up. So we had to use force – we had to make them go. So whole
atmosphere changed in the company.

Managers had to resort to various strategies to convince workers who were unwill-
ing to take part in the scheme, to opt for separation from the organization. Though
an entire cohort of employees had to go, managers sought to facilitate their task
by shortlisting those with poorer records or stronger grounds such that convincing
Study II: Bully Experiences 47

them was easier. Accordingly, employee data, such as absenteeism, performance


on the job, ill health and so on, were checked and potential candidates were identi-
fied. Managers underscored that while this approach did not amount to intention-
ally singling out anyone as their mandate involved separating a whole group, they
did harbour misgivings about it as they were well aware that it could be interpreted
as targeting. In any case, once those on the shortlist had been spoken to, partici-
pants had to turn their attention to the rest of the cohort regardless of the preced-
ing outcomes. Individual counselling sessions and group meetings, at times in the
presence of union leaders, were held. It was not uncommon for managers to call
on family members of resistant employees for counselling, based on the belief
that by explaining the status of the company to the latter, a decision in favour of
accepting the VRS would be made.
Driven by the earlier organizational culture, Company E’s managers not only
enjoyed cordial relationships with employees but were also very keen to maintain
the camaraderie. Yet, given organizational demands and task requirements, they
anticipated and experienced the dissipation of this agreeable context and the altera-
tion of their own affable behaviour. Despite their desire and attempt to remain genial
and polite with employees, participants were not always able to act on their resolve
and reported using force, intimidation and abuse to ensure organizational objectives.
It was a job that had to be done. We had nothing against any worker. Earlier, we were all
one group only – company had such a good culture. But now, we had to deliver. After
initial exit (of 700-800 workers), no worker was coming for VRS. So we planned to see
who could be told easily, who had stronger cases against them in any way. Issue was not
to target or anything.

Though the history of positive ties helped managers in approaching and interact-
ing with the employees companionably initially, organizational expectations cou-
pled with individual interests and employee resistance rendered such endeavours
redundant. Participants ended up bullying employees, putting down their reliance
on such tactics to a lack of alternatives.
Our approach was very frank and undiplomatic. We left behind all professional ethics. We
accepted it as a professional hazard. ___and I were the focus of the VRS. We managed the
role by dominating the workers. We would go to the plant everyday from 7 am to 8 pm,
with ready reckoners to answer their questions and we would force them to take VRS.

Participants shared that they would intimidate employees. Apart from screaming
and threatening, participants would humiliate and insult employees individually
and/or jointly and publicly and/or privately on numerous occasions over a period
of time. Abuse and force pervaded the separation process.
There was nothing voluntary about it. Voluntary cases were rare. In 90 % of the cases, we
forced them. But we never thought that we were doing anything wrong because we had to
save the company.

Threats formed the most common manifestation of bullying. Here, transfers


to lower level jobs were usually invoked to push employees towards the VRS.
Assigning trivial, meaningless or demeaning work was seen as a way of ­harassing
employees such that they preferred quitting. Similarly, initiation of legal and
administrative action including dismissal was often alluded to. While threats
48 3  Experiencing Depersonalized Bullying at Work

worked and did not require implementation in some cases, they were translated
into action and proved successful in others.
In the case of clerical staff, we forced them (to take the VRS) by threatening to transfer
them to the canteen. They got convinced in two sittings.
They were told to come and take VRS. When they refused, we told them they would be
discharged and dismissed and they would get less money than (what they would get) if
they took VRS.

Insults followed threats in terms of frequency of use. Participants would find some
flaw in the employee(s) they were speaking to and anchored their tirade here.
Referring to this shortcoming as the employee’s Achilles heel, participants used
it to their advantage in wearing down the latter. To elaborate, the implications of
the participant’s faults were linked to individual and organizational performance
and questions about commitment and continuity were raised. In so highlighting the
participant’s worthlessness, the case for his exit from the organization was built up.
One person had made (an) error some years back. We spoke only about it, about his care-
lessness. We called him untrustworthy, unreliable…(we) refused to listen to him.

Employees’ responses to managers varied, ranging from stoic listening and defiant
silence to seeking clarification regarding doubts and arguing. Where employees
kept quiet, managers ranted on till the former gave in. Where employees spoke up,
silencing them, ignoring their questions and comments and directing attention to
the organization’s perspective were resorted to. That there was no room for nego-
tiation was made clear to employees.
Participants admitted that they ‘chipped away’ at employees’ self-respect and
peace of mind, cornering them to the point that their resolve caved in. Regard for
means and background was set aside. At the same time, participants emphasized
that their behaviour arose in the line of duty and was not motivated by any per-
sonal differences. Speaking of the influence of macroeconomic forces, participants
underscored that the organizational focus on survival foreclosed their choices.
With the agenda of competitiveness being the essential trigger, participants’ bully-
ing tactics did not embody any singling out of targets.
(It was a) job for us, we did it. We had nothing against them – they were our friends all
this time. But company had to survive, so we did what we had to … went after them till
they signed.

Apart from the aforementioned reactions that took place during face-to-face inter-
actions, some employees assumed aggressive positions, attacking, abusing and/
or threatening participants and/or their families within and/or outside organiza-
tional premises. Notwithstanding the consequent fear felt by some participants,
managers considered employees’ retaliation to be a natural fallout of the ongo-
ing situation linked to their execution of organizational goals and hence took its
accompanying discomfort in their stride.
One guy tried to stop my car. Two guys hid in a bush in my (residence) compound and
threw stones at me.
My wife got threatening calls with very abusive language. I told her to answer in the same
manner.
Study II: Bully Experiences 49

Participants reported that hostile and intimidating measures wore out quite a
few employees who ended up accepting the VRS. But their move came only
after Company E had augmented the VRS package to make it more attractive
and induce more workers to avail of it (see Fig. 3.1, Scheme 2). At this junc-
ture, another 700–800 employees took the VRS. While this development cohered
with organizational objectives, internal equity emerged as a point of controversy.
Employees who opted for the first scheme (i.e., Scheme 1) felt cheated and held
dharnas (demonstrations) and agitations to show their displeasure, aggravating the
already soured employer–employee relationship. Managers acknowledged that the
decision to move from Scheme 1 to Scheme 2 was a mistake.
VRS benefits should decrease with time because people who take it first should get some
benefit out of it – after all, those who take it later are anyway getting their salary for a
longer period of time. But in the company, those who took VRS first got lower benefits
than those who took it later. They were very upset and we were speechless. It was a mis-
take to increase it.

As well as having to tackle the fury of this first group (who had accepted
Scheme 1), participants had to face greater complications in the stand of the 1,000
surplus employees in line for separation. Not only did this latter set of people
maintain their hope the government would not grant permission for closure, but
they also speculated that deferment was preferable as improvements to the VRS
benefits were likely to be made over time.
Managers implementing the VRS programme continued to rely on bullying
and abusive behaviours. The government permission to close Plant A, granted at
Time 3 some months later, played an important role in the management–employee
relationship at Company E since the latter then realized that the management had
not lied to them. The shutdown of Plant A helped to restore the credibility of the
management. A month after the closure order, another 700–800 employees availed
of the VRS either through force or persuasion. As a goodwill gesture, Company
E then extended the VRS for another 6 months so as to allow the unwilling 352
employees of Plant A to take advantage of the benefits. However, it simultaneously
served them with retrenchment notices. The employees, on their part, approached
the High Court (of the state where Company E was located) challenging the gov-
ernment’s permission to shut down Plant A and demanding an upgrade of the pre-
sent VRS package (i.e., Scheme 2) offered by the company. Managers were of
the opinion that if the case lingered for a long period of time, about 220 of these
remaining employees would opt for VRS since their financial conditions were
weak. The rest who were economically strong were expected to keep up with their
wait. Over time, 70–80 people from this group relented and the management of
Company E allowed them to choose the VRS route.
Company never defaulted on procedures – that was our ethos from (the) very beginning.
So when (the) government issued closure orders, workers were shocked. But then they
realized that bhai company has not lied to us. So even those who had left earlier and even
those who were still on rolls felt that we had not lied. Many of the workers who were
resisting VRS came of their own will to avail. And company said that ok, instead of clo-
sure benefits, give VRS.
50 3  Experiencing Depersonalized Bullying at Work

Participants highlighted that employees’ independent stand against the organiza-


tion and the union, indicative of formal resistance (Prasad and Prasad 1998), could
not be upheld due to employer compliance with the law of the land and its own
management–union initiatives.

Grappling with Dilemmas and Quandaries

Participant narratives underscored their mixed reaction to their predicament.


Contrarian thoughts and feelings jostling against one another plagued them, pre-
occupying them and draining their cognitive and emotional energy alongside
the demands of the difficult task they were executing. On the one hand, having
to separate employees from the organization, that too through hostile and aggres-
sive means, deeply disturbed participants not just because it was inconsistent with
the organizational trajectory so far but because it was against their personal and
professional orientations. On the other hand, being able to save the organization
was considered a privileged role whose related benefit of safeguarding one’s own
employment was not lost on participants.
Participants’ distress comprised sadness, guilt and confusion. Unleashing an
unexpected life-change event through the implementation of the VRS on and mov-
ing from earlier long-standing warm and sensitive to now rough and intimidating
interactions with employees that would not just guarantee organizational survival
but also facilitate their own security greatly troubled participants. Participants
spoke of being acutely disturbed by both the changes in the organization and the
adoption of depersonalized bullying tactics as well as because their own positions
were not at stake so long as they fulfilled their KRAs. Making employees leave the
organization in the light of well-established relational psychological contracts of
employment, being harsh and intimidating such that aberration marked employer–
employee ties and feeling inequity at ensuring one’s own employment at the cost
of others were the primary dilemmas participants faced. While encountering chal-
lenges was considered inevitable due to developments at work that stemmed from
intra-organizational and extra-organizational dynamics, participants admitted that
the consequences here encompassed both personal and professional quandaries.
It was (a) tough experience. Pushing people out of their jobs. These people were like
my family members, I knew them all personally. And organization always had a family
atmosphere. Now, we had to throw them out, literally, by screaming and harassing. But we
kept our jobs. It was so upsetting. I was disturbed, all colleagues were disturbed.
Such a bad phase it was…for us, for workers, for company, everyone was affected. Things
changed, pura mahoul badal gaya (the whole atmosphere changed). I felt that this is not
the same place where I worked, I am not the same person. But choice kahan tha (where
was the choice)? If company had to survive, if I had to keep my job, it had to be done.

That participants were upset on both personal and professional fronts due to job-
related circumstances was attributed to their value systems. Participants’ prin-
ciples privileged integrity, honesty, transparency, consistency, sensitivity and
Study II: Bully Experiences 51

compassion. Permeating all areas of their lives, these standards led participants
to choose employers with similar cultures allowing for a seamless link between
themselves and their workplaces such that their true selves could be brought into
the organization. Indeed, in executing their tasks so far, participants had felt no
gap between their beliefs, the organizational ethos, their personal self and their
professional standpoint. Ongoing events in the employer organization radically
altered this comfortable situation, with participants experiencing variance between
their workplace cultures and their individual values such that personal and profes-
sional quandaries emerged.
Professional puzzles circled around issues of how business should be conducted
and how employees should be dealt with. Participants mulled over maintaining con-
tinuity in principles notwithstanding the vagaries of the economy and of organiza-
tional effectiveness, emphasizing that change called for the observation of ethical
protocols. Personal perplexities included issues of self-definition and interpersonal
relationships. In addition to concerns about how people should be treated, existential
questions about the self vis-à-vis individual survival, others’ livelihood, employer
imperatives, business requirements, social interaction and value systems arose.
Suddenly, everything was different. We had come to this company because we liked its
values … we and (the) company stood for same principles. But in this situation, we were
lost. (The) company had another priority – which was not wrong – but we had to answer
our conscience. (At the) same time, keep our jobs, see to our families. So how to do this
while being the same person, the same manager, the same colleague?

Matters linked to authority, power and ethics came to the fore. Unanimous in their
stand that the engagement of abuse, aggression, hostility and force was wrong,
participants questioned their use of their positions. Their authority as managers
afforded them power but did exercising their influence in the service of the organi-
zation absolve them of the responsibility to be decent human beings and morally
upright professionals? Doubts such as these contributed to participants’ disequilib-
rium and turmoil.
We had to deliver, we had to save the company. But means to the end is also important.
Just because you are a manager, you have a position, can you misuse that? There are no
easy answers for this, you know.

Interestingly, one manager admitted that, during the initial implementation of the
VRS, the feeling of power that came with the performance of such a role was an
enjoyable one. Yet, the heady experience of asserting one’s authority was short-
lived as various dilemmas and quandaries emerged in the wake of observing
employee strain.
In the initial days of the programme, I enjoyed it. I used to say that I had played 50 runs
today, 40 runs today. I was enjoying it as if I had won a battle.

HR managers’ distress was even more pronounced as their actions totally violated
their mandate of protecting employee interests. They had been trained to see their
role as one of giving jobs, developing people, progressing careers and guarantee-
ing employee rights but the execution of the VRS programme demanded actions to
52 3  Experiencing Depersonalized Bullying at Work

the contrary. ‘Pushing people out of their jobs’, ‘holding people against the wall’,
‘wearing down his (employee’s) morale with threats and insults’ and ‘destroying
him (employee), his career and his family’ were described as completely out of
synchrony with the former approach.
My role was to give employment and here I was telling people to go.

Relying on bullying behaviours even though targeting was not involved haunted
HR managers who opined that this amounted to undermining employee rights.
That participants were fully overwhelmed by such a work-related demand came
through clearly from their narratives.
We would wonder what kind of a profession we were in which causes so much of distress.
It was very frustrating.

Moreover, HR managers, especially the juniors, stated that nothing in their educa-
tion had prepared them for this responsibility. Neither separating employees nor
being involved in/party to depersonalized bullying had fallen within the purview
of their skill sets. Lacking the training called for in the performance of such a task,
participants reported feeling unequipped for the role enactment expected of them.
Concomitant with their predicament were more fundamental reflections about
the place of HR at work. HR managers anticipated that the changing nature of eco-
nomic imperatives and business contexts heralded a new era for their profession
which had now to balance organizational goals with employee well-being. Their
concerns hovered around retaining their essential pro-employee thrust which they
feared would get compromised as the quest for organizational success became
more intense and competitive.
Apart from value systems, both organizational culture and sociospatial factors
contributed to determining participant reactions.
Characterized by a pro-employee philosophy, the organizational ethos at
Company E had prioritized employee interests, participative management styles
and cordial and understanding interpersonal relationships. That the ongoing
organizational situation was a stark break from the past on all these fronts not
only aggravated participants’ task implementation, making it difficult for them to
approach and interact with employees, but also exacerbated their unhappiness and
bewilderment.
With the industrial city that Company E was located being small in size, physi-
cal proximity and organizational culture together had promoted close, dense,
strong and cohesive ties where multiplexity and mutuality (Kadushin 2012) pre-
dominated. Intra-organizational developments, being inconsistent with this larger
backdrop, vitiated it, worsening the strained employer–employee relationship and
posing more blocks to managerial task fulfilment as well as complicating manage-
rial thoughts and feelings.
See, company, town, people, all were one. We worked together, lived together, everything
together, for many years, many generations sometimes. So the culture was one, whether
you say office or you say home. That made it really (a) challenge. Company culture was
very cordial, democratic. Outside, we all knew each other, lot(s) of bonding. These senti-
ments put lot(s) of blocks for us to execute (the VRS programme).
Study II: Bully Experiences 53

The absence of a formal follow-up mechanism added to participants’ distress.


Believing that reaching out to, keeping in touch with and tracking employees’
conditions was an important responsibility built into any separation programme,
particularly where a history of a positive workplace ethos and a congenial
employer–employee relationship existed, participants rued the apparent short-sight-
edness. Yet, due to the negative feelings with which many employees left and the
attacks, abuse and threats that managers faced, participants did not find it feasible to
attempt even an informal follow-up of the employees, though they were concerned
about the latter’s welfare. The stand therefore was to let employees take the initiative
to sustain contact. So, follow-up took place if employees approached the organiza-
tion for help, met managers at public places or came, of their own free will, to the
organization and reported their present status to the managers. Through these means,
managers received updates about the particular employee and often about his for-
mer colleagues as well. Some managers alluded to getting news about separated
employees from those currently with the company. Participants, whose shame about
this gaping hole in the organization’s turnaround endeavour was heightened by the
changes in the organizational trajectory and the adoption of depersonalized bullying
behaviours, confessed their inability to convince top management otherwise.
Ideally, follow-up should have been there. Especially because of the company ethos. But
top management felt it was not required and so we left it at that. We get information infor-
mally from different people – current employees, family members (of separated workers),
workers themselves if they are still living here. Some of my colleagues wanted to keep in
contact (with the separated employees) especially because things had been so brutal but
security issues ke vajah se, yeh mushkil hua (due to security issues, this became difficult).

Reflecting on their distress, dilemmas and quandaries and the various triggering
causes underlying these, participants lamented their restricted autonomy to behave
differently, attributing their lack of choice to the ongoing organizational circum-
stances influenced by macroeconomic factors. Indeed, participants’ knowledge that
their execution of the VRS and their use of intimidation and abuse were saving the
company offset their emotional strain to some extent. The sense that at least some
greater good came from partaking in such a difficult and complex situation was
described as the most significant long-term positive outcome, precipitating an ele-
ment of contentment in participants.
That we were saving the company, saving 1,800 people’s jobs, made us feel better about
what we were doing.

Assuaging participants’ misgivings further were the facts that the change effort
was within the purview of industrial and labour laws, provided separating employ-
ees with the maximum possible benefits and enjoyed union support.
Moreover, participants’ loyalty to the organization precluded them from consider-
ing quitting despite the disturbing nature of their task and the discomfort associated
with employee retaliation. Participants maintained that leaving the organization during
the crisis amounted to resorting to ‘abandonment’ and being a ‘time-server’ and a ‘fair-
weather friend’. Such a route would constitute an act of betrayal that questioned their
personal and professional character. That they stayed with and ensured the continuity
54 3  Experiencing Depersonalized Bullying at Work

of the organization during adversity despite the ensuing challenges was described with
pride as proof of their propriety, evidencing enhancement of their self-worth.
Nonetheless, participants’ limited contentment was additionally hemmed in by
a sense of selfishness associated with their actions. While, on the one hand, they
were saving the organization and considered this to be a noble pursuit that they
constantly emphasized, on the other hand, they were protecting their own employ-
ment as their KRAs were linked to the successful execution of the VRS pro-
gramme. Participants, being only too conscious of this latter aspect whose inherent
contradictions plagued them, reported being torn between individual interests,
organizational survival, job requirements and employee security. The issue of
inequity loomed large in their minds, compounding their distress and accentuating
their dilemmas and quandaries. Yet, none of them could deny their relief and com-
fort arising from the surety of their own positions.
We had to do it to save the company. But we had to do it to save our jobs. It was terrible.
Unfair, selfish, guilty…I used to feel like that. It was too disturbing.

Maintaining Individual Interests

In spite of their complicated and paradoxical circumstances with its accompanying


distress and contentment and dilemmas and quandaries, participants knew fully
well that beyond organizational continuity, their own survival was at stake and it
was in their interests to fulfil organizational expectations. Undoubtedly, regard-
less of their opinions and sentiments about the change endeavour and about the
engagement of depersonalized bullying behaviours, delivering organizational
requirements guaranteed their individual security and hence acquired primacy.
Indeed, that their own jobs were on the line was a perennial refrain present in par-
ticipants’ narratives, though this was mentioned in an understated manner being
camouflaged within the focus on organizational imperatives.
As the task had been handed to them by top management and linked to their
KRAs, participants’ performance here was measured and determined their reten-
tion and growth with the employer organization. Refusals to comply and deliver
would put their own employment at risk. Apart from losing their livelihood and
jeopardizing their career, participants’ families would suffer due to consequent
financial constraints. In the face of the reservations they harboured, participants
assumed a pragmatic and long-term stand and kept up with the assignment allo-
cated to them, recognizing that their economic stability and overall progress lay in
executing and realizing the organizational agenda.
Basically, it was about the future of _____ (Company E). But it was also about me – that
I cannot deny. See, it was in my KRA, so if I did not deliver, I would lose my job and my
family would suffer – and that is not possible. So what I felt about change, about behaving
badly with workers, I had to take in my stride and manage the situation.

Cognitive restructuring, prioritizing, rationalization, compartmentalization and


affective blunting, intra-organizational and extra-organizational social support,
spiritual leanings and hobbies and leisure activities were relied upon to cope with
Study II: Bully Experiences 55

the difficult circumstances. Through these mechanisms, participants’ ­overarching


strategy was to keep focused on the task they were entrusted with and not to think
too much or feel too deeply about the situation because if they did so, they would
not be able to proceed with the job at hand, and such a development would have
adverse implications for them.
It was a task to be done and I looked at it like that. Something that had to be delivered as part
of my role. Looking at it with objectivity was the only way of keeping my feelings in control.
Our colleagues used to support us a lot. That made a lot of difference. They helped us to
persist.

Strangely, while employee-driven attacks, abuse and threats reduced partici-


pants’ sense of well-being, to the extent of inducing fear in some, they were not
described as compromising individual gains. Employee retaliation, considered to
be inevitable and justifiable due to the implementation of the VRS and the adop-
tion of depersonalized bullying behaviours, was seen by participants as unlinked
to their own interests which were clearly perceived as being tied in exclusively to
their meeting employer expectations.
Threats are there – they do disturb, especially when you think about your family. But then
doing the task means that I have a job to look after my needs and provide for my family.
So threats are not so bothersome. Keeping my job is paramount.

Consequently, apart from a few cases who reported feeling afraid, participants’
concerns in relation to employee attacks, abuse and threats centred on their fami-
lies not just in instances where the latter too directly faced employees’ ire but also
in terms of foreseeing the latter’s future in case the proposed aggression was trans-
lated into action.
I was not bothered about myself as such. But what would my family do if anything hap-
pened to me? I was afraid for them.

Assistance from colleagues and top management, manifested covertly in order to


avoid alerting employees about participants’ reactions and thereby augmenting
their vengeance, served as an important means of coping. Top management’s sup-
port, described as unstinting, included security cover, transport, alternative accom-
modation for temporary periods, offered also to participants’ families, as well as
liaising with the police to ensure safety.
My wife walks to work, and during the time of VRS, she felt that workers passing her on
the road were making comments. The MD (Managing Director) got to know about this
and told me that she could use the company car to go to work. I refused because I felt that
the workers would feel that we were scared – it would give them the wrong signals.

Conclusion

Participant narratives in Study I and Study II highlight targets’/employees’/recipi-


ents’ and bullies’/managers’/supervisors’/implementers’ experiences with dep-
ersonalized bullying. Targets remain in depersonalized bullying work contexts
56 3  Experiencing Depersonalized Bullying at Work

because of the associated personal gains. Bullies engage in depersonalized


­bullying involuntarily due to organizational and individual goals. Indeed, ambiva-
lence marked targets’ and bullies’ interface with depersonalized bullying in both
the foregoing enquiries.
Comprising simultaneously positive and negative elements (Baron and Byrne
2004; Brief 1998) or overlapping approach-avoidance tendencies (Sincoff 1990)
that drive an individual in opposite and conflicting directions (Oreg and Sverdlik
2011), ambivalence emphasizes that our responses to an entity are not always
unidimensional or uniform (Baron and Byrne 2004; Brief 1998; Fong 2006), but
often mixed (Fong 2006). Indisputably, both targets and bullies displayed contra-
dictory reactions to their encounters with depersonalized bullying. Targets, while
despairing of such an experience, acknowledged its inevitable link with their job-
related benefits. Bullies, though greatly troubled by their enactment of such behav-
iour, admitted that it was unavoidable if organizational effectiveness and personal
security had to be achieved. Participants’ explicit awareness of their paradoxical
positions indicated felt ambivalence (van Harreveld et al. 2009), attesting to their
authenticity (Meyerson and Scully 1995).
Interestingly, across both enquiries, the instrumentalism associated with the
world of work (Gill 1999), in underscoring the salience of the positive, approach
aspect of ambivalence and its congruence with participants’ interests appears to
be a critical factor influencing participants’ efforts at working through the nega-
tive, avoidance tendency of ambivalence in the attempt to come to terms with
their dualistic position (Meyerson and Scully 1995; van Harreveld et al. 2009).
Notwithstanding the experienced conflict and psychological discomfort arising
from their ambivalence, participants’ vacillatory response (Pratt and Doucet 2006)
leans strongly towards compromise (Meyerson and Scully 1995) and trade-off
(Pratt and Doucet 2006) as they integrate desirable elements of their work experi-
ences with their individual aspirations (van Harreveld et al. 2009), evidencing their
reliance on emotion-focused coping strategies.
While ambivalence stood out as targets’ and bullies’ responses to depersonal-
ized bullying at work and hence was elaborated upon in the conclusion above,
other findings from Studies I and II pertaining to and throwing light on deperson-
alized bullying at work are discussed through the theorizing endeavour undertaken
in Chap. 4.

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Chapter 4
Theorizing About Depersonalized Bullying
at Work

Notwithstanding the scholarly progress that characterizes the field of w ­ orkplace


bullying in the last 20 years (Branch et al. 2013; Einarsen et al. 2011;
­
Samnani and Singh 2012), most of the advances here focus on the interpersonal
level of analysis (D’Cruz 2012). Depersonalized bullying, while recognized as
an independent concept within the substantive area (Liefooghe and MacKenzie-
Davey 2001; Einarsen et al. 2011), has not received much research attention
(D’Cruz 2012). Yet, with depersonalized bullying being seen as likely to increase
across workplaces in the contemporary competitive business context (D’Cruz
2012; D’Cruz et al. 2014) as well as with employment being inevitable for sur-
vival (Einarsen and Raknes 1997; Lutgen-Sandvik 2005), exposure to deperson-
alized bullying at work as a target, bully and/or bystander appears unavoidable,
and hence, a deeper and systematic understanding of the phenomenon assumes rel-
evance. Synthesizing and distilling from the combined findings of Studies I and
II detailed in Chap. 3 as well as the sparse existing literature to fulfil this aim,
the current chapter highlights the distinctive features of depersonalized bully-
ing and proposes a theoretical framework of depersonalized bullying, interspers-
ing avenues for future research in each case. It may be noted that ontological and
epistemological similarities in method and rigour (Crotty 1998) and a nomothetic
stand during analysis (Karson 2007) permitted the theoretical generalizability of
the findings (Thompson 1999) allowing for these endeavours to be undertaken,
though each of the foregoing enquiries was situated in different geographical loca-
tions and industries and captured the experiences of two sets of protagonists. The
chapter closes with recommendations for intervention in relation to depersonalized
workplace bullying.

© The Author(s) 2015 59


P. D’Cruz, Depersonalized Bullying at Work, SpringerBriefs in Psychology,
DOI 10.1007/978-81-322-2044-2_4
60 4  Theorizing About Depersonalized Bullying at Work

Features of Depersonalized Bullying at Work

Depersonalized workplace bullying is a singular entity with its own special attrib-
utes. Pinning its unique nature is of critical significance not just for conceptual
and theoretical reasons but also for methodological and measurement purposes
with particular emphasis on the issue of its validity. This section elaborates on the
distinguishing character of depersonalized bullying at work as emerging from the
findings of Studies I and II (Chap. 3) as well as from the limited earlier litera-
ture, spelling out its specificities in terms of dimensions such as source, visibility,
form, aetiology, target orientation, temporality, power dynamics and outcomes for
targets, bullies, bystanders and organizations, put forward previously in Chap. 2
in relation to interpersonal bullying at work. The discussion is summarized in
Table  4.1 which also includes the typical features of interpersonal bullying from
Table 2.1 to facilitate a comparison.

Table 4.1  The distinctive features of interpersonal and depersonalized bullying at work


Dimension Interpersonal bullying at work Depersonalized bullying at work
Source Downwards, upwards, horizon- Downwards
tal or cross-level co-bullying
Visibility Public and/or private Public and/private
Direct, overt and obvious Direct, overt and obvious and/or
and/or indirect, subtle and indirect, subtle and ambiguous
ambiguous
Form Real (traditional) and/or virtual Real (traditional) and/or virtual
(cyber) (cyber)
Aetiology Target characteristics Competitive advantage
Bully characteristics
Work environment factors
Target orientation Specific—singling out of a General—applied uniformly
person or group of persons across all employees of organi-
zation or work group
Temporality Usually persistent but also Chronic or episodic blocks of
includes single incident time
Power dynamics Illegitimate personal ‘power’ Blurring of legitimate and ille-
of bully gitimate organizational power
Outcomes for targets Adverse physical and mental Ambivalence (well-being and
health strain) or negativity (strain)
Growing powerlessness
Exit response
Outcomes for bullies Mixed depending on aetiology Ambivalence
and trajectory
Outcomes for bystanders Adverse as per current research Where bystanders are present,
but anticipated to be mixed anticipated to be mixed depend-
depending on stand taken ing on stand taken
Outcomes for Negative in terms of financial Anticipated to be mixed
organizations and non-financial indicators
Features of Depersonalized Bullying at Work 61

Depersonalized bullying at work arises from the quest for competitive advan-
tage (D’Cruz and Noronha 2009; Liefooghe and MacKenzie-Davey 2001). Extra-
organizational business forces and intra-organizational aspirations decide the
organizational agenda and determine the internal workplace context, influenc-
ing managerial ideology and organizational culture (D’Cruz and Noronha 2009,
2014). The intra-organizational environment, comprising policies, practices, struc-
ture, technology, controls and leadership, bears down on employees through abu-
sive and hostile behaviours resorted to involuntarily and impersonally by managers
and supervisors responsible for attaining organizational goals (D’Cruz and Noronha
2009, 2014; Liefooghe and MacKenzie-Davey 2001). Depersonalized bullying,
being thus lodged in the organizational design, is an institutionalized, sociostructural
phenomenon (Keashly and Harvey 2006), instrumental in realizing organizational
objectives (D’Cruz 2012; D’Cruz and Noronha 2009, 2014). Noting the aetiologi-
cal basis for depersonalized bullying, its presence in the workplace is expected to
increase in incidence and intensity in the light of the volatility of the contemporary
business context where organizational survival is constantly at risk (D’Cruz 2012;
D’Cruz et al. 2014). The opportunity to escape from such an environment is remote
given that employment is an indispensable means to securing one’s livelihood dur-
ing adulthood (Einarsen and Raknes 1997; Lutgen-Sandvik 2005).
Enacted by managers and supervisors, depersonalized workplace bully-
ing is downwards in direction (D’Cruz and Noronha 2009, 2014; Liefooghe and
MacKenzie-Davey 2001). While supervisory and managerial layers generally deal
with the workforce immediately below them in the organizational hierarchy, it is
possible that levels are skipped as they attempt to deliver results mandated by the
organization. Indeed, superiors’ behaviour appears to reflect tyrannical leadership
(Aasland et al. 2010) which comprises a pro-organization but an anti-subordinate
orientation where managers and supervisors pursue organizational goals at the
expense of subordinates (Aasland et al. 2010). Yet, while Aasland et al. (2010)
used the concept of tyrannical leadership in relation to interpersonal bullying, ref-
erences to it in instances of depersonalized bullying warrant investigation to assess
its application specific to the latter level of workplace bullying. It would also be
interesting to examine targets’ behaviour when they move up the organizational
hierarchy to ascertain whether they engage in and how they feel about adopting
depersonalized bullying as supervisors and managers. Exploring this trajectory to
find out whether issues such as provocative victims (Olweus 2003) and counter-
aggression (Hauge et al. 2009; Jenkins et al. 2012; Lee and Brotheridge 2006),
associated with interpersonal bullying, are mirrored, although asynchronously, in
depersonalized bullying, can add insights.
Superiors display aggressive and intimidating behaviours to employees indi-
vidually and/or jointly, publicly and/or privately and overtly and/or covertly in
the course of ensuring organizational effectiveness (D’Cruz 2012; D’Cruz and
Noronha 2014). Thus, a single and/or a group of superiors could demonstrate these
behaviours in clear and obvious and/or subtle and ambiguous manifestations to
their subordinates individually and/or jointly while both protagonists are by them-
selves and/or with other colleagues. Further, whereas most research so far shows
62 4  Theorizing About Depersonalized Bullying at Work

depersonalized bullying in a real/traditional form (i.e., face-to-face interactions


in a physical site] D’Cruz and Noronha 2009, 2014; Liefooghe and MacKenzie-
Davey 2001), an instance of its manifestation in a virtual/cyber form has elsewhere
been reported from a target’s perspective (D’Cruz and Noronha 2013) and calls
for further study to identify any additional aspects that may contribute to a deeper
understanding.
With all employees of the organization or of the particular work group being
subjected to depersonalized bullying, the absence of a target orientation renders
such behaviour impersonal (D’Cruz and Noronha 2009, 2014; Liefooghe and
MacKenzie-Davey 2001). Supervisors and managers, whose responsibilities lie
in achieving organizational competitiveness, implement organizational require-
ments across the workforce or work group, resorting to these abusive and aggres-
sive tactics without singling out any specific employee or harbouring any intention
other than the attainment of organizational imperatives (D’Cruz 2012; D’Cruz
and Noronha 2009). Since ‘getting the job done for the greater good’ drives the
depersonalized bullying situation, such behaviour is seen as pervasive across all
the employees of the organization or of the particular work group characteriz-
ing superior actions in general and not zeroing in on any employee in particular.
Undoubtedly, uniformity marks the enactment of depersonalized bullying behav-
iours (D’Cruz 2012; D’Cruz and Noronha 2009, 2014), turning it into a shared
experience regardless of its manifestation such that the meaning of the communal
nature of workplace bullying (Lutgen-Sandvik 2005) is altered.
Temporally, depersonalized workplace bullying is either chronic and perennial
or episodic over a block of time. In the former instance which has an industry-
specific element, depersonalized bullying defines particular sectors due to the
nature of work organization and job design and its presence in the ITES-BPO sec-
tor has already been demonstrated (D’Cruz and Noronha 2009; Liefooghe and
MacKenzie-Davey 2001). In the latter instance which has an event-specific ele-
ment, depersonalized bullying occurs during organizational crises and organiza-
tional change and has been earlier evidenced by D’Cruz and Noronha’s (2014) and
D’Cruz et al.’s (2014) studies on lay-offs during the 2008–2009 financial reces-
sion. Going forward, research on industries and organizational events where dep-
ersonalized bullying predominates is needed to fine-tune insights into issues of
duration and repetition linked to time. Such enquiries would bring with them the
added advantage of throwing light on the setting within which depersonalized bul-
lying at work takes place.
Power dynamics operate at the organizational level in instances of depersonal-
ized bullying. On the one hand, superiors’ behaviour draws on their formal author-
ity such that depersonalized bullying can be viewed as stemming ‘not so much
from abusive or illegitimate use of power as from power which is considered
legitimate, and tightly related to the labour process and managerial prerogative
to manage’ (Hoel and Salin 2003: 205). Managerial discourse and organizational
interests mask depersonalized bullying (Beale and Hoel 2011; Deetz 1992;
Ironside and Seifert 2003), justifying it as tactics to get the job done (Brodsky
1976). On the other hand, superiors’ behaviour further skews the inherently and
Features of Depersonalized Bullying at Work 63

inevitably imbalanced employment relationship (Alvesson and Deetz 1996) in


favour of employers against employees such that the limits of employer influence
are extended and the degree of employee vulnerability is heightened (Beale and
Hoel 2011; Ironside and Seifert 2003). This interplay of excess and deficiency
interrogates the blurring of the line between legitimate and illegitimate power in
depersonalized bullying (Liefooghe and MacKenzie-Davey 2001), bringing issues
of business strategy vis-à-vis employee rights to the fore (D’Cruz et al. 2014;
Harrington 2010). The ensuing controversy cannot lose sight of the fact that bul-
lying is unethical and unacceptable (LaVan and Martin 2008; Ramsay et al. 2011),
and hence, competitive advantage and moral propriety must proceed simultane-
ously such that organizational effectiveness and employee well-being coexist com-
patibly (Bolton and Houlihan 2007; Parkes and Davis 2013).
Whereas ambivalence constitutes target and bully responses to depersonalized
bullying at work, bullies in Study II described the negative reactions of their tar-
gets (see Chap. 3), pointing out that further explorations to discover the range of
and dynamics underlying target perspectives are in order. In addition, investigating
the outcomes if the avoidance tendency of protagonists’ ambivalence prevails is
worth pursuing.
Depersonalized bullying at work may or may not have bystanders. Where the
entire workforce of an organization (i.e., all employees) is subjected to deperson-
alized bullying as in the case of Study I and in the work of D’Cruz and Noronha
(2009) and Liefooghe and Mackenzie-Davey (2001), the term ‘bystanders’ is
redundant. Where a part of the workforce of an organization (i.e., a specific work
group) is subjected to depersonalized bullying as in the case of Study II and in
the work of D’Cruz and Noronha (2014), the remaining employees are bystand-
ers. Taking a cue from the interpersonal workplace bullying literature on bystand-
ers (D’Cruz 2012; Hoel et al. 2011; Mulder et al. 2013; Paull et al. 2012; Rayner
1999; van Heugten 2011), the significance of researching the experiences of this
group cannot be overemphasized. Such endeavours would speak to bystander cog-
nitions, emotions and behaviours, with implications for the design and execution
of interventions addressing depersonalized bullying.
Depersonalized bullying is resorted to in the interests of the organization and
facilitates the realization of organizational objectives and the maintenance of com-
petitive advantage (D’Cruz and Noronha 2009; Liefooghe and MacKenzie-Davey
2001). To that extent, the organization stands to gain from its engagement. Yet,
its adverse emotional impact (as well as physical impact sometimes) on employ-
ees, particularly those in ongoing employment (D’Cruz and Noronha 2009,
2014; Liefooghe and MacKenzie-Davey 2001), and on supervisors and managers
detracts from these benefits. Following from these negative effects, employees’,
supervisors’ and managers’ morale, motivation, satisfaction, commitment and per-
formance can suffer, proving costly to the organization. That bystanders’ reactions
have fallouts for the organization cannot be denied. Enquiries into the gains and
losses to workplaces accruing from both target and bully as well as from bystander
experiences within and across organizations exploring different settings in terms
of industrial sectors and organizational events are relevant to establish the exact
64 4  Theorizing About Depersonalized Bullying at Work

nature of organizational outcomes. Employee (i.e., both targets and bystanders),


supervisor and managerial turnover on account of depersonalized bullying will
also contribute to organizational costs.

A Theoretical Framework of Depersonalized


Bullying at Work

Developing a model that encapsulates the essence of a field of study is valuable


in integrating the knowledge available in the area. Such an activity goes beyond
highlighting the current insights, pointing out gaps that inform future research and
indicating avenues where intervention can be planned. The theoretical framework
depicted in Fig. 4.1 systematizes the extant literature on depersonalized bully-
ing at work (including the findings of Studies I and II as well as the sparse exist-
ing enquiries), underscoring the dynamic verified and hypothesized connections
between various stakeholders such that antecedents, course and consequences
as well as temporality, setting, form and other influences are encompassed. In so
doing, the phenomenon of depersonalized workplace bullying is realistically por-
trayed as a complex entity. It may be noted that the perforated lines and circles in
Fig.  4.1 refer to unresearched aspects that have not been explored so far but are
critical in completing the understanding required for basic and applied purposes.
Depersonalized bullying at work emerges due to the combined interplay of
the extra-organizational business environment and the pursuit of organizational
goals, both of which are driven by competitive advantage. The extra-organiza-
tional business context which subsumes a spectrum of international and national
economic, political and social factors affects the organizational agenda as it cre-
ates the background within which competitive advantage is defined. Together, the
external circumstances and organizational objectives determine the future direc-
tion of the organization such that the organization’s internal design is shaped
consistently with its aspirations. Accordingly, managerial ideology and organi-
zational culture, cohering with organizational ends, are manifested via organi-
zational policies, practices, structure, technology, controls and leadership. The
organization’s adoption of contextual, structural and processual elements that pro-
mote its agenda results in supervisors’ and managers’ involuntary and impersonal
reliance on abusive and hostile tactics in the discharge of their responsibilities.
Intra-organizational dynamics and superior behaviour coalesce and create a deper-
sonalized bullying work environment which is applied uniformly to all employees
of the organization or of (a) particular work group(s).
Bullies’ interface with depersonalized bullying precipitates ambivalence. That
is, while deriving satisfaction from fulfilling organizational expectations and
expressing contentment over maintaining individual interests, bullies remain dis-
turbed about the engagement of intimidating and aggressive behaviours and the
adverse effects on targets, especially if the onset of depersonalized bullying repre-
sents a sudden shift in the organizational evolution. The functional specialization of
A Theoretical Framework of Depersonalized Bullying at Work
65

Fig. 4.1  A theoretical framework of depersonalized bullying at work


66 4  Theorizing About Depersonalized Bullying at Work

the bully plays a role here in terms of impact, especially with regard to the nature
and degree of discomfort. Yet, whether the avoidance aspect of their reactions leads
bullies to alter their own behaviour, organizational internal design, organizational
goals and/or the extra-organizational environment needs to be empirically ascer-
tained. It can be anticipated that ceding to the undesirable part of their ambivalence
would unleash a range of bully responses. Modifying their own actions to ensure
the absence of abuse and hostility is one. Re-examining the intra-organizational
context to eliminate unfavourable structural, processual and contextual elements is
another. Recasting organizational objectives and repositioning the extra-organiza-
tional business environment through lobbying and advocacy such that negative acts
of aggression and intimidation have no opportunity to seep in are the third and the
fourth responses, which could be resorted to individually and/or jointly.
In terms of their experiences of depersonalized bullying, targets in Study I
described the coexistence of their appreciation for their job-related gains and their
dissatisfaction with their oppressive work environment. Yet, ambivalence does not
appear to be the only response here. Allusions to targets’ negative reactions by bullies
in Study II emphasize the importance of further explorations in this area. Is ambiva-
lence as target response to depersonalized bullying true in all cases of the phenom-
enon? If so, what accounts for the similarity? If not, what gives rise to the variance?
And what constitutes target reactions in instances where deviations from ambivalence
are evident? Do industrial sector and organizational events provide some clue to tar-
get responses? Further, targets in Study I showed routine resistance arising from the
avoidance tendency of their ambivalence whereas bullies in Study II described the
formal resistance of their targets stemming from the latter’s adverse reactions. These
insights throw up numerous questions about target resistance in depersonalized bully-
ing. What is the relevance of resistance here? What affects the transition from routine
to formal resistance? What impinges on the trajectory of formal resistance to temper
its impact? What is the role of bystanders, if present, in the resistance effort? The
implications of routine and formal resistance in influencing intra-organizational and
extra-organizational contexts as well as for redefining power dynamics at work in
general and in relation to bullying in particular are worth looking into.
In contrast to the emotion-focused coping displayed by targets in Study I and
bullies in Study II (see Chap. 3), acting on the avoidance aspect of ambivalence
and on negative responses, as described above, brings into play problem-focused
coping, allowing internal loci of control to surface and a sense of agency to be
demonstrated. Nonetheless, whether the selection of the active coping strategies
induces an air of empowerment in the protagonists should be explored.
Going further, career development engenders employees’ progression to super-
visors and managers, begging the question of how their experiences as targets of
depersonalized bullying at lower levels of the organizational hierarchy affect them
at higher positions in terms of the behaviours they enact and the changes they
attempt as superiors.
Quitting and re-employment as means of exiting the depersonalized bullying
situation are possibilities for both bullies and targets. Yet, these steps, which entail
engagement with the extra-organizational business context to check job options,
provide bullies and targets with relief from their interface with abusive and hostile
A Theoretical Framework of Depersonalized Bullying at Work 67

tactics only in terms of the availability of work opportunities that eschew deperson-
alized bullying. Examining bully and target experiences on these fronts is an avenue
for investigation. At the same time, it must be noted that targets in Study I, being
aware of the paucity of job alternatives providing benefits identical to their current
returns, continued in their ongoing employment despite being subjected to deperson-
alized bullying, indicating that decisions here are also influenced by other considera-
tions. How targets in such instances navigate the extra-organizational environment
to keep up with their tangible and intangible job-related gains but move away from
intimidating and aggressive work contexts remains to be understood.
Notwithstanding the nascent stage of research in the field of depersonal-
ized workplace bullying, targets have received maximum attention (D’Cruz and
Noronha 2009; Liefooghe and Mackenzie-Davey 2001), followed by the current
focus on bullies. Bystanders, who cannot be ignored, become relevant in cases
where depersonalized bullying applies to a part of the workforce of an organiza-
tion (i.e., a specific work group). What is this group’s experience of depersonal-
ized bullying? In exploring bystanders’ thoughts, feelings and actions, their role in
the depersonalized bullying situation can be determined. In cases where deperson-
alized bullying applies to the entire workforce of an organization (i.e., all employ-
ees), bystanders are redundant.
Insights into organizations will be progressed by including outcomes and
power. Given that depersonalized bullying is relied on with a view to securing
organizational advantage but has mixed or negative effects on targets and mixed
effects on bullies, its impact on organizational outcomes needs to be ascertained.
Incorporating the effects on bystanders here will complete the enquiry. Granted
that organizational power comes to the fore in instances of depersonalized bully-
ing, the interplay between organizations, targets, bullies and bystanders as well
as extra-organizational factors could have implications for organizational power
dynamics, throwing up several study possibilities.
The linkage between temporality and setting requires unravelling. That is, since
depersonalized workplace bullying as a chronic feature is industry-specific while
as an episodic feature is event-specific, uncovering organizational circumstances
will shed light on time-related issues. Are there particular sectors where deperson-
alized bullying exists and are there certain organizational occasions during which
depersonalized bullying surfaces as well as how both these foregoing questions
relate to the extra-organizational business environment are areas for research.
Moreover, do target, bully and bystander experiences of depersonalized bullying
vary with setting and temporality?
Lastly, to acquire a thorough and holistic picture of depersonalized workplace
bullying, examining and comparing both real/traditional forms and virtual/cyber
forms as well as hearing the voices of top management, industry groups, policy
makers and trade unionists is important.
The theoretical framework of depersonalized bullying at work elucidated in
this section is proposed with the intention of consolidating the extant literature
on and stimulating more enquiries into the phenomenon. The development of a
psychometric scale to measure depersonalized bullying would be a fruitful exer-
cise aiding this latter aim particularly in relation to studies embedded in positivist
68 4  Theorizing About Depersonalized Bullying at Work

ontologies and epistemologies. While the question triggering the research should
decide on the use of the said instrument such that conceptual and technical
designs cohere with each other, its robustness in terms of validity and reliability
cannot be compromised. Guided by rigorous empirical endeavours, the findings
of these enquiries would feed back into and refine the suggested model such that
its explanatory power and predictive capacity are enhanced and scholarship and
application in the field are advanced.
Going forward on the lines elaborated upon in the preceding paragraphs would
promote conceptual parity between interpersonal and depersonalized workplace
bullying. As discussed in Chap. 2, interpersonal bullying already boasts of numer-
ous commendable theoretical frameworks, especially those of Einarsen et al. (2011)
and Branch et al. (2013) whose parsimony does not make any concession on
complexity. Besides, interpersonal bullying by now houses several measurement
scales (see Nielsen et al. 2011), particularly the widely adopted Negative Acts
Questionnaire/NAQ (Einarsen et al. 2009) whose psychometric strengths are une-
quivocal (Nielsen et al. 2011). The NAQ not only has evolved a shortened version,
known as the S-NAQ (Notelaers and Einarsen 2008), but also has been demon-
strated as amenable to the representation of both targets’ and bullies’ perspectives
(Baillien et al. 2011a, b; De Cuyper et al. 2009).
Interestingly, the recognition of compounded workplace bullying in vari-
ous studies (D’Cruz and Noronha 2010a, b, 2011, 2012; D’Cruz et al. 2014) has
not been followed up with systematic empirical enquiries or plausible theoretical
explanations. Studies on the joint occurrence of and linkage between interpersonal
and depersonalized workplace bullying are required. Numerous research questions
come to mind. Does interpersonal bullying lay the foundations for depersonalized
bullying? Or does a depersonalized bullying organizational context sow the seeds
of interpersonal bullying? Do target and bystander efforts to resist depersonal-
ized bullying through co-worker mobilization or trade union action result in new
instances or mitigate ongoing cases of interpersonal bullying? What is the impact
of compounded bullying on targets? How is bully behaviour triggered and affected
in compounded bullying situations? Are there implications for the study of lead-
ership in workplace bullying as leaders are sometimes considered to be proxies
for bullies? What meaning does compounded bullying hold for bystanders? Does
compounded bullying make a difference to redressal and intervention? Through
investigations into these aspects, a unified framework of workplace bullying can
be propounded, subsuming Einarsen et al. (2011) and Branch et al. (2013) for
interpersonal bullying and Fig. 4.1 in this volume for depersonalized bullying.

Interventions Addressing Depersonalized Bullying at Work

The acknowledgement that bullying is unethical behaviour which goes against uni-
versal norms of social acceptability (LaVan and Martin 2008; Ramsay et al. 2011)
is sufficient basis to eradicate it completely. That workplaces fall in step with this
Interventions Addressing Depersonalized Bullying at Work 69

Table 4.2  Interventions recommended to address depersonalized bullying at work


Primary level interventions Secondary and tertiary level
interventions
Sources of interventions Amendment of existing workplace legislation or creation of new
• Employers including workplace legislation at national and international levels to tackle
leaders, managers and/ depersonalized bullying
or supervisors (bullies/ Redefining competitive advantage Various types of social support
implementers) at an extra-organizational level available formally and/or infor-
• Employees (targets/ and/or at an organizational level mally within and/or outside the
recipients and/or Ensuring ethical workplaces employer organization
bystanders) where leadership is virtuous and
• HR professionals climate combines benevolence
• Trade unions and deontology
• Other extra-organiza- Development of a consolidated index and a standardized bench-
tional entities mark of depersonalized bullying to facilitate evaluation, ranking
and comparison of workplaces

stand is then a logical consequence that not only resonates with international calls
for human rights at work (International Labour Office/ILO, not dated/n.d.) but also
pre-empts the need for any corrective measures. Toeing such a line, organizational
cultures would privilege employee well-being concomitant with employer interests
such that misbehaviour would neither arise nor be tolerated should it be enacted.
The presence of depersonalized bullying at work testifies to lapses in human
propriety, underscoring the significance of interventions that could operate at pri-
mary, secondary and/or tertiary levels of prevention. Primary prevention would
yield optimal benefits in removing the problem altogether and hence emerges
as the most appropriate intervention. Yet, where such attempts face insurmount-
able barriers due to the entrenchment of the contemporary business agenda which
organizations continue to endorse, secondary and tertiary prevention would pro-
vide some relief. Intervention could be undertaken by organizations through their
leaders, managers and/or supervisors (i.e., the bullies/implementers), by employ-
ees (i.e., targets/recipients and/or bystanders) either through intra-organizational
co-worker mobilization and/or through extra-organizational links with trade
unions, and/or by trade unions through their independent initiatives. Other extra-
organizational entities such as industry groups, trade bodies, human rights activ-
ists, non-governmental organizations and national and international organizations
including governments and bilateral and multilateral agencies could work either
individually, jointly and/or with employers, employees and trade unions, towards
advocating, designing and implementing interventions at all or any of the three
levels (see Table 4.2 for a summary of recommended interventions).
Across the world, nationally and internationally, amending existing legisla-
tion or creating new legislation protecting employee rights to incorporate clauses
resolving depersonalized bullying at work is called for. Legal mechanisms would
not only exhort the abolition of depersonalized workplace bullying but also spec-
ify procedures for grievances in instances of violation, thereby encompassing pri-
mary, secondary and tertiary level interventions.
70 4  Theorizing About Depersonalized Bullying at Work

Transforming the extra-organizational business environment and/or changing


organizational goals such that competitive advantage is redefined facilitates pri-
mary prevention. Traversing this path, recalibrating organizational effectiveness
to go beyond financial pointers and embrace employee indicators (Daft 2007) is
proposed. Internal process and resource-based approaches to organizational suc-
cess prevail over goal-related approaches (Daft 2007), dismantling the triggers of
depersonalized bullying.
Replacing the means to the end such that moral uprightness instead of bullying
marks the workplace in spite of the persistence of the earlier notion of competi-
tive advantage exemplifies primary prevention. Here, ensuring ethical workplaces
where a context of dignity and compassion is enshrined and all manifestations of
abuse and aggression are eschewed is the best way forward. Organizations whose
leadership is virtuous (Havard 2007) and climates are anchored in benevolence
and deontology (Simha and Cullen 2012) set the direction.
In terms of secondary and tertiary level interventions, social support (House
and Kahn 1985) offers a solution to managing the effects of depersonalized bul-
lying at work where it continues. Organizations could provide several services to
help bullies, targets and bystanders deal with their predicament. These facilities
could include professional and/or informal emotional support, medical aid and
open house sessions for individuals and/or groups as well as de-stressing and rec-
reational opportunities during work hours (Cooper et al. 2001). In addition to the
various formal and informal types of support available from their employer organi-
zation, bullies and targets and bystanders can go beyond intra-organizational peer
support to rely on professional associations and on trade unions, respectively, as
well as on their significant others as extra-organizational sources of support to
cope with their difficult circumstances.
Integrating the suggestions put forward in this section to devise a consoli-
dated index that measures the incidence and extent of depersonalized bullying and
assesses the options in place to address it at primary, secondary and tertiary levels
of prevention would form the basis of a composite grading system where organiza-
tions are evaluated, ranked and compared against standardized benchmarks. With
employer accountability being stepped up and organizational reputation being at
stake, the endeavour to eliminate depersonalized workplace bullying and to safe-
guard employee rights would be strengthened.
Interventions to tackle the issue of depersonalized bullying at work are cru-
cial not only for bullies, targets and bystanders but also for organizations because
the adverse impact of abusive and hostile behaviour at the individual level adds
to costs at the organizational level, thus taking away from the gains to organiza-
tional effectiveness. While primary level interventions hold the key to removing
unwanted outcomes, secondary and tertiary level interventions lower the negative
consequences such that the benefits to organizational success are enhanced.
Critical to the resolution of depersonalized bullying at work are the roles of
HRM and IR (industrial relations). With HRM’s inclusion into mainstream busi-
ness activity, its employee advocacy roles which emphasize employee rights and
well-being are undermined in favour of performance management roles which
focus on financial value and competitive advantage (Harrington 2010). HRM’s
Interventions Addressing Depersonalized Bullying at Work 71

move is a matter of concern in instances of unitarism (that characterized par-


ticipants’ employer organizations in Study I) which, through its central princi-
ple of commitment, purports to engage employers and employees together in the
employment relationship (Guest 1998) such that collectivization efforts embody-
ing pluralism are rendered redundant. This is so because, driven by employer
goals, HRM espouses the organizational agenda and assumes a managerial posi-
tion such that its unitarist ideology becomes mere rhetoric (Delbridge and Keenoy
2010; Harrington et al. 2012; Lewis and Rayner 2003). Under such circumstances,
if depersonalized bullying is prevalent, HR managers disregard their professional
mandate of shielding employee interests and allow aggression and intimidation
to remain unchallenged and thrive (Lewis and Rayner 2003). Managerial HRM
not only deprives employees of intra-organizational redressal avenues and exac-
erbates employee vulnerability but the absence of co-worker mobilization and
trade unions due to the stated endorsement of unitarism leaves employees totally
helpless (Lewis and Rayner 2003). In examining the rhetoric of its unitarist stand,
HRM must develop innovative practices by which it can balance a dual but equal
emphasis on business interests and employee well-being, recognizing that people
remain at the strategic heart of the organization (Sahdev et al. 1999).
IR initiatives have widely been propagated as the most viable alternative to
addressing workplace bullying. Indeed, as Ironside and Seifert (2003), Hoel and
Beale (2006) and Beale and Hoel (2011) hold, rejoinders to workplace bullying lie
in pluralist approaches through collectivization attempts. Ironside and Seifert (2003)
cite evidence to assert that improvements in working conditions, including freedom
from bullying, are unlikely to come from the fold of management and that the best
route is from pressures within the workplace through the marshalling of the counter-
vailing power of workers, usually in the form of trade union action. Yet, even where
pluralist ideologies are accepted by organizations as in the case of Study II, their pro-
tection of employee rights can fall short of tackling depersonalized bullying. This sit-
uation vindicates Beale and Hoel’s (2011) and Ironside and Seifert’s (2003) stand that
workplace bullying is less likely to occur and is more likely to be addressed when
it does arise, only if there is a strong, independent and well-organized trade union
presence at the workplace. Clearly, the efficacy of pluralism is linked to the impartial-
ity, autonomy, influence and reach of the collectivization endeavour. In reviewing the
degree of its effectiveness, IR must reconsider its ‘strategic choices’ (Kochan et al.
1986) as a means of augmenting its power (Noronha 2003) such that it moves beyond
narrow economic objectives to embrace wider political processes (Gall 2009) through
union revitalization involving organizational restructuring, international linkages and
coalition building with social movements (Frege and Kelly 2003).
Revisiting HRM is of significance even in instances where pluralism informs
workplaces such as Study II as managers grapple with combining business imper-
atives and employee interests. Maintaining the presence of IR is unavoidable in
cases of unitarism such as Study I to provide employees with options when mana-
gerialism surfaces.
In parting, it must be stated that the scholarly pursuit of depersonalized work-
place bullying and compounded workplace bullying complementing the current
insights available to interpersonal workplace bullying would yield a keen and
72 4  Theorizing About Depersonalized Bullying at Work

complete understanding of intra-organizational/internal bullying at work, where


misbehaviour takes place within the organization being enacted by superiors,
peers and subordinates. The next point on the anvil is extra-organizational/external
bullying at work. Camouflaged within the findings of both the studies that make
up this volume were allusions to misbehaviour from former employees and cus-
tomers, underscoring that bullying need not be confined within the organization.
Indeed, trailing the recognition that workplace bullying occurs at two levels is an
emerging acknowledgement of spatial issues. As with level of analysis where the
literature is disproportionately slanted towards interpersonal bullying, the empha-
sis with regard to location is skewed towards internal perpetrators (Bishop and
Hoel 2008). That extra-organizational/external workplace bullying must be stud-
ied alongside intra-organizational/internal workplace bullying to allow for the bal-
anced progress of the substantive area is an important final recommendation of
this book. Both the current predominance of service work which privileges triadic
employment relationships including not just employers and employees but also
customers (Korczynski 2002), further complicated by offshoring and outsourcing
(Noronha and D’Cruz 2009), and ongoing trends towards industrial closure, down-
sizing and non-standard work arrangements in the light of contemporary business
considerations (De Cuyper et al. 2008) reinforce the relevance of this agenda.

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