Bystander behaviour in the context of workplace bullying:
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Bystander behaviour in the context of workplace bullying: The influence of workplace friendship and managerialist HRM*. Premilla D’Cruz, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Organizational Behaviour, Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad

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Premilla d cruz ph d associate professor organizational behaviour

Bystander behaviour in the context of workplace bullying: The influence of workplace friendship and managerialist HRM*

Premilla D’Cruz, Ph.D.,

Associate Professor, Organizational Behaviour,

Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad

*Please see D’Cruz & Noronha, Employee Relations, Vol.3, Issue 3, 2011 for the full length paper


The phenomenon of workplace bullying

The phenomenon of workplace bullying

Workplace bullying is defined as subtle and/or obvious negative behaviours embodying aggression, hostility, intimidation and harm, characterized by repetition and persistence, displayed by an individual and/or group to another individual and/or group at work in the context of an existing or evolving unequal power relationship (Adapted from Einarsen, Hoel, Zapf & Cooper, 2011a; Hoel & Beale, 2006; Tracy, Lutgen-Sandvik & Alberts, 2006).

Interpersonal versus organizational levels of analysis

Other forms of harassment


Salient features

Salient features

The essential hallmarks of workplace bullying that distinguish it from other negative workplace behaviours are:

target orientation,

persistence including frequency and duration,

escalation,

harm,

power disparity, and

intent (Einarsen, 2000; Einarsen et al, 2011a; Keashly & Harvey, 2004 & 2006; Lewis et al, 2008; Lutgen-Sandvik, 2005; Zapf & Einarsen, 2005).


Forms and manifestations

Forms and manifestations

Personal bullying - making insulting remarks, excessive teasing, spreading gossip or rumours, persistent criticism, playing practical jokes and intimidation

Work-related bullying - giving unreasonable deadlines or unmanageable workloads, excessive monitoring of work, or assigning meaningless tasks or even no tasks (Einarsen & Hoel, 2001)


Workplace bullying in india

Workplace bullying in India

  • D’Cruz and Rayner’s (2010) survey of the ITES-BPO (offshoring-outsourcing) sector using the WHS (Bjorkqvist et al, 1992) highlighted the presence of workplace bullying

  • 94.6% respondents reported some experience of bullying, though for many it was not a frequent experience


Premilla d cruz ph d associate professor organizational behaviour

  • 42.3% respondents were bullied ‘often’ and ‘very often’ (an incidence higher than Scandinavian countries but comparable with American and Turkish rates), falling into mild and moderate levels of severity

  • Hierachical factors operated along with co-bullying


The bystander study

The bystander study

  • The parent study – hermeneutic phenomenological (van Manen, 1998) study of subjective experiences of work of agents working in international facing call centres in Mumbai and Bangalore

  • Evidence of interpersonal bullying led to study of targets (D’Cruz & Noronha, 2010) and bystanders


The relevance of bystanders

The relevance of bystanders

  • The most important yet most neglected group in the bullying scenario

  • Evidence from incidence studies, studies of targets and experimental studies of bystanders suggests bystander heterogeneity, and

    a critical role in influencing bullying evolution and outcomes


Method

Method

  • Conversational interviews

  • Sententious and selective thematic analyses

  • n = 17

  • Core theme of ‘helpless helpfulness’


Sample features

Sample features

  • 11 women and 6 men (6 from Bangalore and 6 from Mumbai) working as agents in international facing call centres

  • Age range 21 to 27 years

  • Participants were in dyads or triads of friends who knew each other and the target closely – Each group worked in the same organization, with group members either belonging to the same team and/or to the same process such that they worked on the same call floor in the same shift

  • None were members of any unions


Helpless helpfulness

Helpless helpfulness

  • Work context

  • The primacy of friendship – going all out

  • The ascendance of the self – holding back


Work context

Work context

  • Hard HRM models couched in soft terms managed via inclusivist and exclusivist HR strategies and socioideological controls

  • Professional identity

  • Compliance and commitment

  • Dependence on employer organization


Helpless helpfulness1

Helpless helpfulness

  • The primacy of friendship – going all out

    • Making sense of the situation

    • Supporting targets

    • Approaching bullies and HR

  • The ascendance of the self – holding back

    • Facing negative consequences

    • Adopting a covert stand

    • Coming to terms


The primacy of friendship

The primacy of friendship

  • We told her (target) that we had similar suspicions but maybe we were wrong so better to observe more carefully. That way, we got some time without upsetting her.

  • We decided that at least one of us should be with her (target) at all times between calls, breaks, like that. She would feel better and he (TL who was the bully) would think twice…But he didn’t always (think twice).

  • We had been told time and again that the organization is there for us, it cares for us…It was a mantra …whatever your problem, we will solve it. So this situation seemed to fit right in.

  • One of us generally went with her (target) to the HR department. Initially, it was because we had no idea of the people or the procedures. Later, it was more so that she would feel comfortable. Because the situation had become difficult by then, so being with her was important. But we never met them (HR managers) directly – it would have not given a good impression. Like they would think she’s weak or it is unprofessional and it would have worsened things. We felt good that we went with her but it was always that we should do more.


The ascendance of the self

The ascendance of the self

  • He (TL who was the bully) began to take it out on us. Because he has the power. So he can manipulate our performance charts, mark us down. And that means the end for us. We saw that happening and we became careful. His plan worked.

  • All of us are in a precarious position. Because company is only concerned with SLAs and revenues – they care for us about that only. So any problem means you are alone. And if no superior wants to help you, your team members also cannot. There are no options. If friends help, they can be kicked out of the job. So employee well-being, professionalism – all this is humbug.

  • When I think back, it happened naturally, automatically. I just withdrew in a way – held back, stayed far. I guess I was so afraid of being victimized that keeping a low profile seemed the right thing to do. Of course, I was there for her (target) but mostly outside the office. I felt completely helpless at that point. I wanted to protect her but that put me in the problem. So what to do? All roads were closed.


Premilla d cruz ph d associate professor organizational behaviour

  • She (target) was more concerned about us. It makes me feel small. Here, we were darpoks (scared people) and she didn’t hold it against us but worried about us.

  • I found it difficult to face him (target) at times…you know, to look at him in the eye. Because I was not really helping him out. I guess we would go overboard (in supporting the target) outside the office to make up for what we should have actually done (to help him).


Discussion

Discussion

  • Addresses an important gap in the literature though it is just a starting point

  • Undercores the relevance of workplace relationships and managerial ideology

  • Implications for further research – exploration of workplace relationships and retheorisation of Darley and Latane’s (1968) bystander effect

  • Implications for intervention – appropriate crafting of bystander intervention and training


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