Mapping “Varieties of Workplace Bullying”: The Scope of the Field

  • Premilla D’CruzEmail author
  • Ernesto Noronha
Living reference work entry
Part of the Handbooks of Workplace Bullying, Emotional Abuse and Harassment book series (HWBEAH, volume 1)


This chapter provides a new direction to the field of workplace bullying by recognizing the phenomenon as a multi-faceted construct captured by D’Cruz and Noronha’s (2016) “varieties of workplace bullying” conceptualization. Encompassing three axes, namely, level of analysis, location of the source and form of mistreatment, workplace bullying could be interpersonal and/or depersonalized, internal and/or external and real and/or cyber, respectively, with a simultaneous combination of both varieties along the same axis giving rise to compounded, dual locus and hybrid bullying, respectively (D’Cruz, Noronha, & Syal, 2018a). Relationality, institutionalization and unethicality constitute the common underlying features that mark all varieties of workplace bullying and their combinations. That is, workplace bullying unfolds as psychosocial abuse against the backdrop of human interaction, is generally entrenched in systemic bases linked to proximal and/or distal contextual factors and goes against universal norms of social acceptability. In identifying and detailing the contemporary conceptual spectrum of workplace bullying, the chapter presents an overview of the scope of the field. As well as proposing a definition reflective of emergent insights into the construct, the chapter puts forward a future agenda which (a) urges the adoption of multidisciplinary, interdisciplinary and postpositivist research approaches to complement the extant psychology and positivist skew, for more complete knowledge of the phenomenon, and (b) underscores attention to unethicality and institutionalization as key intervention foci, if the problem is to be effectively eliminated, while also (c) emphasizing the importance of the culturalist thesis in both scholarship and practice.

1 Introduction

Though workplace bullying is sometimes dismissed as a “childish” problem requiring targets to “toughen up” (Tracy, Lutgen-Sandvik, & Alberts, 2013, p. 86), it is, in reality, a serious issue that, for two reasons, warrants urgent attention. First, it violates the principles of decent work (International Labour Organization [ILO], 2019). Second, its global incidence of 15% (Nielsen & Einarsen, 2018; see also Workplace Bullying and Harassment as Group Dynamic Processes: A Multilevel Approach) emphasizes its pervasiveness. Moreover, it is not an adult phenomenon alone but has been found to affect child workers too (Banday, Chakraborty, D’Cruz, & Noronha, 2018).

Concerted attention to workplace bullying as a research topic emerged in the 1990s within Scandinavia (e.g. Norway [Einarsen, Raknes, & Matthiesen, 1994], Sweden [Leymann, 1996]) and the United Kingdom (UK) (e.g. Rayner, 1997), followed closely by other European countries (e.g. Austria [Niedl, 1996], Germany [Zapf & Gross, 2001], the Netherlands [Hubert & van Veldhoven, 2001]), Australia (e.g. Sheehan, 1999) and the United States (USA) (e.g. Keashly, 1997). Now, nearly 25 years on, the research area has evolved into an independent field of study being investigated across the globe (D’Cruz, 2015a). Literature on workplace bullying has emerged from Canada (e.g. Lee & Brotheridge, 2006), Mexico (e.g. Pena, 2010), New Zealand (e.g. O’Driscoll et al., 2010), Central America (e.g. Costa Rica [Escartin et al., 2011]), South America (e.g. Argentina [Villar, Caputo, Coria, & Messoulam, 2012], Brazil [Vinhas, 2010], Chile [Ansoleaga, 2018]), Asia (e.g. India [D’Cruz & Noronha, 2009], Taiwan [Hong, Chien-Hou, Hwang, Hu, & Chen, 2014], Saudi Arabia [Ateyah & Weinberg, 2018]) and Africa (e.g. Egypt [El-Houfey, El-Maged, Elserogy, & El Ansari, 2015], Uganda [Casimir, McCormack, Djurkovic, & Nsubuga-Kyobe, 2012], South Africa [Marais-Steinman, 2003]).

A close perusal of the rich extant international literature in the field highlights that the term workplace bullying does not refer to a unitary construct but rather embraces a multi-faceted phenomenon. Level of analysis, location of the source and form are the three defining axes of workplace bullying (D’Cruz et al., 2018a, p. 3), giving rise to “varieties of workplace bullying” (D’Cruz & Noronha, 2016, p. 409) such as interpersonal and/or depersonalized bullying, internal and/or external bullying and real and/or cyber bullying, respectively, with their further combinations of compounded bullying, dual locus bullying and hybrid bullying, respectively (D’Cruz, Noronha, & Syal, 2018a, p. 3, 8). The “varieties of workplace bullying” conceptualization gives a new direction to the field. In mapping the varieties of workplace bullying and their combinations as well as their common underlying features of relationality, institutionalization and unethicality, this chapter provides an overview of the scope of the field. Such an exercise is useful to aid scholars and practitioners grasp the breadth of the substantive area and recognize the linkages across its burgeoning literature and research and practitioner outputs. In so doing, the chapter clarifies the diverse dimensions of the construct of workplace bullying which are often camouflaged by the sheer volume and wide-ranging foci of the available literature.

The chapter begins with an elucidation of the “varieties of workplace bullying”, providing a definition of the construct at the end of the section. A discussion of workplace bullying as a relational, institutionalized and unethical phenomenon, across all its varieties, is next presented. These two sections serve as a background against which the field as a whole can be understood. The hallmarks of interpersonal bullying at work (both real and cyber forms) from internal sources are next elaborated on, setting the tone for the focus of the Handbooks of Workplace Bullying, Emotional Abuse and Harassment, as this combination of the varieties of workplace bullying has received maximum research and practice attention thus far. The chapter closes with implications for research and action, including cultural considerations, across all the varieties of workplace bullying.

2 “Varieties of Workplace Bullying”: Acknowledging and Defining a Multi-faceted Phenomenon

Workplace bullying is alternatively termed workplace mobbing, emotional abuse, harassment, psychological terror, relational aggression and victimization, among other nomenclatures (see Einarsen, 2000, for a detailed listing; also Keashly & Jagatic, 2011; Yamada, Duffy, & Berry, 2018). Definitional attempts around this constellation of concepts abound (see, for detailed listings, Yamada, Duffy, & Berry, 2018; also Notelaers & van der Heijden, this volume). For instance, Rayner, Hoel and Cooper (2002, p. xi) consider workplace bullying to be:

…unwanted, offensive, humiliating, undermining behaviour towards an individual or groups of employees. Persistent malicious attacks on personal or professional performance that are typically unpredictable, irrational and often unfair. This abuse of power can cause such chronic stress and anxiety that people gradually lose belief in themselves, suffering physical ill-health and mental distress as a result.

According to Duffy and Sperry (2012: 52), workplace mobbing entails:

…non-sexual harassment of a co-worker by a group of members of an organization for the purpose of removing the targeted individual(s) from the organization or at least a particular unit of the organization…It predictably results in the humiliation, devaluation, discrediting, and degradation; loss of professional reputation; and, often, removal of the victim from the organization through termination, extended medical leave, or quitting.

Keashly (1997) characterizes emotional abuse as unwelcome, unwanted and unsolicited verbal and non-verbal modes of expression which display a pattern over time and bring harm to targets. These behaviours, which embody actors’ intent or controllability, involve power differences between the parties and violate a standard of conduct towards others or the rights of others.

A close scrutiny of available definitions points to their focus on the “interpersonal” and “within workplace” features of the mistreatment. That is, bullying unfolds at the level of dyadic or group-based interaction, emanating from sources within and involving protagonists within the workplace including managers/supervisors, peers and subordinates. The literature in the substantive area, however, goes beyond these confines. Liefooghe and Mackenzie-Davey (2001) and D’Cruz and Noronha (2009) evidence organizational bullying while Bishop and Hoel (2008) and D’Cruz and Noronha (2014a) point to the abuse exhibited by organizational outsiders. In the former instance, the workplace itself is the bully even though mistreatment is played out through the dynamics of human relationships. In the latter instance, clients, customers, suppliers and other actors beyond workplace boundaries mistreat employees.

More recently, as against the conventional notion dominating the field of workplace bullying being real/in situ via face-to-face interactions in the material world, bullying at work via information and communication technologies and devices (ICTDs) (D’Cruz & Noronha, 2013a; Farley, Coyne, Sprigg, Axtell, & Subramanian, 2015) and in digital workplaces (D’Cruz & Noronha, 2014a, 2018a; Noronha & D’Cruz, 2018) is being recognized. Employees are bullied virtually by colleagues, superiors, clients, customers and so on through landlines, mobile phones, text messages, emails, blogs, posts, social media, call centres, platform-based work and so on.

Acknowledging the scope of the field of workplace bullying, D’Cruz and Noronha (2016, p. 409) have coined the term “varieties of workplace bullying” to capture the several types of emotional abuse at work known to date (see D’Cruz, Noronha, & Syal, 2018a for details). The “varieties of workplace bullying”, depicted in Fig. 1, encompass three axes, namely, level of analysis, location of the source and form of misbehaviour (D’Cruz, 2015a, p. 72; D’Cruz & Noronha, 2013a, 2016, p. 413). Accordingly, bullying could be interpersonal and/or depersonalized in terms of level (pp. 412–413) and internal and/or external to the workplace in terms of location (p. 414) (D’Cruz & Noronha, 2016a). In addition, each of these varieties of workplace bullying could be either in situ/face-to-face/offline or online/electronic/virtual in form, labelled as real (or traditional) and/or cyber bullying, respectively (D’Cruz, 2015a, p. 8; D’Cruz & Noronha, 2013a). Each variety as well as their known combinations is briefly described in the following subsections.
Fig. 1

“Varieties of workplace bullying”. (Source: Authors)

2.1 Level of Analysis: Interpersonal and Depersonalized Bullying at Work

At the interpersonal level of analysis, workplace bullying has been defined as “…harassing, offending, socially excluding someone or negatively affecting someone’s work tasks… repeatedly and regularly (e.g., weekly) and over a period of time (e.g., about 6 months) such that an escalating process ensues, in the course of which the person confronted ends up in an inferior position and becomes the target of systematic negative social acts” (Einarsen, Hoel, Zapf, & Cooper, 2011, p. 22; see also Sect. 4). Interpersonal bullying is characterized by a target orientation where a superior(s), peer(s) or subordinate(s) singles out and persistently harasses a colleague(s), victimizing the latter to the point of powerlessness and defencelessness (D’Cruz, 2018; Einarsen, Hoel, Zapf, & Cooper, 2011). Under such circumstances, bullying is personalized and emphasizes a socio-relational conceptualization (Keashly & Harvey, 2006), moving in a downward (superior to subordinate), horizontal (peer to peer) or upward (subordinate to superior) direction (Branch, Ramsay, & Barker, 2013; D’Cruz, 2015a) or as “cross-level co-bullying” where peers and/or subordinates join superiors as perpetrators (D’Cruz & Rayner, 2013, p. 607). Interpersonal bullying is triggered by features of the target (see Persson et al. and O’Farrell et al., Volume 2), the bully (see Blackwood & Jenkins, Volume 2) and/or the workplace (see Balducci et al., Volume 2), with group-level factors also known to contribute to the situation (Escartín et al., 2013b; Miller & Rayner, 2012). The damaging impact on targets (Conway et al. and Hansen et al., Volume 2), bystanders (Pouwelse et al., Volume 2; also Paull, Omari, D’Cruz, & Guneri Cangarli, 2019) and workplaces (Cowan, 2018; Hogh et al., Volume 2) has been documented, alongside the mixed reports for bullies (Bloch, 2012; Jenkins, Zapf, Winefield, & Sarris, 2012). Despite their growing powerlessness, targets, sometimes joined by bystanders, display agency, seeking to resolve the situation (D’Cruz, 2018; Mannix McNamara, Fitzpatrick, MacCurtain, & O’Brien, 2018). These attempts may result in varying degrees of success, with some targets remaining traumatized (Lutgen-Sandvik, 2008) and others being able to regain equilibrium (D’Cruz & Noronha, 2012).

D’Cruz (2015a) and D’Cruz and Noronha (2009) have developed the concept of depersonalized bullying (Liefooghe & Mackenzie-Davey, 2001) which captures the organizational level of analysis, invoking Keashly and Harvey’s (2006) socio-structural conceptualization (see Depersonalized Bullying: An Emergent Concern in the Contemporary Workplace, for a detailed discussion). Depersonalized bullying refers to the routine subjugation of employees by contextual, structural and processual elements of organizational design, which are implemented by supervisors and managers who involuntarily resort to abusive and hostile behaviours in an impersonal way to achieve organizational effectiveness (D’Cruz, 2015a, p. 2; D’Cruz & Noronha, 2009, p. 42). The organizational agenda, determined by extra-organizational dynamics and intra-organizational aspirations, lays the foundation for the internal organizational environment, influencing managerial ideology and organizational culture via organizational policies, practices, structure, technology, controls and leadership. Together, these components of organizational design suppress employees, with the goal of ensuring their deference to organizational expectations. In this view, supervisors and managers whose responsibilities lie in ensuring organizational competitiveness implement organizational requirements across the workforce, resorting to intimidation and aggression without targeting any particular employee or harbouring any intention other than the realization of organizational imperatives (D’Cruz, 2015a; D’Cruz & Noronha, 2009). Depersonalized bullying, which is downwards in direction, persists over time, being chronic and perennial or episodic over an extended period, and results in targets’ ambivalence or strain (Banday, Chakraborty, D’Cruz, & Noronha, 2018; D’Cruz, 2015a; D’Cruz & Noronha, 2015a), with mixed experiences, ranging from ambivalence to indifference, reported for bullies (Banday, Chakraborty, D’Cruz, & Noronha, 2018; D’Cruz, 2015a; D’Cruz & Noronha, 2018b).

2.2 Location of Source: Internal and External Bullying at Work

While levels of analysis have begun to receive increasing attention in the scholarly pursuit of workplace bullying, research on the location of the source of misbehaviour is catching up. Our insights into workplace bullying are largely confined to internal/intra-organizational sources where managers/supervisors, peers and subordinates perpetrate abuse (D’Cruz, 2015a; see also Sect. 4). External/extra-organizational bullying involves customers, clients, suppliers and others beyond the organization who engage in abusive behaviour with employees, manifested as aggressive and intimidating acts, causing the latter physical and emotional strain (D’Cruz & Noronha, 2014a, 2015b). Available literature on external bullying focuses largely on customers, including patients, at the interpersonal level of analysis (Bishop & Hoel, 2008; D’Cruz & Noronha, 2014a, 2015b; Hogh, Carneiro, Giver, & Rugulies, 2011; Jackson, Hutchinson, Luck, & Wilkes, 2013; Mendonca, D’Cruz, & Noronha, 2018; see also Yagil, Volume 4, Section A). Essentially stemming from the ideology of customer sovereignty, other etiological factors underpinning customer bullying include occupational features, problems within the service interaction, the bully’s personality or mood and/or the bully’s response to the service worker’s features bringing category-based harassment into play (D’Cruz & Noronha, 2014a, 2015b; Korczynski & Evans, 2013; Mendonca, D’Cruz, & Noronha, 2018). Experienced as one-off incidents, frequent encounters with different customers or repeated interactions with the same customer (D’Cruz & Noronha, 2015b), targets report distress but are usually constrained to tackle the situation since their employers, in pursuit of profits, espouse the norm of customer supremacy, de facto legitimizing customer abuse (Korczynski & Bishop, 2008; Yagil, 2008). Prestigious aspects of their job are found to offset targets’ strain, compensating for the defencelessness that customer abuse brings (Mendonca, D’Cruz, & Noronha, 2018). Yet, only a few targets resist customer misbehaviour notwithstanding the risks involved (Mendonca, D’Cruz, & Noronha, 2018), while only a few employers sanction bullying customers (D’Cruz, 2015b).

Indeed, the risks of workplace bullying are considered to be highest in human service jobs such as healthcare, nursing, social work, education, hospitality, etc. (Clausen, Hogh, Carneiro, & Borg, 2013; van Heugten, 2013), but, interestingly, incidence studies here do not generally include questions as to whether the source of abuse is intra- or extra-organizational, despite tasks in these occupations entailing interactions with colleagues as well as with customers, patients, students, etc. Accordingly, the location of bullying—that is, within or outside the workplace—is not ascertained. Even so, customer bullying is likely to increase as well as evolve in a complicated manner. On the one hand, there is growing predominance of service work in the contemporary context (D’Cruz, 2015a) which privileges triadic employment relationships including not just employers and employees but also customers (Korczynski, 2002). Moreover, where both the clients and their customers are involved as in the case of offshoring and outsourcing (Noronha & D’Cruz, 2009), the employment relationship expands to a quadratic one (D’Cruz & Noronha, 2015b). On the other hand, though there is evidence of abuse and discrimination from clients in digital workplaces located in the recently emerged platform economy (D’Cruz & Noronha, 2018a, c), the line between internal and external bullying here appears blurred (D’Cruz, Noronha, & Syal, 2018a). Platforms operate as intermediaries through which freelancers provide clients with short-term contracted services on a remunerative basis (Bergvall-Kåreborn & Howcroft, 2014). Since freelancers are termed independent contractors who do not enjoy employee status on the platform (Johnston & Land-Kazlauskas, 2018), the location of client bullying in terms of internal or external remains unclear.

2.3 Form: Real and Cyber Bullying at Work

Most of our understanding of workplace bullying comes from instances of misbehaviour occurring during face-to-face interactions via proximate physical presence in the real world, also termed in situ/traditional/offline bullying (D’Cruz & Noronha, 2013a; see also Sect. 4). Yet, the growing reliance on ICTDs at work contemporaneously has resulted in the emergence of workplace cyberbullying or virtual abuse through phones, emails, text messages, instant messages, chats, blogs, social networking sites and so on (D’Cruz, 2016a; D’Cruz & Noronha, 2013a, 2014a, 2017; Farley, Coyne, Sprigg, Axtell, & Subramanian, 2015; Gardner et al., 2016; see also Cyberbullying at Work: Understanding the Influence of Technology). Attention to virtual abuse at work is growing but remains centred on conventional workplaces situated in materiality, with limited attention to digital workplaces marked by immateriality (D’Cruz & Noronha, 2018a, c; Noronha & D’Cruz, 2018). Drawing on D’Cruz and Noronha (2013a, 2018c), workplace cyberbullying can be defined as inappropriate and unwanted acts of hostility, intimidation, aggression and harassment via ICTDs, across conventional and digital workplaces, marked by boundarylessness, anonymity, invisibility, concreteness and permanence, with implications for the course of the misbehaviour in terms of pervasiveness, spread, intensity, evidence and persistence, thereby affecting outcomes for targets and other protagonists like perpetrators, bystanders, employers, etc.

While virtual abuse at work shares many similarities with its traditional counterpart such as manifestations, sources, aetiology, outcomes, levels of analysis (Coyne et al., 2017; D’Cruz & Noronha, 2013a) and location of misbehaviour (D’Cruz & Noronha, 2014a, 2015b), it embodies five distinguishing characteristics, namely, boundarylessness, invisibility, anonymity, concreteness and permanence (D’Cruz, 2016a; D’Cruz & Noronha, 2013a, 2017). In the context of conventional workplaces (see Noronha & D’Cruz, 2018, for a comparison of bullying in conventional versus digital workplaces), the literature shows that the reach of ICTDs means that individuals can be faced with cyberbullying at all times, with an increased breadth of the potential audience who witness the negative acts. In both instances, these can go beyond the workplace. While perpetrators can be rendered invisible by and so feel anonymous due to ICTDs, they can also hide or disguise their identities. Moreover, even a single negative act can be repeated by reviewing/replaying or reposting it (Coyne et al., 2017; D’Cruz & Noronha, 2013a; D’Souza, Forsyth, Tappin, & Catley, 2018). The virtual footprints generated by ICTDs provide targets with “advantage” (D’Cruz & Noronha, 2013a, p. 337) serving as evidence which aids resolution of the problem, though organizational dynamics can hamper the endeavour. Even so, concreteness and permanence of digital traces hinder counteraggression (D’Cruz & Noronha, 2013a, 2017).

2.4 Combinations Along Each Axis: Compounded Bullying, Dual Locus Bullying and Hybrid Bullying at Work

While each axis of the varieties of workplace bullying comprises two distinct kinds of emotional abuse at work, simultaneous combinations of both have also been evidenced as shown in Fig. 1. Interpersonal and depersonalized workplace bullying have been found to coexist in instances of internal mistreatment (D’Cruz & Noronha, 2010a, 2014b), a situation termed compounded bullying by D’Cruz, Noronha and Beale (2014, p. 1454). IT (information technology) employees laid off during an organizational change endeavour faced impersonal abuse from superiors and HR (human resource) managers (depersonalized bullying) during the separation phase, alongside being singled out for mistreatment (interpersonal bullying) by their immediate supervisor (D’Cruz, Noronha, & Beale, 2014). Similarly, D’Cruz and Noronha (2010a) showed how call centre agents whose team leaders felt threatened by their outstanding performance systematically victimized them (interpersonal bullying). Since targets’ experiences of interpersonal bullying occurred within an oppressive work environment where superiors’ preoccupation with the organizational agenda resulted in the involuntary and impersonal abuse of subordinates (depersonalized bullying), compounded bullying was demonstrated (D’Cruz & Noronha, 2010a).

D’Cruz, Noronha and Syal (2018a, p. 8) put forward the label dual locus bullying to describe instances where targets experience abuse both internally and externally, that is, from sources within and outside the workplace. This has been indicated by D’Cruz and Noronha (2015b) where call centre agents experienced downward bullying within the organization (internal bullying) and abuse from overseas customers (external bullying). More recently, Mendonca, D’Cruz and Noronha (2018) describe dual locus bullying in the context of beauty service work. They detail a case of a male hairstylist who was targeted by his senior colleagues for wishing to progress his career (internal bullying) as well as by his customers for perceived poor service delivery (external bullying). In another case, a female hairstylist was sexually harassed by her male colleagues (internal sources) as well as by her male customers, in addition to being at the receiving end of customer abuse in general (external sources) (Mendonca, D’Cruz, & Noronha, 2018).

We coin the term hybrid bullying to speak of the coexistence of real and cyber forms of misbehaviour at work. Privitera and Campbell’s (2009) inquiry illustrated targets’ experiences of concomitant traditional and virtual bullying. Using the NAQ (Negative Acts Questionnaire [Einarsen, Hoel, & Notelaers, 2009]) to measure both forms, Privitera and Campbell showed how abusive behaviours via technology (cyberbullying) are emerging alongside those enacted in situ (real bullying) in the manufacturing workplace. In a study of IT employees, D’Cruz and Noronha’s (2013a) participants spoke of being bullied within the workplace through face-to-face as well as online interactions, while in another study of call centre agents, D’Cruz and Noronha’s (2015b) participants experienced offline bullying from their team leaders and virtual abuse from their overseas customers.

The amalgamation of different varieties of workplace bullying highlights two points. First, workplace bullying is a complex phenomenon whose manifestation can encompass multiple varieties concomitantly. Second, despite their simultaneous presence, the distinctiveness of each variety of workplace bullying remains intact and can be easily discerned. Both these points have implications for research and practice. On the one hand, inquiries seeking to grasp workplace bullying should not be blinkered by the silos of each variety as a discrete variable or independent situation but rather seek to reflect the reality of their coexistence and unravel their interlinkages, thereby bringing to the fore the complexities found in practice. On the other hand, though interventionists learn about the reality of combined varieties of workplace bullying “straight from the field” as they listen to and aid those affected, research-based knowledge about this conceptual spectrum should help them to accurately understand the complexities and particularities they are presented with so that appropriate and effective action may be taken.

2.5 Defining Workplace Bullying

Workplace bullying is a multi-faceted issue. This holds true even though existing varieties of workplace bullying are likely to evolve and new ones are likely to emerge alongside the ever-changing world of work. Accordingly, definitional attempts must capture the construct accurately and holistically. Recognizing the three axes (i.e. level of analysis, location of the source and form) which yield varieties of workplace bullying (viz. interpersonal and depersonalized, internal and external and real and cyber bullying) and their combinations (viz. compounded, dual locus and hybrid bullying), we propose a broad definition of the phenomenon which speaks to the contemporary conceptual spectrum:

Workplace bullying signifies emotional abuse, encompassing subtle and/or obvious negative psychosocial behaviours embodying aggression, hostility and intimidation, generally characterized by persistence, exhibited by workplace insiders and/or outsiders operating individually and/or as a group, to an individual employee or a group of employees during the course of the latter’s work. Being interpersonal and/or organizational in level, the display of negative behaviours, which most often bears the mark of influences from within and/or outside the workplace, occurs privately and/or publicly, in real and/or cyber forms, in the context of an existing or evolving unequal power relationship between the parties. While targets of workplace bullying, notwithstanding the harm they undergo, often strive towards well-being, protagonists like bullies, bystanders and employers experience varied outcomes.

This definition encapsulates the essential features which mark the phenomenon of workplace bullying. It shows that, across all the varieties of workplace bullying and their combinations, workplace bullying is mistreatment of an affective nature involving an array of unwanted abusive behaviours which could be shown via in situ/face-to-face, virtual/electronic and hybrid means (the form axis). While all types of workplace bullying can be enacted between individuals, groups could also be involved such that (a) target(s) can be mobbed. Even so, the definition speaks to the issues of (c)overtness and (in)directness as well as private and public displays, indicating the range of pathways through which workplace bullying unfolds. The definition lists the actors most salient to the situation, namely, targets, bullies, bystanders and employers/workplaces, pointing to the backdrop of human interaction which marks all types of workplace bullying. Not only are internal and external bullying (the location of the source axis) and interpersonal and depersonalized bullying (the level of analysis axis) and their combinations of dual locus bullying and compounded bullying, respectively, covered in the definition, but the allusion to workplace factors allows for internal and external contextual influences that impinge on the workplace to be considered, rather than only individual causes. Recognizing the relevance of temporality, the reference to persistence in the definition is not narrow but, in addition to covering repeated and prolonged exposure, encompasses emergent variations associated with external bullying and cyberbullying as also the possibility of one-off events. Including power which is at the crux of workplace bullying situations, the definition goes beyond formal or prescribed hierarchical levels evident during downward and external bullying to include episodes of horizontal and upward bullying where targets, regardless of their organizational position, become defenceless over time. In pointing to harm, the adverse impact of mistreatment is acknowledged. Yet, the range of outcomes, sometimes mixed and contradictory, that workplace bullying holds for its main protagonists are also referred to in the definition, underscoring its complex nature. The definition refrains from attributing intent which either does not exist as in the case of depersonalized bullying, can be denied or cannot be pinned down as in the case of interpersonal bullying or is unclear as in the case of external bullying.

In closing this section, it is important to point out that, conventionally, workplace bullying has by and large been seen as conceptually distinct from category-based harassment linked to social identities such as race, class, gender, religion, caste, disability, sexuality, region and so on (D’Cruz, 2018; Lutgen-Sandvik, 2005) and described as “status-neutral” or “status-blind” (Stone, 2012, p. 96). Yet, there is growing evidence that workplace bullying and category-based harassment unfold simultaneously (see Volume 3, Section B, for the categories of gender, ethnicity, caste, sexual orientation and disability; also Fevre, Lewis, Robinson, & Jones, 2012). As Berlingieri (2015) states, if the centrality of social structures is taken into account, the entwinement between workplace bullying and category-based harassment cannot be ignored because of the increased risk for particular groups of workers. Moreover, in such instances where both types of misbehaviour are enacted jointly, they are often experienced as indistinguishable, particularly where social identities trigger emotional abuse, and hence difficult to analyse separately (D’Cruz & Noronha, 2013a; D’Cruz, Noronha, & Beale, 2014; Lutgen-Sandvik & Tracy, 2012). Indeed, the narratives of targets of such negative acts often indicate the fusion of both bullying and category-based harassment. Even so, available evidence of the link between workplace bullying and category-based harassment demonstrates its relevance across all varieties of workplace bullying except depersonalized bullying (e.g. for interpersonal bullying, see Fevre, Robinson, Lewis, & Jones, 2013, for disability; Einarsdóttir, Hoel, & Lewis, 2016, for sexual orientation; Salin, 2011, for gender; for cyberbullying, see D’Cruz & Noronha, 2013a, 2018a; for external bullying, see D’Cruz & Noronha, 2014a; Mendonca, D’Cruz, & Noronha, 2018).

3 Workplace Bullying as Relational, Institutionalized and Unethical Emotional Abuse

All varieties of workplace bullying not only involve negative acts of a psychosocial nature but also embody the common attributes of relationality, shades of institutionalization and lack of ethics, depicted in Fig. 2. This section depicts all three features.
Fig. 2

Workplace bullying as a relational, institutionalized and unethical phenomenon. T target, B bully. (Source: Authors)

3.1 Relationality

Workplace bullying, across all its varieties, signifies emotional abuse which occurs in a relational context. In other words, as Fig. 2 illustrates, it is mistreatment of an affective nature unfolding against the backdrop of human interaction (D’Cruz, Noronha, & Lutgen-Sandvik, 2018b; D’Cruz, Noronha, & Syal, 2018a) where perpetrators bully targets. This has two implications. First, workplace bullying involves negative psychosocial behaviours. Though there are many classifications and listings of the negative acts which make up workplace bullying (see, e.g., Einarsen, Hoel, Zapf, & Cooper, 2011, for a compilation), the phenomenon essentially includes person-related and task-related behaviours, neatly summarized by Einarsen and Hoel (2001). The former comprise making insulting remarks, excessive teasing, spreading gossip or rumours, persistent criticism, intimidation and threats, whereas the latter encompass giving unreasonable deadlines or unmanageable workloads, excessive monitoring of work or assigning meaningless tasks or even no tasks. Indeed, the varieties of workplace bullying conceptualization is important because while the negative acts which constitute workplace bullying are similar across its different types, it is the constellation of accompanying factors such as level of analysis, location of the source of mistreatment, form of misbehaviour, aetiology, temporality, direction, power dynamics, outcomes, etc., involved in manifestations of workplace bullying which emphasize the uniqueness of each variety and bring out the complexity and nuances of the phenomenon. Attempts to accurately grasp the construct of workplace bullying must therefore be mindful of, capture and reflect these distinctions. Caution is especially in order with regard to the use of scales (see Workplace Bullying and Cyberbullying Scales: An Overview) since the mere measurement of the behaviours involved through inventories and checklists commonly relied on in the field, such as the NAQ and the WHS (Work Harassment Scale [Bjorkqvist & Osterman, 1992]), often says little about the specific variety in question. This is particularly the case with regard to interpersonal bullying and depersonalized bullying where confounding is the highest due to the absence of discriminating items in the instruments. It is also pertinent in instances of external bullying if the scale being used is not focused on extra-organizational entities and the source of abuse is not captured. Cyberbullying is usually an exception if one of its several dedicated measures is used.

Second, workplace bullying involves human protagonists. The salient actors most central to situations of workplace bullying are targets, bullies, bystanders, supervisors/managers/leaders and employers/workplaces. The unfolding of a bullying situation essentially involves a target and a bully (each of whom could be present in the episode individually or in a group), making the interaction between them a central feature of the phenomenon (see Fig. 2). In addition to the aforementioned protagonists, there are several other actors and stakeholders who must be recognized. These include targets’ significant others such as family and friends, HR professionals, interventionists such as organizational practitioners/consultants, therapists (psychiatrists, psychotherapists, counsellors, etc.), occupational health and safety (OHS) personnel, coaches, trainers, mediators, unionists, lawyers, policymakers, work environment/regulatory authorities and so on (see Volume 2, Section B, for relevant chapters). Indeed, all these actors are common across the varieties of workplace bullying. Yet, research in the substantive area has focused primarily on targets, with other protagonists such as supervisors/managers/leaders, employers/workplaces, HR professionals and bystanders gaining increasing attention more recently.

In line with the depiction of workplace bullying as a psychological and interactional process, Lutgen-Sandvik, Tracy and Alberts (2013a) emphasize its communicative character. According to these authors, communication is a central feature through which workplace bullying is played out, though this dimension has not been sufficiently explored. Indeed, a close analysis of the negative acts which constitute classifications of workplace bullying, as exemplified above, highlights their verbal or non-verbal (including silence, exclusion and isolation) features. Similarly, a careful reading of the scales which measure workplace bullying reveals them to be compilations of items pertaining to respondents’ perceptions of communication behaviour. Moreover, not only is bullying enacted predominantly through language, but protagonists most often respond to it communicatively as well. That is, targets and sometimes even bystanders, displaying assertiveness, appeal to or confront the bully, discuss the matter with superiors, file complaints and so on. These protagonists can also suppress their reactions to being bullied due to fear and hence fail to make a visible or discernible response. Tackling bullying may take other forms like retaliation or mobilization against the bully or active support-seeking from colleagues, interventionists and significant others (Lutgen-Sandvik, Tracy, & Alberts, 2013a). Both workplace bullying and responses to it evidence the communicative nature of the phenomenon, reinforcing its emotional and relational bases.

While highlighting workplace bullying as a psychosocial and interactional phenomenon, it is important to note that, across all its varieties, workplace bullying is a unique construct in its own right. Indeed, notwithstanding a few critics (e.g. Aquino & Thau, 2009; Hershcovis, 2011), the psychological literature has been particular to emphasize the distinctiveness of the workplace bullying construct, differentiating it from other forms of mistreatment such as incivility, social undermining, abusive supervision and interpersonal conflict (e.g. Baillien, Escartín, Gross, & Zapf, 2017; Nielsen & Einarsen, 2018; Tepper & Henle, 2011; Yamada, Duffy, & Berry, 2018). Yet, some strands of the sociological and industrial relations literature consider the concepts of poor or substandard physical working conditions, exploitation, organizational controls and the labour process as synonymous with workplace bullying, using these terms interchangeably to convey an identical meaning (Beale, 2011; Ironside & Seifert, 2003). It is these sociological and industrial relations positions which underscore the importance of an explicit indication that workplace bullying is an exclusive construct whose affective and relational attributes distinguish it from poor or substandard physical working conditions, exploitation, organizational controls and the labour process (D’Cruz & Noronha, 2009, 2015a; D’Cruz, Noronha, & Lutgen-Sandvik, 2018b; D’Cruz, Noronha, & Syal, 2018a). In illustrating these distinctions below, we also point to their coexistence.

Banday, Chakraborty, D’Cruz and Noronha (2018), in the context of child labour in agriculture, demonstrate the differentiation between poor or substandard physical working conditions, exploitation and bullying. Violation of legal requirements and decent work hallmarks in matters of working hours, work environment, equipment, OHS, remuneration and so on compromise physical working conditions and bring in exploitation. Workers are subjected to frequent and regular shouts, reprimands, insults, threats, intimidation, excessive and unmanageable workloads, unreasonable deadlines and so on, in addition to physical violence and sexual harassment, over and above the substandard physical working conditions and exploitation. Their experiences of psychosocial negative acts occur relationally, taking place at the hands of their employers, the farmers, who attack them individually or in groups during supervisory rounds undertaken in the course of work.

Liefooghe and Mackenzie-Davey’s (2001) study of call centre agents helps distinguish between bullying, organizational controls and the labour process. That is, while call centre employees termed their experiences of work as “bullying”, a close perusal of the findings reveals the role of technobureaucratic controls and the labour process which led to an overbearing work environment. Rather than abuse of an affective nature enacted by colleagues and superiors during the course of workplace interactions, bullying was attributed to mechanistic systems and measurable parameters which informed workplace practices and organizational functioning, often backed by sophisticated technologies. The workplace scenario and employee experiences described in this inquiry allow for a distinction to be made between organizational controls and the labour process which induce a sense of being oppressed vis-à-vis workplace bullying which entails situations of emotional abuse unfolding relationally.

The relational nature of workplace bullying highlights its link with the issue of workplace dignity, pinpointing how and why emotional abuse violates respect. Indeed, the workplace dignity literature speaks of relational and intrinsic dignity, with the former referring to dignity that emerges through social interactions with other human beings which, in embodying respect, recognize and affirm each person’s value and the latter referring to dignity as an essential human quality universally present in all human beings by virtue of being human regardless of their relationships with others (Sayer, 2011). Instances of workplace bullying, due to their interactional basis, represent assaults on relational dignity though intrinsic dignity remains intact. It is this latter dignity which propels the quest for well-being in instances of workplace emotional abuse (Noronha, Chakraborty, & D’Cruz, 2018).

3.2 Institutionalization

Notwithstanding its relational nature, workplace bullying does not arise solely from micro-level factors pertaining to the bully and/or the target but rather also reflects macro-level bases (D’Cruz, 2015a). That is, while there are instances where workplace bullying is individualized and framed by the dyadic influences of the parties involved, most situations of workplace bullying show the role of organizational factors (see Balducci et al., Volume 2, Section A). Yet, though research on workplace bullying situates the phenomenon in the organization and explores the role of workplace dynamics such as job design, stress, roles, leadership styles, organizational climate, organizational change and so on (Salin & Hoel, 2011), the relevance of the organization as institutionalizing the problem is not sufficiently considered (Harrington, Warren, & Rayner, 2015; Rhodes, Pullen, Vickers, Clegg, & Pitsis, 2010). Workplaces are thus seen as antecedents of rather than “constructive of” abuse (Berlingieri, 2015, p. 345; Hutchinson, 2012) such that they are not grasped “as central units of analyses or significant factors in determining the cause of bullying” (Rhodes et al., p. 100; also Beale & Hoel, 2011). Nonetheless, there is evidence which shows the institutionalization of workplace bullying across all its varieties, as portrayed in Fig. 2. That is, unlike earlier conceptualizations in the substantive area which associated only depersonalized bullying with being embedded in the organizational context and hence institutionalized (Einarsen, Hoel, Zapf, & Cooper, 2011; Liefooghe & Mackenzie-Davey, 2001), more recent views contend that mistreatment, regardless of its level of analysis, location of the source or form, is normalized in the workplace due to organizational and/or social factors. This emergent perspective recognizes the institutionalization of workplace bullying, across all its varieties, as being a product of contextual influences of a proximal (i.e. the workplace in terms of its internal dynamics) and/or distal (i.e. social, political and economic factors of the larger setting beyond the workplace including both national and international levels) nature, as elaborated below (see Fig. 2).

Proximal contextual factors where interpersonal bullying is institutionalized, though the incidence of mistreatment in the organization may be limited, are exemplified by the work of D’Cruz and Noronha (2010a), Lutgen-Sandvik (2013a), Thirlwall (2015) and Mannix McNamara, Fitzpatrick, MacCurtain and O’Brien (2018). These authors show how power dynamics, political affiliations, organizational practices, HR ideologies and leadership styles allow incidents of bullying to go unaddressed, thereby encouraging misbehaviour at work. Lutgen-Sandvik’s (2013a) serial bullying model shows how a perpetrator targets another employee to the point of expelling the latter from the work group or workplace. Apart from exhibiting extreme and escalating abuse, the bully is powerful enough to ensure that upper management supports him/her and informal and formal organizational redress mechanisms further victimize the target while upsetting bystanders. Yet, once the target quits the workplace, the bully turns his/her attention to another person. The exacerbation of mistreatment, the victimization and exit of the target and the regeneration of the bullying cycle occur because bullying is directly or indirectly supported by various features of the internal workplace environment. This continuous process institutionalizes bullying at the workplace even though the perpetrator focuses on a single target at a time. Proximal contextual factors where interpersonal bullying is institutionalized such that the entire workplace is toxic are evidenced by Mortensen and Baarts (2018). These authors portray how oppressive derogatory teasing practice, entrenched in the work culture at a hospital, marks employee interactions such that, despite experiencing and recognizing its adverse consequences, all organizational members participate in and perpetuate it, alternating between the roles of bullies and targets. Since involvement in the teasing practice is integral to surviving in the workplace, influencing employees’ status, power and continuity, bullying operates as a reciprocal regulation mechanism that becomes normalized as part of the organizational ethos. In such instances (i.e. where the incidence of mistreatment may be limited and where the entire workplace is toxic), as seen in the foregoing illustrations, the institutionalization of workplace bullying is an outcome of a specific setting and ethos. Yet, the role of distal contextual factors cannot be ruled out and needs to be explored. This is because workplaces are part of and reflect society, bringing distal influences into the proximal setting (see Fig. 2).

Proximal and distal contextual factors, with the latter exerting a strong influence on the former, combine to institutionalize external bullying and depersonalized bullying. Along with Bishop and Hoel (2008), D’Cruz and Noronha (2015b) and Mendonca, D’Cruz and Noronha (2018), Korczynski and Evans (2013) show the systemic nature of customer abuse in external bullying. The ideology of customer sovereignty is integral to the service economy. Organizations in the pursuit of competitive advantage espouse this ideology. With power thus tilted in favour of customers, external bullying is usually legitimized and normalized by employers as well as organizations and institutions in the service sector. The institutionalization of customer abuse is further evidenced by the general absence of intra-organizational and extra-organizational redress mechanisms such that frontline service workers facing external bullying must essentially find their own ways of coping without upsetting, questioning, confronting or retaliating against customers. Indeed, so entrenched is the norm of customer supremacy that often employers punish employees who react against customer abuse and employees hold themselves responsible for external bullying. D’Cruz (2015a), in line with Liefooghe and Mackenzie-Davey (2001), D’Cruz and Noronha (2009), van Heugten (2017) and Banday, Chakraborty, D’Cruz and Noronha (2018), highlights how neoliberal influences from the contemporary competitive and volatile macro-economic business environment contribute to the institutionalization of depersonalized bullying through their impact on the objectives, internal design and practices of workplaces. Organizational pursuit of competitive advantage under such circumstances results in abusive work regimes which, while undermining employee rights and well-being, is perpetuated by international and national economic, political and social factors which even unions find difficult to dismantle. Employees, in need of a livelihood, participate in their own oppression, further reinforcing its normalization and systematization. In the case of external bullying, the institutionalization of bullying arises due to sector-linked ideological beliefs associated with a specific role which is core to organizational functioning and success, across the particular role and sector. In the case of depersonalized bullying, the institutionalization of bullying is linked to the organizational agenda which has intra-organizational and extra-organizational bases (see Fig. 2).

Problematizing bullying as an institutional phenomenon underscores that mistreatment is not attributable to individuals alone but is also systemic (Beale & Hoel, 2011; Fevre, Lewis, Robinson, & Jones, 2012; Rhodes, Pullen, Vickers, Clegg, & Pitsis, 2010). This makes it more profound in its impact, yet more difficult to identify, explain and eliminate (Rhodes, Pullen, Vickers, Clegg, & Pitsis, 2010). Focusing on proximal contextual factors, Rhodes, Pullen, Vickers, Clegg and Pitsis (2010) say that despite evidence situating bullying within the workplace and indicating the relevance of workplace factors in causing and therefore resolving the issue, thus invoking Zizek’s objective violence, bullying is commonly understood as an individual problem, thereby privileging Zizek’s subjective violence, with its aetiology being attributed to the perpetrator’s and/or target’s features and hence its solution being designed to address the perpetrator’s and/or target’s behaviour (Fevre, Lewis, Robinson, & Jones, 2012; Rhodes, Pullen, Vickers, Clegg, & Pitsis, 2010). As Fevre, Lewis, Robinson and Jones (2012) argue, ignoring the institutionalization of workplace bullying results in the problem being framed more as a private matter rather than a public issue. Yet, organizations are not just places where bullying occurs but are made up of institutionalized practices, comprising “routine activities” of the workplace manifested mainly through interactions and relationships between colleagues (Roscigno, Lopez, & Hodson, 2009, p. 1580), which may encourage or even include bullying. Accordingly, greater attention to the workplace context aids moving away from solely pathologizing and treating individuals to recognizing and tackling organizational dimensions of bullying. Such an approach often shows bullying to be lodged in normalized cultural practices of workplaces, allowing structural and political issues linked to employment relations and capitalist production to come to the fore (Beale & Hoel, 2011; Fevre, Lewis, Robinson, & Jones, 2012; Rhodes, Pullen, Vickers, Clegg, & Pitsis, 2010). Indeed, this standpoint endorses the view that workplaces are contexts suffused with power relations which hold implications for whether bullying emerges, who it involves, how it unfolds and whether it can be resolved (Roscigno, Lopez, & Hodson, 2009).

Beale and Hoel (2011), Berlingieri (2015) and D’Cruz and Noronha (2009, 2018c) underscore that insights into the institutionalization of workplace bullying will be furthered if linkages with distal contextual factors are unravelled. Arguing that the institutionalization of bullying within organizations is not limited to workplace influences but rather reflects more widespread and generalized social dynamics, Berlingieri (2015), D’Cruz (2015a, 2016a) and D’Cruz and Noronha (2009, 2015a, 2018c) maintain that a more accurate understanding of the phenomenon is likely to emerge if workplaces are examined as part of the larger social setting which they are embedded in and generally mirror, since workplaces are inextricably entwined with their surrounding contexts. These insights are possible by taking social structures into account, highlighting how social relations are organized and practised and how individuals, groups and institutions are located within interrelated power dynamics. Such an approach recognizes the seamless link between the micro and the macro within and beyond the workplace and takes into account social, economic and political elements at national and international levels, revealing all these factors as integral to the emergence, perpetuation and naturalization of bullying at work. Indeed, Roscigno, Lopez and Hodson (2009) and Fevre, Lewis, Robinson and Jones (2012) show how the status of social categories in society in general leads to positional and relational power or powerlessness in the workplace, setting the stage for bullying. Similarly, Banday, Chakraborty, D’Cruz and Noronha (2018) indicate how the polarization of relationships between different groups in society due to disenfranchisement linked to poverty and marginalized identity on the one hand, and power linked to class, caste, political affiliations and corruption on the other hand, pervades the workplace, additionally influenced by capitalism, creating a fertile ground for bullying to emerge. Further, notwithstanding the reach of globalization (D’Cruz, Paull, Omari, & Guneri-Cangarli, 2016), Omari and Paull (2016) and Salin et al. (2018a) highlight how national culture gives rise to social dynamics which infuse workplaces and hold implications for the presence and entrenchment of bullying at work. D’Cruz (2016b), for example, describes how Indian cultural characteristics of materialism and individualism, accentuated by neoliberalism, as well as hierarchy mark the social environment and enter workplaces, fuelling the incidence of bullying. While the dynamics from society in general are reproduced in the workplace, they are further reinforced both within the workplace and in society. Internalization at the individual level and normalization at the workplace and societal levels reflect the reification of the social order (D’Cruz & Noronha, 2018c).

Some headway has been made in the attempt to grasp the subprocesses underlying the institutionalization of workplace bullying. Harrington, Warren and Rayner (2015), for example, draw on Bourdieu to demonstrate how the workplace and its powerful members use language as a tool of dominance to euphemize workplace processes (symbolic violence) and set the rules of the game (doxa), which are uncritically accepted and taken for granted by all members due to collective homologous dispositions emerging from the socialization process (shared habitus). D’Cruz and Noronha (2018c), as another example, engage critical hermeneutic phenomenology, involving lived experiences and ideology critique, to illustrate how socialization processes ensure that macro-level ideologies from the wider social context are cemented as micro-level schema within individuals’ cognitive make-up such that the latter are rendered into passive subjects who acquiesce to asymmetrical power relations and, by failing to interrogate the status quo, aid its further entrenchment.

Even so, the institutionalization of workplace bullying raises questions about its costs. It has been well established internationally that interpersonal bullying results in adverse outcomes for targets, bystanders and organizations (see Volume 2, relevant chapters). Indeed, the harmful consequences of external bullying and cyberbullying for targets (see Yagil, Volume 4, Section A, and Cyberbullying at Work: Understanding the Influence of Technology, respectively) and of depersonalized bullying for targets and bullies (D’Cruz, 2015a; see also Depersonalized Bullying: An Emergent Concern in the Contemporary Workplace) have also been documented, alongside the acknowledgement that external bullying and depersonalized bullying are undertaken with a view to furthering organizational competitive advantage (D’Cruz, 2015a; D’Cruz & Noronha, 2016). Yet, what accounts for the institutionalization of workplace bullying in spite of the associated costs is a pertinent research agenda.

3.3 Unethicality

Notwithstanding its purported gains to some stakeholders, as pointed out above, the costs of workplace bullying result in it being conceptualized as negative, dysfunctional and counterproductive behaviour (Fox & Spector, 2005). But many scholars maintain that because it compromises workers’ right to safety and well-being (LaVan & Martin, 2008), workplace bullying, across its varieties, entails unethical behaviour (Harvey, Treadway, Heames, & Duke, 2009; LaVan & Martin, 2008; Rhodes, Pullen, Vickers, Clegg, & Pitsis, 2010) which goes against universal social rules of acceptability (Ramsay, Troth, & Branch, 2011), as shown in Fig. 2. Rhodes, Pullen, Vickers, Clegg and Pitsis (2010) maintain that because the unethicality of bullying is so obvious, discussions about abuse seldom explicitly touch on this dimension, leaving it “assumed rather than theorized or interrogated” (p. 97). As LaVan and Martin (2008) point out, while workplace bullying is relatively unregulated from a legal perspective, no ethical frameworks have been applied to aid the understanding of the ethics associated with the phenomenon (see Ethical Challenges in Workplace Bullying and Harassment: Creating Ethical Awareness and Sensitivity, for a detailed discussion on ethics and workplace bullying).

Adopting a fundamental position which coheres with the relational orientation of workplace bullying (see Fig. 2), Rhodes, Pullen, Vickers, Clegg and Pitsis (2010) contend that since emotional abuse at work contradicts the responsible interactions humans must have with each other which form the basis of ethics, it represents a direct affront to ethics. Drawing on Levinas, Rhodes, Pullen, Vickers, Clegg and Pitsis (2010) state that the unethicality of workplace bullying goes beyond conceptualizations of the normative, but rather is grounded in the basic respect humans must have for each other, appreciating individual uniqueness, such that responsible and generous interactions mark society. Under such circumstances, a bully’s behaviour objectifies the target, privileging manipulation and control of the latter in the pursuit of the former’s desires and insecurities. Bullying is not so much “unethical but rather a mockery of the very meaning of ethics, contempt for the possibility of ethics manifest in acts of violence” (p. 104).

Indeed, Vickers (2014), equating workplace bullying with impropriety, considers acts of emotional abuse to be acts of corruption—unethical but not always illegal—and urges the adoption of this combined lens in further research on the subject (see Fig. 2). Vickers’ view, which implicates mainly proximal but also distal contextual factors, maintains that owing to the manifestations, persistence, harm, possible mala fide intent, power dynamics and lack of effective interventions associated with situations of workplace bullying, elements of corruption at work evident in terms of misuse of influence, power, authority, knowledge and resources, acts of omission and commission, pursuit of personal gain/advantage, dereliction of employer’s duty including duty of care and violation of workplace and/or larger social norms including formal rules, especially if not done by mistake, come to the fore.

LaVan and Martin (2008) consider ethical issues pertaining to workplace bullying in terms of normative and process-oriented models, in line with relationality and proximal and distal contextual factors (see Fig. 2). The former aids the categorization and clarification of the type of violation, while the latter aids the design of intervention and is discussed in Sect. 5, with the authors cautioning that, by itself, each framework is insufficient due to its particular focus, but jointly, they allow for ethical framing of the problem and the solution. The normative model, which draws from the moral principles framework, comprising five principles, namely, utilitarianism, moral rights, distributive justice, care and virtue, designates workplace bullying as unethical. This is so because emotional abuse at work contradicts the doctrine that workplace behaviour must do the most good and the least harm, upholding workers’ rights as human beings who are ends in themselves. Whereas behaviour must unfold within the context of caring relationships where rights and responsibilities coexist such that people know the difference between good and bad and act with consistency in the correct direction, bullying at work embodies inappropriate acts and precipitates injury. The normative model mandates that workplaces are duty-bound to protect the interests of all stakeholders, including employees, at all times, and this holds true when unacceptable conditions such as workplace bullying arise.

The institutionalization of workplace bullying means that the workplace itself is unethical (see Fig. 2). This carries significant implications for the availability, nature and effectiveness of organizational interventions to address the phenomenon. Under such circumstances, it is not just insufficient—rather, it is morally wrong—to condemn acts of bullying as unethical behaviours perpetuated by unethical people. Glossing over the entrenchment of workplace bullying implies that organizations fail to see themselves as unethical entities rooted in unethical foundations, ignoring their own complicity in the process (Rhodes, Pullen, Vickers, Clegg, & Pitsis, 2010). With organizational responsibility thus diminished, the diagnosis of and solutions to the problem remain erroneous, failing to address the system of which it is a part. This raises ethical concerns since it means that organizations themselves are enabling and perpetuating abuse, rendering it normalized and habituated behaviour that goes formally unrecognized and unchecked (Rhodes, Pullen, Vickers, Clegg, & Pitsis, 2010). Indeed, within such a workplace, bullying becomes “an accepted ‘ethical’ behaviour” (Harvey, Treadway, Heames, & Duke, 2009, p. 30).

4 The Field’s Primary Focus: Interpersonal Bullying at Work from Internal Sources

Varieties of workplace bullying (viz. interpersonal and depersonalized bullying, internal and external bullying and real and cyber bullying) and their combinations (viz. compounded bullying, dual locus bullying and hybrid bullying) represent the contemporary direction for the field (see Sect. 2). Yet, interpersonal bullying by an internal source has conventionally been the dominant focus of the substantive area. The extant literature has essentially examined real/face-to-face bullying, with attention to virtual/cyberbullying being more recent (see Fig. 1). Below, in the current section, we elaborate on the hallmarks of this variety of workplace bullying.

4.1 Manifestation and Temporality

Moving downwards, horizontally, upwards or as “cross-level co-bullying” (D’Cruz & Rayner, 2013, p. 607), interpersonal bullying at work could involve a single and/or multiple bully(ies) and target(s) (Lutgen-Sandvik, 2006). Bullies engage in a range of negative acts. Elaborating on Einarsen and Hoel’s (2001) classification referred to in Sect. 3, Yamada, Duffy and Berry (2018) cite the Workplace Bullying Institute’s (WBI) 2007 survey to describe behaviours such as shouting, swearing, name-calling, malicious sarcasm, threats to safety, cruelty, undeserved evaluations, denial of advancement, stealing credit, tarnished reputation, arbitrary instructions, unsafe assignments, interference with work performance, sabotage, undermining, ensuring failure, destruction of workplace relationships, defamation and misrepresentation. Physical assault and sexual harassment were also listed in the WBI 2007 survey alongside evidence of the coexistence of category-based harassment. While these negative acts mark real and cyber forms of bullying, ICTDs complicate the manifestation of virtual abuse through the opportunities they provide for dissemination, hacking and impersonation (D’Cruz & Noronha, 2013a; Forssell, 2016; Vranjes, Baillien, Vandebosch, Erreygers, & De Witte, 2017). As well as pointing out that instances of workplace bullying usually involve combinations of these acts, Yamada, Duffy and Berry (2018) caution that while many bullying behaviours are predictable, there are innumerable instances of innovative manifestations of mistreatment.

The direct, obvious and in-your-face and/or indirect, subtle and behind-your-back manifestations (Bloch, 2012; Samnani, 2013; Yamada, Duffy, & Berry, 2018) of bullying could be enacted privately and/or publicly (Lutgen-Sandvik, 2006). To illustrate, bullying could be overt yet its display occurs only between the perpetrator and the target. Or bullying could be covert even though perpetrators mistreat targets in front of others. Lutgen-Sandvik (2013b) believes that adult bullies are considered to be astutely strategic, often using indirect aggression that is easy to hide and deny and excelling at appearing completely innocent to their colleagues and superiors. In the case of cyberbullying, the anonymity and invisibility afforded by the mediated nature of ICTDs, known to result in self-dissociation, lower inhibition and accountability, emboldening bullies. The opportunity to withhold one’s identity and/or impersonate, thereby remaining unidentified, adds to bullies’ confidence (D’Cruz & Noronha, 2013a, 2018a; Forssell, 2018).

Conventionally, interpersonal bullying is seen as repeated (Namie & Namie, 2009) and patterned (Keashly, 1997), occurring over a prolonged period of time (Nielsen & Einarsen, 2018). Indeed, persistence is marked by the frequency and duration of the negative acts. The length of bullying appears to be closely related to the frequency of bullying, with those bullied regularly reporting prolonged exposure (Einarsen & Skogstad, 1996). In line with this, Leymann’s (1996) definition is specific in terms of repetition (at least once weekly) and length (at least 6 months). This has implications for how bullying is conceptualized, measured and understood, with more persistence being considered to be a more accurate reflection of the phenomenon (Yamada, Duffy, & Berry, 2018). Rayner, Hoel and Cooper (2002) underscore that it is this persistence that sets interpersonal bullying apart from other mistreatment at work, giving it a “corrosive character” involving “hammering and chipping away” (Lutgen-Sandvik, 2013b, p. 2) over the long term. Frequent and prolonged negative behaviours are found to become more intense and extreme over time especially if intervention is absent or unsuccessful. In fact, this escalation of abuse is often accompanied by its increasing visibility from subtle, covert and hidden attacks to more direct, overt and obvious aggression (Lutgen-Sandvik, 2005). As Patterson, Branch, Barker and Ramsay (2018) point out, persistence invokes associations of unreasonableness and (perceived) intentionality.

Nonetheless, there is growing cognizance of the intensity of one-off incidents, acknowledging the potential of a single extreme event to unleash grievous harm, particularly given individual differences in the appraisal of and coping with various experiences (Branch, Ramsay, & Barker, 2013; Lutgen-Sandvik, 2013b). Moreover, one-off incidents embody persistence in many cyberbullying situations. The concreteness and permanence of digital communication and the audience reach of ICTDs mean that a single episode of virtual abuse endures (D’Cruz & Noronha, 2013a; Farley, Coyne, Axtell, & Sprigg, 2016). Targets can be re-exposed to the incident by themselves becoming “quasi-perpetrators” (D’Cruz & Noronha, 2018a, p. 151) and/or by others. Alongside calls to recognize one-off events as bullying, the nuance to repetition and frequency emerging in the case of cyberbullying holds significant implications with regard to definitions (D’Cruz & Noronha, 2013a, 2018a).

Persistence has several methodological implications. In quantitative approaches, this relates to definitions of workplace bullying in self-labelling studies and cut-off criteria indicating whether bullied or not (with varying degrees of severity) in behavioural measure studies (see Keashly, 2018; Construct Validity in Workplace Bullying and Harassment Research). That is, what kind of frequency and duration issues do definitional options in the former instance and what kind of cut-off criteria do analyses in the latter instance consider? In qualitative approaches, whereas participants’ subjective interpretations can be privileged, taking widely adopted definitions (e.g. D’Cruz & Noronha, 2010b) or adapting commonly used measures (e.g. Mishra, D’Cruz, Gupta, & Noronha, 2018) to screen potential participants is also reported. That is, whereas bullying is defined by participants’ perspectives in the first case, available positions in the field, linked to the conceptualization and tool used, decide temporal matters in the second case. Moreover, there is a need to address the methodological issues around persistence in relation to the uniqueness of one-off cyberbullying situations alluded to earlier.

Overall, workplace bullying is displayed as a constellation of behaviours that constitute a discernable and complex pattern—it is not simply a list of negative acts (Keashly, 1997). Targets believe that the mistreatment they face cannot be understood outside of its contextual configuration and hence report difficulty in describing their experiences in a simple straightforward way (Lutgen-Sandvik, 2013b). Even so, faced with abuse, instances of targets turning into bullies through counteraggression, termed as targets-as-perpetrators (see O’Farrell et al., Volume 2, Section B), have also been documented, underscoring that exposure to negative acts can trigger bullying as a ripple or reciprocal effect and blur the line between the two protagonists (see van Heugten et al., Volume 2, Section A).

4.2 Target Orientation and Intent

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 specific individual or set of individuals who are negatively impacted, rather than being generally applied across workplace colleagues who are thereby spared from harm (D’Cruz, Noronha, & Beale, 2014; Einarsen, Hoel, Zapf, & Cooper, 2011). Indeed, the systematic identification, intimidation and cornering of targets by bullies to the point of powerlessness and defencelessness mark the interpersonal bullying situation (D’Cruz, 2018; Nielsen & Einarsen, 2018). Achieving a sense of one-up-personship (Branch, Ramsay, & Barker, 2007; Jenkins, Zapf, Winefield, & Sarris, 2012), either for predatory or conflict-related reasons (Einarsen, Hoel, Zapf, & Cooper, 2011), is seen as the motive behind interpersonal bullying.

Whether intent accompanies the target orientation which marks interpersonal bullying remains controversial. Researchers of workplace bullying are divided about the issue of intent, with some alluding to its presence implicitly or explicitly and others saying that it need not mark misbehaviour (Yamada, Duffy, & Berry, 2018; see also Workplace Bullying and the Polemic of Subjectivity and Intent). Definitions also are found to vary on these lines, with some scholars like Yamada indicating legal conceptualizations which include intent and others like Einarsen and colleagues maintaining that bullying need not be deliberate but unfolds unconsciously (Yamada, Duffy, & Berry, 2018). Farley, Coyne, Axtell and Sprigg (2016) argue that intent is even more difficult to establish in cyberbullying because ICTDs do not transmit the full range of communication cues. Nielsen and Einarsen (2018) hold that intent cannot be a definitional aspect of workplace bullying, neither psychologically nor legally, for various reasons. Intent is difficult to prove and measure (Keashly, 2018), with inconsistency in target and perpetrator perspectives being common. That is, targets may believe that perpetrators are wilfully attacking them while the latter either are unaware of their behaviour, do not actually harbour such motives (Nielsen & Einarsen, 2018), are focused on organizational goals (Einarsen, Hoel, Zapf, & Cooper, 2011) or the deniability dynamic provides perpetrators with an effective cover (Rayner, Hoel, & Cooper, 2002). Moreover, perpetrators with poor social skills may be perceived as bullying though they have no such intent and/or do not realize how their behaviour is seen and experienced (Nielsen & Einarsen, 2018). Yet, Daniel and Metcalf’s study (cited in Yamada, Duffy, & Berry, 2018) shows that intent matters as “the presence of malice created a dividing line between bullying and tough management” (p. 17) determining whether a negative situation at work is bullying or not, with malice symbolizing the desire to inflict injury.

Perception and attribution of intent is important in and integral to targets’ assessment of their experience, though targets and bullies are likely to differ on this dimension. Lutgen-Sandvik (2013b) points out that targets and bystanders are “convinced” (p. 2, emphasis in original) that the mistreatment they are subjected to is not accidental but intentional, deliberate and purposeful, aiming to harm them, with bullies knowing “exactly what they are doing” (Hodgins & Mannix McNamara, 2017, p. 2). Obviously, including both target and bully perspectives not only showcases the complexity that inheres in an interpersonal workplace bullying situation but also allows for a balanced account of the phenomenon to inform intervention (Bloch, 2012; Jenkins, Zapf, Winefield, & Sarris, 2012). Indeed, it is because intent is difficult to measure that studies of workplace bullying often use inventories of negative acts, asking targets to indicate which behaviours they experienced how often (Nielsen & Einarsen, 2018).

4.3 Power and Resistance

Workplace bullying involves “exercises of power over another” (Yamada, Duffy, & Berry, 2018, p. 19), resulting in an asymmetry of power between bullies and targets (Einarsen, Hoel, Zapf, & Cooper, 2011; see also Mannix-McNamara, Volume 2, Section A). While authority linked to the organizational hierarchy plays a role in situations of superior-to-subordinate bullying, in instances of peer-to-peer bullying or subordinate-to-superior bullying, social affiliations, expert power, target dependence/inadequacy, work group dynamics and so on are relevant (Branch, Ramsay, & Barker, 2007, 2013; Patterson, Branch, Barker, & Ramsay, 2018). Yet, regardless of the formal workplace relationship, interpersonal bullying contributes to the growing powerlessness of the target who over time perceives himself/herself as having little or no recourse (D’Cruz, 2018). While the bully’s illegitimate use of personal power accounts for the situation (Liefooghe & Mackenzie-Davey, 2001), it is not the sole factor. Bullies are emboldened by organizational support for their actions (Patterson, Branch, Barker, & Ramsay, 2018). Thus, while initially targets may feel as strong as the bully, they gradually realize their weaker position, ending up vulnerable and defenceless (D’Cruz, 2018; Einarsen, Hoel, Zapf, & Cooper, 2011; Patterson, Branch, Barker, & Ramsay, 2018). The extreme disempowerment of targets is apparent in instances where bully identity is not known, leaving targets guessing the name and motives of their perpetrator. This has been found to be true particularly in instances of cyberbullying where ICTDs can be used to impersonate and camouflage identity (D’Cruz & Noronha, 2013a).

Compounding this situation, though exceptions exist (e.g. D’Cruz & Noronha, 2013a, 2018a), organizational responses to workplace bullying are largely weak, even where clear anti-bullying policies and redress procedures are in place and a dedicated HR function exists, often alongside union and/or legislative backing (D’Cruz, 2018; D’Cruz, Mulder, Noronha, Beerepoot, & Magala, 2019). The organizational ethos, political dynamics, unavailability or ambiguity of evidence and lack of supportive bystanders coalesce to disempower targets. Issues in the implementation of interventions which result in protecting perpetrators and victimizing targets, with HR failing to navigate the manipulations of the system but rather colluding with it, are reported, leading to further damage (D’Cruz & Noronha, 2010a, 2011, 2017; Harrington, Rayner, & Warren, 2012; Hodgins & Mannix McNamara, 2017; Thirlwall, 2015).

Interpersonal bullying thus evolves into an interaction between two unequally matched protagonists, indicating a unidimensional, functional and sovereign conceptualization of power as a zero-sum game (D’Cruz, 2016a; D’Cruz & Noronha, 2017; Lutgen-Sandvik, 2005). Tracy, Lutgen-Sandvik and Alberts (2013) say that metaphorical descriptions help to show why once bullying has become an entrenched pattern, it is difficult/impossible to disrupt and hence targets prefer to quit the workplace and move on. Indeed, after observing organizational dynamics in general or cases of mistreatment in particular, many targets prefer not to disclose their experiences and seek redress, believing they will suffer further victimization while their perpetrators are exonerated (D’Cruz, Mulder, Noronha, Beerepoot, & Magala, 2019; Hodgins & Mannix McNamara, 2017). In line with this, target reluctance to engage organizational options is reported even in instances of cyberbullying where concreteness and permanence result in virtual footprints which provide evidence (D’Cruz & Noronha, 2013a).

Interestingly, emerging arguments counter this oversimplified and dichotomous 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 limited and/or delayed outcomes (D’Cruz, 2016a; D’Cruz & Noronha, 2017; Hutchinson, Vickers, Jackson, & Wilkes, 2010; Lutgen-Sandvik, 2005, 2006). Rather than a powerful versus powerless duality, power unfolds as a complex process involving control and resistance, with targets asserting agency in the face of bullies’ intimidation (D’Cruz, 2016a). That is, notwithstanding the challenges, targets seek to actively address the situation in an adaptive and constructive manner, making problem-focused coping relevant (D’Cruz & Noronha, 2010a, 2018a; Zapf & Gross, 2001). They hold direct discussions with the bully; engage informal and/or formal organizational options such as supervisory intervention, filing complaints, etc.; and/or resort to extra-organizational avenues such as unions and laws (D’Cruz, 2018; Karatuna, 2015; Lutgen-Sandvik, 2006; Rayner, 1997).

Yet, as pointed out earlier, targets are often further victimized, though there are instances where the digital footprints of cyberbullying, due to the features of concreteness and permanence, usually turn the tide in their favour (D’Cruz & Noronha, 2013a, 2018a). Where this is not the case, the abusive situation gets aggravated and targets end up opting for emotion-focused coping strategies (D’Cruz, 2018; Hogh & Dofradottir, 2001; Mannix McNamara, Fitzpatrick, MacCurtain, & O’Brien, 2018; Reknes et al., 2016) such as cognitive restructuring, compartmentalization, affective blunting, spirituality, social support and so on. Many targets quit their jobs and seek fresh employment elsewhere (D’Cruz & Noronha, 2010a; Karatuna, 2015; Mannix McNamara, Fitzpatrick, MacCurtain, & O’Brien, 2018; Zapf & Gross, 2001). Emotion-focused coping strategies are found to empower targets, underscoring the need to rethink these approaches as passive, maladaptive and destructive (D’Cruz, 2016a, 2018; D’Cruz & Noronha, 2010a, 2017). Besides, targets may display counteraggression, possibly subsuming revenge and retaliation, bullying the perpetrator and/or other colleagues at the workplace. While counteraggression gives targets a chance to regain control and to enhance self-worth (D’Cruz, 2016a; D’Cruz & Noronha, 2017), in instances of ICTDs in general and virtual workplaces in particular, the digital trail potentially left behind limits them (D’Cruz & Noronha, 2013a, 2018a).

Targets’ coping is clearly linked to their desire to assert mastery and retain autonomy (D’Cruz, 2016a). Despite voicing their feeling of impotence, targets engage coping strategies to counter their bullies. Notwithstanding the outcomes of their attempts, targets’ resistance promotes their sense of control and capability (Lutgen-Sandvik, 2006). In keeping with Foucault and Giddens, power and resistance are polymorphous, multi-faceted and mutually constitutive entities, in which all actors have access to certain rules and resources of mastery and control to a greater or lesser degree. Power and resistance provide permanent limits for each other such that targets with knowledgeable agency mobilize resources and carve out spaces of control for themselves. In this way, the powerless may be able to influence the activities of those who appear to hold complete sway over time (D’Cruz, 2016a; D’Cruz & Noronha, 2017; Lutgen-Sandvik, 2006). Yet, Tracy, Lutgen-Sandvik and Alberts (2013) point out that it is also possible that a resisting target, especially if he/she is a subordinate, is labelled a “problem employee” or “troublemaker”.

4.4 Harm and Well-Being

The early phases of episodes of interpersonal abuse at work are marked by confusion where targets are usually unable to accurately identify or label their experiences as bullying (D’Cruz & Noronha, 2010a; Lutgen-Sandvik, 2013b). While shame, self-blame and uncertainty could play a role, targets’ interpretation of and responses to their situation could vary due to the context (Berlingieri, 2015; Hodgins & Mannix McNamara, 2017). As the mistreatment continues, targets report discomfort (D’Cruz & Noronha, 2010a) and realize that they are under attack, though they may still lack a term which names their experiences (Lutgen-Sandvik, 2013b). Indeed, bullying intensifies over time if left unchecked (Lutgen-Sandvik, 2013b), resulting in grievous harm to targets (Namie & Namie, 2018) who face “collateral damage” (Yamada, Duffy, & Berry, 2018, p. 17) in terms of their identities, employability and career and impairment of personal and family relationships (Yamada, Duffy, & Berry, 2018).

Tracy, Lutgen-Sandvik and Alberts (2013), emphasizing that workplace bullying can sound unbelievable, detail the metaphors that targets invoke to portray their pain. “This dense, intense shorthand is powerful and convincing at communicating the very real threat” (p. 86) that workplace bullying presents. “Bullying terrorizes, humiliates, dehumanizes, and isolates targets…draw(ing) attention and energy away from and interfere(ing) with task completion” (p. 88). Targets use metaphors to depict an experience they refer to as indescribable. Metaphors provide the most promising avenue to understand targets’ predicament, serving as windows to the intense emotions they go through. Bullying feels like a game/battle, a nightmare, water torture or dealing with a noxious substance. The bully seems to resemble a narcissistic dictator, a two-faced actor or a demon. Being a target is akin to being a slave, an animal, a prisoner, a child or a heartbroken love. The metaphors vividly portray why bullying is devastating and why targets feel they can do little to change the situation (Tracy, Lutgen-Sandvik, & Alberts, 2013). The degree of injury that cyberbullying causes is even greater due to its boundarylessness and audience reach. ICTDs allow bullies to reach targets anytime and anywhere, transcending temporal, spatial and relational boundaries and impeding opportunities for respite and recovery. Moreover, the abusive situation need not be confined to bullies and targets but can be shared with others in and beyond the organization. Both the public nature of the misbehaviour and the possibility of unintended witnesses becoming perpetrators aggravate the harm targets undergo. Compounding the damage are instances where bully identity is unknown and remains undiscovered. Uncertainty about who is mistreating them and why leaves targets with feelings of insecurity which heightens anxiety and precipitates paranoia (D’Cruz & Noronha, 2013a, 2017; D’Souza, Forsyth, Tappin, & Catley, 2018; Vranjes, Baillien, Vandebosch, Erreygers, & De Witte, 2018).

Interpersonal bullying at work is associated with physiological, emotional and behavioural harm (Nielsen, Nielsen, Notelaers, & Einarsen, 2015) at personal and professional levels (Samnani & Singh, 2012) over short as well as long periods of time (Nielsen & Einarsen, 2018). As targets get “undone” and “shattered” (Hodgins & Mannix McNamara, 2017, p. 200), damages to targets’ self-concept, self-esteem, ability to cope, equilibrium and well-being are reported (D’Cruz & Noronha, 2012; Lutgen-Sandvik, 2008). Targets are known to suffer physical and mental distress (D’Cruz & Noronha, 2013a, 2018a; Giorgi, Leon-Perez, & Arenas, 2015; Kawamoto, 2018; Park & Ono, 2017; Pena, 2018), including depression (Conway et al., 2018), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) (Islamoska, Grynderup, Nabe-Nielsen, Høgh (Hogh), & Hansen, 2018), higher risk for suicide (Leach, Poyser, & Butterworth, 2017) and diabetes (Xu et al., 2018), greater pain intensity (Jacobsen, Nielsen, Einarsen, & Gjerstad, 2018), musculoskeletal problems (Vie, Glasø, & Einarsen, 2012) and sleep disorders (Hansen et al., 2016), among other ailments. Personal relationships are also affected (Lutgen-Sandvik, Namie, & Namie, 2009). Work engagement (Park & Ono, 2017) and job satisfaction (Arenas et al., 2015; Coyne et al., 2017) suffer while sickness absence (Nielsen, Indregard, & Øverland, 2016) and intention to quit (Coetzee & van Dyk, 2018; Nabe-Nielsen et al., 2017) increase, evidencing some of the adverse work-related outcomes. Perceived psychological contract violation (Salin & Notelaers, 2017), linked to a disrupted or failed social exchange relationship (Parzefall & Salin, 2010), marked by an imbalance of equity and reciprocity (Salin & Notelaers, 2017), is forwarded as an explanation. That is, when employees are exposed to workplace bullying and their attempts at redress are unsuccessful, they feel betrayed by their employers and develop negative attitudes towards the workplace. These affect their performance and lead them to consider quitting (Salin & Notelaers, 2017) or actually quit (D’Cruz & Noronha, 2010a). Economic jeopardy is also reported (Lutgen-Sandvik, Namie, & Namie, 2009).

Alongside the extensive literature documenting the harm targets experience (see Conway et al., Hansen et al., Harlos & Knoll and Hogh et al., Volume 2, Section A), their quest for well-being through agency, identity work, forgiveness, resilience, revenge and retaliation is also evidenced (see van Heugten et al., Volume 2, Section A). Notwithstanding the strain and defencelessness that bullying engenders, targets strive to re-establish their equilibrium, regain their mastery and control and maintain their dignity, thereby restoring their sense of self (D’Cruz & Noronha, 2012, 2017, 2018a, c; Lutgen-Sandvik, 2006, 2008; Mishra, D’Cruz, Gupta, & Noronha, 2018; van Heugten, 2013). These insights are important for two reasons. They represent a positive outcome amidst the widespread and severe negativity that the phenomenon of interpersonal bullying at work inevitably unleashes. Moreover, they resonate with the emergent positive psychology (Snyder, Lopez, & Pedrotti, 2011) and positive organizational scholarship (POS) (Cameron & Spreitzer, 2012) literature which emphasize “flourishing” rather than “languishing” (Keyes & Lopez, 2002) as humans adapt and adjust in the pursuit of being “fully or optimally functioning” individuals (Linley & Harrington, 2006). Indeed, there is a small but growing body of research within the substantive area speaking to the interface between positive scholarship and workplace bullying (see Workplace Bullying and Harassment and Positive Organizational Scholarship, this volume, and also, e.g., Cassidy, McLaughlin, & McDowell, 2014; D’Cruz & Noronha, 2018a; Laschinger & Nosko, 2015; Lutgen-Sandvik & Hood, 2013).

5 Crafting the Future of the Substantive Area

Varieties of workplace bullying (viz. interpersonal and depersonalized bullying, internal and external bullying and real and cyber bullying) and their combinations (viz. compounded bullying, dual locus bullying and hybrid bullying), together with their common underlying characteristics of relationality, institutionalization and unethicality (see Sects. 2 and 3), mark the direction of the substantive area going forwards. Capturing, furthering and addressing the contemporary conceptualization of workplace bullying set both research and action agendas for the future. As well as discussing the implications for scholarship and practice, this section also emphasizes the relevance of a cultural lens.

5.1 Implications for Research: Capitalizing on Pertinent Pointers from the Past

An accurate and complete grasp of the phenomenon of workplace bullying across its varieties and features underscores the indisputable and urgent need for the field to move beyond a predominantly psychology and positivist focus to embrace multidisciplinary, interdisciplinary and postpositivist (Berlingieri, 2015; D’Cruz, Noronha, & Lutgen-Sandvik, 2018b; D’Cruz, Noronha, & Syal, 2018a; Hutchinson, 2012) perspectives.

Even though workplace bullying is a relational phenomenon engendering a micro-level behavioural focus, accurately understanding its dyadic/group-level characteristics and its interface with the workplace and society necessitates drawing on sociology, anthropology, communication, economics, political studies, law and other social sciences. Moreover, besides going beyond the micro-level psychology-based lens that is commonly used, drawing on other disciplines as well as adopting an interdisciplinary approach greatly enriches the substantive area with insights that would otherwise remain untapped (D’Cruz, Noronha, & Syal, 2018a; see also Interdisciplinary and Mixed Methods Approaches to Study Workplace Bullying, Emotional Abuse and Harassment). Pursuing a research agenda on these lines is crucial if we are to effectively understand this relational issue beyond “the dyadic relationship to one that views this relationship as a product of processes and practices beyond individuals” (Berlingieri, 2015, p. 2).

The foundations of the workplace bullying field in psychology have been instrumental in uncovering many facets of the phenomenon such as its conceptualization, manifestations, antecedents, outcomes, mediators and moderators and have resulted in the emergence of measuring instruments, several models with varying foci and intervention protocols (see, e.g., Caponecchia & Wyatt, 2011; D’Cruz, 2015a; Nielsen & Einarsen, 2018; Samnani & Singh, 2012). Theories pertaining to individual, dyadic and group behaviour such as personality theories (especially the five-factor model), stress and coping theories across their evolution (e.g. CATS [cognitive activation theory of stress], JDC [job demands-control], JDR [job demands-resources]), the work environment hypothesis, affective events theory, social identity theory, social rules theory, social exchange theory and conservation of resources theory are commonly relied on (see Theoretical Frameworks That Have Explained Workplace Bullying: Retracing Contributions Across the Decades). Attention here has been primarily on the experiences of targets but has also looked at bystanders, leaders and organizations to some extent. Overall, as the bulk of the Handbooks of Workplace Bullying, Emotional Abuse and Harassment shows, the psychological base of workplace bullying scholarship has led to a substantial body of reliable and valid knowledge, providing unparalleled insights into the issue, especially interpersonal bullying, and, more recently, cyberbullying, from internal sources.

The limited studies undertaken in other disciplines have yielded equally important insights, providing a more complete picture of the phenomenon, including depersonalized bullying, external bullying and institutionalization, to name a few. Future research aiming at closing the gaps in our understanding would greatly benefit from and yield deeper insights through such leanings. That is, scholarly endeavours in the field of workplace bullying should not be restricted to psychology but draw on other social sciences (see Interdisciplinary and Mixed Methods Approaches to Study Workplace Bullying, Emotional Abuse and Harassment).

The communications field, for instance, has furthered our understanding of the verbal and non-verbal dimensions of negative acts underscoring that bullying is essentially communicative in nature (Lutgen-Sandvik, Tracy, & Alberts, 2013a). Communication scholars conceptualize workplace bullying as socially constructed via a complicated convergence of interactive processes linking the dyadic relationship between bullies and targets to larger systems of meanings which, through multilevel discourses within and beyond organizations, constitute, maintain, resist and transform social phenomena (Lutgen-Sandvik & Tracy, 2012). Moreover, theories of media richness, media synchronicity and channel expansion have been found to be instrumental in shining light on cyberbullying which occurs via interactions mediated by ICTDs (D’Cruz & Noronha, 2014a).

Besides, sociology has brought in the labour process, employer versus employee interests, contexts and subjectivities, paving the way for intra- and extra-organizational factors beyond the individual to enter the field (Fevre, Lewis, Robinson, & Jones, 2012; Liefooghe & Mackenzie-Davey, 2001). Hodson, Roscigno and Lopez (2006), for example, rely on concepts such as transparency, accountability and capacity to speak to the issue of organizational coherence which emphasizes bureaucracy and downplays chaos. In showing how organizational coherence, which marks organizational functioning and the labour process, pre-empts the emergence of workplace bullying, Hodson, Roscigno and Lopez (2006) detail the significance of the contextual underpinnings of workplace bullying.

Further, law, concerning itself with duties and rights in regulation and soft law, is of relevance in multiple ways. The legal field makes multilateral (e.g. the ILO) and national (e.g. the state) players, OHS and employee relations foci, issues around statutes versus execution, levels of intervention (i.e. primary, secondary and tertiary prevention) and the litigation process matters of significance to the field of workplace bullying (Cobb, 2017; Lippel, 2010; Yamada, 2018). Importantly, it highlights culture-specific conceptualizations of the phenomenon which are reflected in regulation (Cobb, 2017). Legal perspectives chronicle the complications around the (un)availability of legislation, pointing to the implications for employee protection (D’Cruz, Mulder, Noronha, Beerepoot, & Magala, 2019; Hanley & O’Rourke, 2016).

The discipline of economics, as a final illustration, has much to offer by way of computing the direct and indirect costs of workplace bullying which accrue to individuals (especially targets, bullies, bystanders and significant others), workplaces and society.

As well as the contributions of individual disciplines going forwards, the importance of an interdisciplinary approach in advancing the field cannot be overemphasized. Pointers to the direction ahead come from the few available examples which provide glimpses into the potential such endeavours hold. Mortensen and Baarts (2018), for instance, with backgrounds in psychology and sociology, respectively, drew from anthropology to use an ethnographic approach as their research method and from both psychology and sociology to explain their findings about teasing practice as a manifestation of workplace bullying which is institutionalized in and defines social relations at the workplace. Then again, Beale and Hoel (2011) engage the interdisciplinary field of industrial relations to broaden the discourse of workplace bullying to highlight a politicized and contextualized understanding linked to macro-economic factors, in particular capitalism, central to the employment relationship. D’Cruz and Noronha (2018b), as another illustration, combine coping theory from psychology with critical theory from sociology to show that while impediments to targets’ agency arise from mainstream hegemony, the mutuality between individual sense-making and social discourses paves a way to counter disenfranchisement and pursue emancipation, thereby altering power dynamics in workplace bullying.

The positivist skew of workplace bullying research (D’Cruz, Noronha, & Lutgen-Sandvik, 2018b; Samnani, 2016), stemming particularly from its strong disciplinary roots in psychology (Michell, 2003), has resulted in the extant literature being populated with mainly quantitative cross-sectional self-report surveys (Nielsen & Einarsen, 2018). The available research here speaks to definitional and measurement issues (e.g. Hauge et al., 2011; Lutgen-Sandvik, Tracy, & Alberts, 2013b; Villar, Caputo, Coria, & Messoulam, 2012; Vranjes, Baillien, Vandebosch, Erreygers, & De Witte, 2018), risk factors and antecedents (e.g. Gardner et al., 2016; Laschinger, Wong, & Grau, 2012; Law, Dollard, Tuckey, & Dormann, 2011; Rivera, Martínez, & Cox, 2014; Tsuno et al., 2015), outcomes (e.g. Kumako, 2018; McCormack, Casimir, Djurkovic, & Yang, 2009; Nelson et al., 2014; Nielsen, Glasø, Matthiesen, Eid, & Einarsen, 2013; Snyman & Loh, 2015) and, more recently, mediators and moderators (e.g. Coetzee & van Dyk, 2018; Einarsen, Skogstad, Rørvik, Lande, & Nielsen, 2016; Naseer, Raja, & Donia, 2016; Salin & Notelaers, 2017), focusing on interpersonal bullying within workplaces, with recent attention to cyberbullying. Within this body of work, techniques such as meta-analyses, longitudinal designs, experimental designs, repeated measures designs, diary studies, register-based studies, latent class cluster analysis, receiver operating characteristic analysis, including multiple sources of information and ensuring sampling representativeness, among others, are being increasingly undertaken or recommended in order to enhance the robustness of the findings (see, e.g., Neall & Tuckey, 2014; Notelaers & van der Heijden, this volume). Even so, caution about the circularity between the variables being investigated is voiced, with bullying emerging as both an antecedent and an outcome such that the nature of associations is not fully known (Nielsen & Einarsen, 2018; see also Harlos & Holmvall and van den Brande et al., Volume 2). Nonetheless, these inquiries have yielded important insights into the complexities of the phenomenon (Nielsen & Einarsen, 2018). Even so, viewing these contributions in the light of positivist ontology and epistemology which emphasizes pure data, immutable facts and true knowledge, anchored in objectivity, reductionism (Alvesson & Skoldberg, 2009; Johnson, 2015) and decontextualization, following the path of natural science (Crotty, 1998), underscores that they provide a significant but partial picture (Alvesson & Skoldberg, 2009).

Drawing on postpositivism to extend the breadth and depth of knowledge in the substantive area is a pertinent research strategy for the future. Postpositivist influences in the field of workplace bullying are limited but increasing (see Qualitative Research Methods in the Study of Workplace Bullying, Emotional Abuse and Harassment and Innovations in Qualitative Approaches for Studying Workplace Bullying, Emotional Abuse and Harassment). As opposed to the unequivocal imprints of reality that positivism emphasizes (Alvesson & Skoldberg, 2009), postpositivism, privileging subjectivity, holism and context (Bryman & Burgess, 1999) and being amenable to the irrational, paradoxical and complex nature of human life, coheres with the human capacity for interpretation (Prasad, 2005). It is therefore better suited to answering questions concerning human action and social processes (Prasad, 2005), with serendipitous findings and new concepts and theories being likely to emerge (Miles & Huberman, 1994). Encompassing a spectrum of traditions across various disciplines (Prasad, 2005), postpositivism is therefore particularly relevant to study workplace bullying, emotional abuse and harassment which represent the emotive, polemical and complicated face of organizational life (D’Cruz, Noronha, & Lutgen-Sandvik, 2018b). Indeed, among their significant contributions, postpositivist inquiries in the substantive area have described targets’ experiences in affective terms detailing “what bullying feels like” (Tracy, Lutgen-Sandvik, & Alberts, 2013, p. 87); captured targets’ striving towards well-being (see van Heugten et al., Volume 2, Section A) through identity work (e.g. D’Cruz & Noronha, 2012), forgiveness (Mishra, D’Cruz, Gupta, & Noronha, 2018) and resilience (e.g. D’Cruz & Noronha, 2018a); depicted sense-making processes (e.g. Zabrodska, Ellwood, Zaeemdar, & Mudrak, 2016); shone light on the dialectics of power in workplace bullying (e.g. D’Cruz & Noronha, 2013b; Hutchinson, Vickers, Jackson, & Wilkes, 2010; Lutgen-Sandvik, 2006) including external bullying (Mendonca, D’Cruz, & Noronha, 2018); uncovered (Liefooghe & Mackenzie-Davey, 2001) and furthered (D’Cruz, 2015a; D’Cruz & Noronha, 2009) the concept of depersonalized bullying and established institutionalization as an indisputable feature of workplace bullying (e.g. Harrington, Warren, & Rayner, 2015; Mortensen & Baarts, 2018). Despite their much fewer numbers, postpositivist studies have undeniably extended the frontiers of the field, complementing positivist studies in leading to a more complete understanding (Alvesson & Skoldberg, 2009), evidencing their continued relevance as the substantive area forges ahead. Indeed, the contribution of postpositivist inquiries to workplace bullying research so far attests to the importance of engaging them even more in the future so that the field is enriched by the enormous potential they hold.

5.2 Implications for Action: Attending to Unethicality and Institutionalization as Key Foci

The contemporary conceptualization of workplace bullying in terms of its varieties and their common attributes highlights that the key to addressing workplace bullying, across all its varieties and their combinations, lies in tackling its unethical and institutionalized nature. This perspective provides direction to the design of future interventions. Indeed, a range of interventions at primary, secondary and tertiary levels have been suggested, developed and deployed to address the issue of workplace bullying (see Volume 3, Section A; also Cyberbullying at Work: Understanding the Influence of Technology and Depersonalized Bullying: An Emergent Concern in the Contemporary Workplace; Yagil, Volume 4, Section A). While there is a paucity of evaluated interventions providing evidence-based foundations to prevention (Escartín, 2016; Hodgins, MacCurtain, & Mannix-McNamara, 2014), Escartín’s (2016) study highlights psychosocial drivers at the organizational/workplace level, such as top management commitment, employee participation, specific and clear anti-bullying mechanisms, sanctions against bullies and so on, that are critical to their success. Incorporating foci on ethics and institutionalization into intervention addresses the root of the problem and hence aids its elimination.

With regard to ethics, LaVan and Martin (2008) suggest a process-oriented model which helps to (a) identify specific loci of ethical concerns by analysing the antecedents (A), behaviours (B) and consequences (C) of workplace bullying at the individual, group and organizational levels of analysis and (b) design interventions to decrease the prevalence of workplace bullying and to respond to incidents of workplace bullying, addressing the different components and levels involved, in a holistic and ethically robust manner. Providing a systematic and comprehensive approach, the model allows for preventive and restorative ethical interventions dealing with workplace bullying. LaVan and Martin (2008) emphasize that though the normative model, described earlier in Sect. 3, is a useful analytical tool to categorize the type of ethical violation situations of workplace bullying embody, the process-oriented model is needed to develop ethically sound and comprehensive solutions linked to antecedents, behaviours, consequences and workplace levels implicated in instances of workplace bullying. Rhodes, Pullen, Vickers, Clegg and Pitsis (2010), taking a more basic approach, contend that a more practical strategy is Levinas’ thesis that ethics should be grounded in a concern for the other person. That is, rather than ethics being manifested via ethical systems, what is more critical is the dignified and respectful treatment of the other who is “different and particular” (Rhodes, Pullen, Vickers, Clegg, & Pitsis, 2010, p. 104). Even so, whether these ethical approaches will be effective when bullying is entrenched in the workplace is a moot question. As Vickers (2014) points out, corruption is usually socially perpetrated such that individual influences and actions, group dynamics and institutional structures and processes encourage and reinforce it. This has implications for whether workplace bullying becomes institutionalized or not, giving rise to an unethical workplace in the first instance (though, as mentioned earlier, within such a workplace, bullying becomes “an accepted ‘ethical’ behaviour” [Harvey, Treadway, Heames, & Duke, 2009, p. 30]), and for the availability and effectiveness of interventions to address it.

With regard to institutionalization, accurately establishing and tackling the underlying causative factors of workplace bullying is imperative. Individualizing and decontextualizing workplace bullying could lead to false notions of aetiology and ill-conceived attempts at resolution (Berlingieri, 2015; Rhodes, Pullen, Vickers, Clegg, & Pitsis, 2010), since labelling the situation as such simply because of its greater visibility and ease of analysis masks its actual proximal and distal contextual underpinnings (Rhodes, Pullen, Vickers, Clegg, & Pitsis, 2010). Yet, because of the predominance of individualized notions, organizations condemn acts of abuse as unethical behaviours perpetuated by unethical people. The glossing over of contextual influences means that organizations fail to see themselves as unethical entities, thereby disregarding the intra-organizational and extra-organizational factors which impinge on the situation. With organizational responsibility thus diminished, the diagnosis of and solutions to the problem remain individualized and ineffective, failing to address the system of which it is a part (Hutchinson, 2012; Rhodes, Pullen, Vickers, Clegg, & Pitsis, 2010). This raises ethical concerns since it means that organizations themselves are enabling and perpetuating abuse, making it institutionalized and habituated behaviour that goes formally unrecognized and unchecked (Rhodes, Pullen, Vickers, Clegg, & Pitsis, 2010). Failure to acknowledge and deal with contextual elements renders organizational initiatives such as inclusivist and employee-friendly HR practices (D’Cruz & Noronha, 2010a), psychosocial safety climate (Kwan, Tuckey, & Dollard, 2016), ethical infrastructure (Einarsen, Mykletun, Einarsen, Skogstad, & Salin, 2017) and anti-bullying initiatives (Vartia & Leka, 2011) redundant, attesting to the presence of organizational rhetoric (Beale & Hoel, 2011). It is believed that even regulatory initiatives will be insufficient to address the problem under such circumstances (D’Cruz, Mulder, Noronha, Beerepoot, & Magala, 2019).

Evidence supporting the institutionalized roots of workplace bullying points to the direction intervention must take. In other words, measures to deal with emotional abuse at work must take into account both individual and proximal and distal contextual factors, if they are to effectively address phenomenon by striking at its root cause (Hutchinson, 2012). This allows primary prevention rather than secondary and tertiary prevention to take centre stage, with a higher chance of success, in keeping with Tracy, Lutgen-Sandvik and Alberts (2013) who point out that most initiatives to deal with bullying are reactive and hence not very effective. In terms of proximal contextual factors, Rhodes, Pullen, Vickers, Clegg and Pitsis (2010) emphasize that one reason bullying persists in organizations is the lack of understanding of the social and institutional dynamics which enable it to flourish. Tackling workplace bullying involves dealing with the organization’s “‘institutional unconscious’—that impersonal aspect of seamless workings of organizational processes through which organizations reproduce themselves” (Rhodes, Pullen, Vickers, Clegg, & Pitsis, 2010, p. 106). This would aid pinpointing the true aetiology of and identifying the most effective solution to the situation, taking individual and organizational dimensions into account and embracing holistic ethical responsibilities at both levels. Taking the wider social, economic and political context in terms of distal factors into account is equally critical and holds the potential for deeper, long-term change (Berlingieri, 2015; D’Cruz, 2015a; D’Cruz & Noronha, 2009, 2018c).

Overall, what is called for is ongoing “self-critique” (p. 98) undergirded by “ethical vitality” (p. 102) whereby the dynamics of workplace bullying are objectively, comprehensively and accurately uncovered, enabling responsible, holistic and effective preventive action (Rhodes, Pullen, Vickers, Clegg, & Pitsis, 2010). To quote Harrington, Warren and Rayner (2015, p. 284), “nothing short of a revolution” is required to address the institutionalization of workplace bullying and establish ethical workplaces.

5.3 Cultural Considerations: Valuing Specificity Alongside Universalism

Workplace bullying is a universal phenomenon present internationally. Moreover, it unfolds with remarkable consistency across the globe (D’Cruz, Paull, Omari, & Guneri-Cangarli, 2016; Nielsen & Einarsen, 2018). Yet, the culturalist thesis cautions against excessive, and therefore spurious, worldwide generalizations. Indeed, as the field of workplace bullying forges ahead in matters of research and action, special attention must henceforth be paid to the distal contextual factor of national culture. The limited extant cross-cultural studies in the substantive area show that, notwithstanding the universalism associated with workplace bullying, the culturalist thesis persists alongside (see Salin, Volume 3, Section B; also D’Cruz, Paull, Omari, & Guneri-Cangarli, 2016; Omari & Paull, 2016; Salin et al., 2018a, b). Salin et al. (2018a), for example, evidence how, while the different elements of workplace bullying as identified by previous research, namely, person-related bullying, work-related bullying, social exclusion and physical violence, are universally present, the extent to which these elements are emphasized differs across countries. Whereas social exclusion was repeatedly categorized as workplace bullying in Austria, Finland and Poland, spreading rumours was considered normal and acceptable in Argentina and Nigeria though it was seen as heinous in the Middle East. Similarly, the country case studies presented by Omari and Paull (2016) highlight cultural differences in conceptualizing workplace bullying alongside cultural similarities. So while bullying is considered harmful across the globe, countries such as Greece speak of the country-specific negative act of “forcing” (Bozionelos, 2016) and the Czech Republic reports the coexistence of workplace abuse arising due to the disregard of cultural norms established during the communist era and workplace abuse enacted as a managerial strategy focused on competitive advantage in a neoliberal context (Zabrodska & Kveton, 2016).

The insights emerging from the available cross-cultural literature in workplace bullying provide a roadmap for the future in that they highlight the significance of capturing and attending to both universals and specifics. Obviously, going forwards, research studies must capture cultural specificities alongside universal commonalities. The knowledge thus gained will provide a robust basis to ensure that interventions are tailor-made to suit the context and hence effective, rather than identical across locations and hence redundant. To this end, accurately capturing the conceptualization and hallmarks of workplace bullying in a country is the essential foundation. While these points must be considered by all research attempts henceforth regardless of discipline, ontology and epistemology, incorporating dimensional (Steers, Nardon, & Sanchez-Runder, 2013), metaphorical (Gannon & Pillai, 2013) or a combination of dimensional and metaphorical cultural frameworks has been found useful to the endeavour (e.g. D’Cruz, Paull, Omari, & Guneri-Cangarli, 2016; Omari & Paull, 2016; Salin et al., 2018a). Even so, the issues of measurement and sampling remain crucial and future research in workplace bullying would do well to keep these points in mind.

With regard to measurement, the culture fairness of available instruments enabling universal scales, even if their psychometric properties are sound, is a matter of consideration (Anastasi & Urbina, 2003). As Mawdsley, Amaugo and Thirlwall (2018) show, based on Nigerian data, items in robust instruments such as the NAQ, which is widely used across the globe, do not always fully resonate across cultures. Rather, culture-specific measures are called for. Further, measurement issues are not only complicated by (lack of) language equivalences across cultures but also by linguistic differences and literacy rates within cultures (D’Cruz, 2016b; D’Cruz, Noronha, & Syal, 2018a). In India, for example, English language scales can be administered to a limited section of the population only, additionally raising the issue of class which can influence the results. While this means that Indian studies adopting Western scales in the English language reflect the experiences of workplace bullying of some parts of the population only, it also implies that a complete picture of the phenomenon in the country does not emerge. Yet, translating English language scales into the several Indian languages which exist addresses the situation only partially because the poor literacy rate in the country means that a sizeable portion of the population continues to be left out, necessitating the use of alternative research methods such as interviews and observations to include their experiences (D’Cruz, 2016b; D’Cruz, Noronha, & Syal, 2018a). The Nigerian and Indian cases are not unique but speak to similar dynamics in other countries as well.

With regard to sampling, the workforce composition of a country in terms of its demographic features and employment contracts is a point to be recognized. Western, Global North, developed country scholarship, in keeping with the workforce composition of its context, portrays workplace bullying as an adult formal sector standard employment phenomenon. Yet, in Eastern, Global South, developing countries, child labour and informal sector non-standard employment, which make up a significant proportion of the workforce, must also be taken into account (Banday, Chakraborty, D’Cruz, & Noronha, 2018; D’Cruz, 2015b; Noronha & D’Cruz, 2018; also Djurkovic, Volume 4, Section B). Since research in the latter context often follows in the footsteps of the former, with commensurate implications for intervention, it is not surprising that scholars in the Eastern, Global South, developing countries have also focused on adults in formal sector standard jobs. This is unfortunate not just (a) because it glosses over important cultural differences which have implications for how the problem is understood and accordingly whether interventions are appropriately designed and executed, but also (b) because the prevalence of workplace bullying in the Eastern, Global South, developing world, being by and large relatively higher than in the Western, Global North, developed world (see Leon-Perez et al., chapter “The Presence of Workplace Bullying and Harassment Worldwide”, this volume), needs to be accurately grasped in terms of its context specificity if it is to be effectively addressed.

6 Conclusion

Varieties of workplace bullying” (viz. interpersonal and depersonalized bullying, internal and external bullying and real and cyber bullying; D’Cruz & Noronha, 2016) and their combinations (viz. compounded bullying, dual locus bullying and hybrid bullying; D’Cruz, Noronha, & Syal, 2018a), together with their common underlying features of relationality, institutionalization and unethicality, herald a new direction in the field of workplace bullying. The present chapter provides an overview of this contemporary conceptual spectrum, shining light on the scope of the field and the way ahead. After highlighting how the three axes of level of analysis, location of the source and form of mistreatment have given rise to “varieties of workplace bullying” and their combinations (D’Cruz & Noronha, 2016, p. 409; D’Cruz, Noronha, & Syal, 2018a), the chapter demonstrates how, across the varieties and their combinations, workplace bullying remains a relational, institutionalized and unethical issue. The chapter argues that multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary approaches across positivist and postpositivist ontologies and epistemologies must inform future research in the substantive area while future action must address the unethical and institutionalized features of the phenomenon. Across both research and action, henceforth, the culturalist thesis cannot be ignored.

The incidence of workplace bullying across the world is expected to rise, in particular due to the challenges posed by the macro-economic context. Going forwards, then, amidst the myriad issues jostling for research and practice attention, three points stand out. First, the field of workplace bullying would do well to embrace developments in the ever-evolving world of work. Rising precarity and digitalization, coupled with large-scale migration, linked in some instances to refugee status, and pronounced violence, including terrorism, have implications across all varieties of workplace bullying and their features and call for systematic research to undergird intervention. Second, whereas the bulk of the extant literature on workplace bullying is derived from research conducted in the developed Western world, it is notable that the incidence of the phenomenon is, by and large, relatively higher in the developing non-Western world. Attending to the latter situation to grasp context-linked specificities is key to effectively addressing the problem. Indeed, it is quite likely that the developed Western world will gain from the insights coming from the developing non-Western world, potentially replacing the current one-sided knowledge flow with a bidirectional one. Third, concomitant with calls to build up evidence-based practice as the foundation to effective intervention, Tuckey’s (2016) emphasis on practice-based evidence cannot be ignored. Systematically studying available interventions which work and why is the basis for replication and scaling up. Working from the world of practice outwards to the world of research, though contrary to convention, is unavoidable if we are to capitalize on valuable real-life learnings that, among other endeavours, hold the potential to stymie the problem of bullying at work.

Overall, it is worth noting that while the field of workplace bullying has an increasing worldwide reach in research and practice as the Handbooks of Workplace Bullying, Emotional Abuse and Harassment show, there is a wealth of academic and applied literature in languages other than English. In some instances, such as the case of South America, for example, this body of work in Spanish and Portuguese almost completely encompasses what is known about workplace bullying in that continent. Yet, unless translated into or made available in English, only those fluent with these languages can benefit from their insights. Enabling the entire community of workplace bullying researchers and practitioners to partake of and learn from these valuable resources would not just enrich research and practice across the globe but also make the field of workplace bullying truly international.

7 Cross-References

8 Cross-References to Other Volumes


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© Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Organizational Behaviour AreaIndian Institute of Management AhmedabadAhmedabadIndia

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