Study from India: HR aggravates workplace bullying experiences

In a study conducted via in-depth interviews of Indian workers who were targets of workplace bullying, organizational behavior professors Premilla D’Cruz and Ernesto Noronha (article link here) concluded that human resources managers created “an environment in which bullying remains unchallenged, allowed to thrive or actually encouraged in an indirect way….”

They found that seeking redress for bullying via HR “adversely affects both the bullying situation and targets’ coping.” HR “operates as one-sided managerialism” that “privileges employer organizations’ interests” instead of serving as a mediating mechanism that “engages employers and employees together in the employment relationship.”

Role of labor unions

D’Cruz and Noronha challenged the notion that HR’s presence in the modern company creates a mediating presence that diminishes the need for labor unions, concluding that “Bullying is less likely to occur and is more likely to be tackled when it does occur if there is a strong and well organized trade union presence at the workplace….”

I’d like to think that the late John Kenneth Galbraith, celebrated economist and one-time U.S. ambassador to India, somewhere is nodding his head in agreement.  In the 1950s, Galbraith wrote that organized labor exercised “countervailing power” in the battle over division of profits.  My guess is that he would concur that labor’s presence makes a difference with working conditions as well.

In the U.S.

These findings from India echo ongoing concerns about the current role of HR with respects to employment disputes in the U.S. This blog has raised questions about HR’s role in resolving employment disputes generally and in handling bullying complaints.  The state of the law with regard to workplace bullying plays into this.  As I wrote in a recent post on the HR-friendliness of the Healthy Workplace Bill, the absence of legal protections against bullying:

…means that managers who bully workers can leverage HR’s assistance in targeting another employee for mistreatment. At organizations rife with bullying, HR often becomes complicit in the abuse. Too many HR professionals become accomplices in bullying situations by doing management’s dirty work, such as firing a bullied worker as the final step of abuse.

Passage of the Healthy Workplace Bill would help conscientious HR professionals oppose workplace bullying and refuse to take part in efforts to bully a target out of a job, promotion, or raise.

This blog also has identified American labor unions as potentially valuable stakeholders in opposing workplace bullying.  This includes supporting the Healthy Workplace Bill and negotiating contract provisions covering workplace bullying.


The D’Cruz and Noronha study appeared in the May 2010 issue of The Qualitative Report and can be downloaded here.

Hat tip: Gary Namie

2 responses

  1. This is an interesting post. I’m not sure why we have to link unions with HR. In fact I think this link muddies the waters of HR’s power, institutional politics, and such. And, unions have all the same organization and political problems HR does with even less power because of their distance from the center of the organization. One of my clients, a teacher in the NYC school system, is the target of an instrumental aggressor (bully trying to advance at the expense of others) and the union is completely uninterested in the problem even when it spills over into sex harassment. Frankly, many systems are overwhelmed with regulatory demands and the problem of definitions. If we as researchers cannot come up with clear definitions, how can we expect the uninitiated to figure things out? Enough rambling. Thanks for the post. I need this research finding for my own work.

  2. While no law discourages demeaning employees at any level, a demotivated employee can bring down the morale of the entire staff which can result in hampered productivity. The management and employees should both understand that while there are both good and bad days at work, any peer or superior should not lash out at each other. runs trainings for young HR personnel to prevent such unpleasant circumstances at workplaces.

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