Indian Journal of Social Psychiatry

: 2022  |  Volume : 38  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 143--147

Workplace bullying in the service sector

Nimisha Savapandit, Bharathi 
 Department of Sociology and Social Work, CHRIST (Deemed to be University), Bengaluru, Karnataka, India

Correspondence Address:
Ms. Nimisha Savapandit
CHRIST (Deemed to be University), Bengaluru, Karnataka


Context: Bullying is a problem that people, the world over, grapple with. It is manifest in different forms among different sections of people. Despite its prevalence, workplace bullying has not received much attention in scholarly literature in India. It is also not widely acknowledged as a threat to individual and organizational well-being. The purpose of this study is to add to the existing body of literature on the topic and to draw attention to the gravity of the issue. Aims: The primary objectives are to identify if there exist variations in its incidence on the basis of gender and years of experience, to identify the source of negative behavior, and the type of bullying that is most prevalent. Settings and Design: The study is a type of cross-sectional, descriptive study. Subjects and Methods: Data have been collected from a sample of 84 respondents using the Work Harassment Scale. All respondents are white-collar employees of the service sector in the cities of India. The data were analyzed using IBM SPSS v25. Results: The results find that there is no difference in the incidence of bullying on the basis of either gender or years of experience. Moreover, the source of negative behavior is generally one's superiors, and the most prevalent type is “verbal aggression.” Conclusions: The study concludes with suggestions of steps to be implemented at the national and organizational level, to combat the problem.

How to cite this article:
Savapandit N, Bharathi. Workplace bullying in the service sector.Indian J Soc Psychiatry 2022;38:143-147

How to cite this URL:
Savapandit N, Bharathi. Workplace bullying in the service sector. Indian J Soc Psychiatry [serial online] 2022 [cited 2022 Sep 25 ];38:143-147
Available from:

Full Text


Workplace bullying

The term “workplace bullying” is believed to have been coined by Andrea Adams, a BBC broadcaster and journalist in 1988.[2] It refers to a persistent pattern of negative and degrading behavior aimed at an individual(s), which adversely affects the said individual in terms of both professional growth and personal well-being. Widespread interest in the topic began only in the 1980s with a number of researches being carried out in the Scandinavian countries.[3],[4] This interest is attributed to an internal affiliation toward democracy, a feminine orientation, and a lower power distance in these countries.

There is considerably less literature on the area of workplace bullying. Most literature pertains to bullying in schools and sexual harassment, and this acts as a base for new studies on workplace bullying.[5],[6]

It is difficult to explain and understand adult bullying as a concept, primarily due to the numerous terminologies and definitions in use.[4],[5],[6] The features that most definitions have in common are that for any act to be classified as bullying, it must be characterized by repetition, duration, escalation, power disparity, and attributed intent.[4]

Based on these characterizations, the operational definition of workplace bullying for this study is: “Workplace bullying is a display of degrading and belittling behavior aimed at the self or work of an individual(s) by a person(s) repetitively and over a period of time, which hinders the personal and professional growth and well-being of the individual(s). Such behavior is carried out with the intent to cause physical, emotional or psychological harm to the individual(s); and with the knowledge that the individual(s) is unable to defend themselves from such acts.”

The primary typology of workplace bullying being considered in this study was proposed by Baguena et al.[7] The dimensions of the typology are composed of items of the tool used for this study.

Attacks on the social relationships of the victim using social isolationVerbal aggressionAttacks on the private life of the victimAttacks on the victim using organizational means.

Factors related to workplace bullying

Employees at all levels of the organizational hierarchy were liable to being bullied. However, it was noticed that mostly people in a supervisory or managerial role were the ones who bullied others. Moreover, it was found that the incidences of bullying were higher when a negative style of leadership was in place as against a positive style; and when the work environment was negative.[8]

Using Hofstede's cultural dimensions theory, it was found that national cultures which rank low on power distance, and are more collectivistic and feminine have lower incidences of bullying.[9] However, a surprising revelation was that such cultures with low assertiveness and high in-group collectivism had a high incidence of covert bullying, which often went unreported.[10]

With regard to gender, the results have generally been inconclusive. Most studies have found that women have experienced more bullying than men, although the results have not been significant.[7],[8] Baguena et al.[7] have found that while women faced more personal bullying, men typically faced more organizational bullying. The sex of the aggressor has also been unable to provide concrete results. In a study conducted in Spain, an interesting observation made was that there was a correspondence between the sexes of the victim and the aggressor. When the victim was a man, the aggressor was generally a man; and vice versa for women.[11]

Prior researches on the subject have found that workplace bullying can be linked to general and mental stress reactions. Among the symptoms displayed are depression,[12] anxiety, burnout, aggression, and posttraumatic stress disorder. Bullying has an impact on the personality of the victims too as it lowers their self-confidence and self-esteem.[2],[13] In extreme cases, being bullied may also lead one to commit suicide, a phenomenon referred to as “bullycide.”

Workplace bullying is not a problem at merely the individual level, but also has repercussions for the organization as a whole. There exists a negative correlation between bullying and job satisfaction.[14] It has also been found that people being bullied tend to have a drop in work performance and take more days off.[13] Those who were observers of bullying have reported a higher rate of negativity at the workplace.[9]

Workplace bullying in India

Workplace bullying as a topic has not seen much daylight in academia in India. Most research has come about only in the last decade or so; and even then, the rate of publications is slow. There are just a few scholars who have studied and written on this topic, prominent among whom is D'Cruz and Rayner for her book titled “Workplace Bullying in India” (2012) where she studies the phenomenon in the ITES-BPO sector. This and other studies in India have identified the trend of bullying that is most prevalent to be that of downward bullying.[15],[16]

The service sector

The study only considers a sample which is employed in the service sector. It mostly consists of jobs that are oriented toward research and development, production of intangible goods, and delivery of services, such as retail, banks, hospitality, IT, social work, real estate, and transportation.

This is one of the few quantitative studies on workplace bullying to be conducted in India. As such, it aims to study the nuances of the phenomenon as it is prevalent in India. Two primary objectives are to identify if there exist variations in the incidence of workplace bullying on the basis of gender and years of experience. Furthermore, the study will attempt to identify the source of bullying behavior and the most commonly experienced type.

Ethical considerations

Ethical Clearance was obtained from the local Ethics Committee to conduct the study. The following are the ethics which strictly governed this study:

Data were collected from the participants only after informed consent. There was no coercion to be a part of the study, and respondents could choose to withdraw from it at any given point without consequenceThe respondents were not asked to disclose their identity and place of employmentThe collected data were only to be used for the educational purpose of the completion of the thesis. It was kept strictly confidential and was not shared with anyoneThe results of the study were shared with the participants, if they so wishedThe collected data were not reproduced in any form without the express permission of the respondentsNo unethical means, such as plagiarism, were employed.

 Subjects and Methods


H11: There is a significant difference in the incidence of workplace bullying on the basis of genderH12: There is a significant difference in the incidence of workplace bullying on the basis of years of experience.


The population for the study consists of white-collar workers employed in the service sector in India. A sample of 84 respondents (42 men and women each) was chosen using the snowball sampling technique. The larger sample could be screened on the basis of whether the respondents perceived victimization. After making the necessary adjustments, the sample size of those who perceived victimization was 49, comprising of 25 men and 24 women. In this study, the larger sample of 84 respondents is hereafter referred to as the “original sample,” and the smaller sample of 49 respondents is referred to as the “screened sample.”

Tool of data collection

The Work Harassment Scale (WHS) was used for data collection. It is a standardized tool developed by Bjorkqvist et al.[17] in 1994 for their study titled “Aggression among University Employees.” It consists of twenty-four close-ended items to be rated on a five-point Likert scale and has a Cronbach α score of 0.95. In a later study using the WHS, authors Baguena et al.[7] have classified the items under four dimensions: “Attacks on the social relationships of the victim using social isolation,” “verbal aggression,” “attacks on the personal life of the victim,” and “attacks on the victim using organizational means.”


Demographic analysis

The original sample comprised of an equal number of participants from both the genders, while the screened sample had a ratio of 51:49 in favor of men. Out of this sample, it was observed that 71.4% of the respondents were in the age range of 21–30 years, and correspondingly had 1–5 years of work experience (63.1%). In terms of location of residence and work, 70.1% of the sample was based in South India (with Bengaluru accounting for the largest share with 67.8%), followed by East India (16.7%), North India (9.5%) and West India (3.5%).

The prevalence of workplace bullying

100% of the sample reported having been bullied at some point during their careers. Within this, the most number of incidences are in the categories of “Moderate Bullying” (45.2%) and “Severe Bullying” (31%) [Table 1]. However, it is interesting to note that the figures do not correspond to perceived victimization. Out of the total sample, only 58.33% perceived some victimization, despite all having experienced some form of bullying. None of the victims of “mild bullying” perceived themselves as having been bullied, while 50% of those who experienced “moderate bullying” saw themselves as victims. On the other hand, most of the respondents who had experienced “severe bullying” (92.19%) and all who experienced “very severe bullying” (100%) perceived themselves as victims.{Table 1}

Harassment in relation to gender

The results showed no significant difference in the incidence of bullying on the basis of gender [Table 2]. The significance score (confidence level of 95%) for the original sample was 0.986, and for the screened sample was 0.548. Thus, the alternate hypothesis was rejected and the null hypothesis was accepted, which was that “there is no significant difference in the incidence of workplace bullying on the basis of gender.”{Table 2}

Harassment in relation to years of experience

For the purpose of assessment, the respondent's entire professional journey had been considered. The assumption for those who had experienced bullying was that such incidents must have occurred sometime during their numerous years of work experience. The logic behind testing the sample on the basis of this criterion was to analyze if a difference in the number of actual cases occurred with a difference in years of tenure, or if people in various levels of seniority were equally vulnerable to being bullied.

As with gender, there was no significant difference on the basis of years of experience [Table 3]. The significance score for the original sample was 0.791, and that of the screened sample was 0.837. As a result, the alternate hypothesis was rejected and the null hypothesis stating “there is no significant difference in the incidence of workplace bullying on the basis of years of experience” was accepted.{Table 3}

Source of bullying behavior

To identify the source of bullying behavior, only the screened sample was considered since those excluded from this sample had explicitly mentioned that they had not experienced negative behavior. The distribution of source indicated that the most prevalent form of bullying is downward bullying, where negative behavior stems from the superior. The next most common form of bullying is where the aggressor is a peer. A marginal number of respondents have indicated that they have experienced negative acts from a subordinate.

Type of bullying

Baguena et al.[7] typology was used to study the most prevalent form of bullying. The analysis was done by calculating the mean and standard deviation. There is very minimal difference in terms of the variations of mean. Out of the four categories, “verbal aggression” has the highest mean (x¯ = 1.96) and “attacks on the private life of the victim” has the lowest (x¯ = 1.71).


Major findings

The sociodemographic details show an equal distribution of men (50%) and women (50%) in the sample. With regard to age group, it was noticed that most of the respondents are from the twenty one-thirty age group (71.4%), and thus correspond to the large number in the 1–5 years of work experience category (63.1%). Similarly, most of the sample was from Bengaluru (67.8%).

The major finding of the study has been with regard to the prevalence of bullying. Out of the entire sample, all respondents reported having experienced negative acts. However, what is interesting to note is that the experience of bullying does not necessarily coincide with perceived victimization. Almost 42% of the respondents did not see themselves as victims of bullying, despite none having averaged a scored that falls in the “no bullying” category. This indicates that negative acts may be seen as part and parcel of the organizational climate, rather than as specific acts that are targeted toward them. It might also indicate that the respondents are so desensitized to such acts due to their widespread prevalence, that they no longer recognize them as dangerous or harmful.

At the same time, it is also noticed that perceived victimization does indeed coincide with the degree of bullying. While none of the respondents who have experienced “mild bullying” see themselves as victims, almost all the respondents in the categories “severe bullying” (92.19%) and “very severe bullying” (100%) perceive victimization.

With regard to the objectives that were set out, it has been noticed that there is no significant difference in the incidence of bullying in terms of either gender or total years of work experience. This indicates that both men and women, and people at all levels of organizational hierarchy are likely to be bullied. This finding is congruent with the findings of previous studies which have also looked at variations on the basis of the same factors.[7],[8]

As reported in a few previous studies, the fact of power can be explained by the trend of downward bullying that was seen as most prevalent. Bullying behavior stems from higher levels to lower levels. Perpetrator position and bullying are directly proportional to one another, and is most visible in scenarios with a very competitive power structure.[8],[9] As a result of this, anyone can be bullied, irrespective of where they stand in the organizational hierarchy, since there are considerable chances that they will have someone above them who might be prone to engage in such behavior.

The final finding was that the type of bullying most prevalent was “verbal aggression.” This dimension included items such as “being shouted at directly,” “unduly reduced opportunities to express yourself,” and “accusations.” The mean rank for both men and women was the same (1.96) for verbal aggression, indicating that there was no difference in terms of how both genders experienced this dimension. Among the other dimensions, men generally have a higher mean rank than women. The understanding for this can be taken two ways; the first being that either men are bullied more than women, or that the severity of their bullying is more.


While certain forms of it such as bullying in educational institutions and cyber bullying are important topics of discussion, workplace bullying is an area that has not been as actively commented upon. An example of this disparity is that while there are laws against cyber bullying and ragging in India, none relate to workplace bullying specifically. The primary suggestion of the study is to recognize the severity of the problem that workplace bullying poses.

Based on such recognition, it is suggested that there should be proper steps to combat the menace of bullying at the organizational and national level. Organizations should recognize bullying as a problem with implications for both the employee and the company. Internal grievance redressal mechanisms should be equipped to handle complaints of this nature. Many studies have also commented on the efficacy of organizational support in reducing bullying. This is something that organizations can actively look into. Another role that organizations can play is that they can try to increase awareness among their employees about the prevalence of the problem. Almost half of the sample did not consider themselves to be victims despite having scored significantly on the tool.

Internal mechanisms need to be reinforced by measures at a larger scale. There is a need for a legislation which subsumes this issue. The phenomenon should first be comprehensively defined so that there is no scope for loopholes which can be misused by aggressors. At the same time, the legislation should also list out punitive actions or compensatory measures which are to be in place in the case where a complaint has been proven.


The study is an attempt at understanding the phenomenon of workplace bullying and how it manifests itself in the Indian service sector. Data were only collected from the metropolitan cities of the country and from people employed in white-collar jobs. As a result, the results cannot be considered completely conclusive. They leave out a large chunk of India's working population; those employed in the primary and secondary sectors, and in the unorganized sector. Despite these limitations, it is hoped that this study will contribute to the body of literature on this topic and will help in drawing attention to it.

The study has a lot of implications for social work, especially as it is practiced in industries. For those who are employed in industries, the phenomenon of workplace bullying is something that they will have to grapple with, if they have not done so already. The study highlights its severity, and also warns employees of its negative consequences for the individual and the organization.


The authors would like to acknowledge the support of Kaj Björkqvist – one of the creators of the Work Harassment Scale – who had permitted the use of the tool for this study.

Financial support and sponsorship


Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.


1IBM Corp. Released 2017. IBM SPSS Statistics for Windows, Version 25.0. Armonk, NY: IBM Corp.
2Nye M. The Blog. United Kingdom: Huffpost; 2013 October. Available from: https://www.huffingtonpost. html?guccounter=1&guce_referrer=aHR0cHM6Ly93d3cuZ29 vZ2xlLmNvbS8&guce_referrer_sig=AQAAAA6sI_kp9RTonU KxnzlKhxHa4QakWWsipCsZbReugrrtYV5Am6I0VaCgHg7c MDrziEREbGXGQ7tD8pBQynOb5erBOj0uj7WCAXW-SkId EZpago2WJa6ONtx9dNHEbVFALcfPOoxm6bxknz1BkWHC_ r8tanq3TsVqOeeh0ok0ZdWn. [Last. [Last accessed on 2019 Aug 29].
3Matthiesen SB, Einarsen S. Bullying in the workplace: Definition, prevalence, antecedents and consequences. Int J Organ Theory Behav 2010;13:202-48.
4Einarsen, S, Hoel H, Zapf D, Cooper C. The concept of bullying and harassment at work: The European tradition. In: Einarsen S, Hoel H, Zapf D, Cooper CL, editors. Bullying and Harassment in the Workplace. Florida: CRC Press; 2011. p. 3-32.
5Rayner C, Hoel H. A summary review of literature relating to workplace bullying. J Community Appl Soc Psychol 1997;7:181-91.
6Einarsen S. The nature and causes of bullying at work. Int J Manpow 1999;20:16-27.
7Baguena MJ, Toldos MP, Belena MA, Martinez D, Diaz A, Amigo S, et al. An analysis of the Work Harassment Scale (WHS) with victims of bullying at work. In: Osterman K, editor. Indiect and Direct Aggression. Bern: Peter Lang; 2010. p. 307-17.
8Hoel H, Cooper C (British Occupational Health Research Foundation). Destructive Conflict and Bullying at Work. Extracts of Study Report; 2000 November. Available from: document/19764Destructiveconfl.pdf. [Last accessed on 2019 Aug 25].
9Lutgen Sandvik P, Tracy SJ, Alberts JK. Burned by bullying in the American workplace: Prevalence, perception, degree and impact. J Manage Stud 2007;44:837-62.
10Jacobson K, Hood JN, Van Buren HJ. Workplace bullying across cultures: A research agenda. Int J Cross Cult Manage 2014;14:47-65.
11Bagunea MJ, Belena MA, Toldos MP, Martinez D. Psychological harassment in the workplace: Methods of evaluation and prevalence. Open Criminol J 2011;4:102-8.
12Kivimäki M, Virtanen M, Vartia M, Elovainio M, Vahtera J, Keltikangas Järvinen L. Workplace bullying and the risk of cardiovascular disease and depression. Occup Environ Med 2003;60:779-83.
13Vartia MA. Consequences of workplace bullying with respect to the well being of its targets and the observers of bullying. Scand J Work Environ Health 2001;27:63-9.
14Fisher Blando JL. Workplace Bullying: Aggressive Behavior and its Effect on Job Satisfaction and Productivity [dissertation]. University of Phoenix; 2008.
15D'Cruz P, Rayner C. Bullying in the Indian workplace: A study of the ITES BPO sector. Econ Ind Democracy 2012;34:597-619.
16Rai A, Agarwal UA. Workplace bullying among Indian managers: Prevalence, sources and bystanders' reactions. Int J Indian Cult Bus Manage 2017;15:58-81.
17Bjorkqvist K, Osterman K, Hjelt Back M. Aggression among university employees. Aggress Behav 1994;21:173-84.