Exploring the fluid boundary between ‘legitimate performance management’ and ‘downward bullying’: an experimental approach

Published date01 July 2019
Date01 July 2019
AuthorMichael T. French,Andrew R. Timming,Di Fan
Exploring the uid boundary between
legitimate performance managementand
downward bullying: an experimental
Andrew R. Timming, Michael T. French and Di Fan
Using an experimental design, this research examines the extent to which managers
and employees perceive management behaviours differently. Eight simulated
employment scenarios were presented to an aggregated sample of managers and
non-managerial employees (n= 435), and the respondents were asked to evaluate
the extent to which the behaviours depicted are seen as bullying. It was found that
employees are more likely than managers to perceive legitimate performance
managementas bullying but also that managers are more likely than employees to
perceive more overt bullying as bullying per se. This divergence in perceptions
suggests that what constitutes bullying, ontologically speaking, depends on ones
point of view and implies that reality is socially constructed. The research has
important implications for organisations and trade unions in the development of
bullying policies and procedures.
The extent of disjuncture between subjective experience and objective reality is one of
the oldest and, as yet, still misunderstood debates in the social sciences. Perhaps no-
where is this disjuncture more evident than in the realm of employment studies, where
phenomena are always context sensitive (Edwards, 2005). There is no single reality of
work but rather a series of viewpoints stemming from the different stakeholders in the
employment relationship (Budd, 2011). Thus, the same behaviour may be experienced
one way by an employee and quite another by a manager. This perceptual distance
can cause serious methodological problems where only employees or managers serve
as the sole source of data in a study.
The aim of this experiment is to evaluate the extent to which independent samples
of managers (n= 208) and employees (n= 227), when presented with the exact same
Andrew R. Timming, Associate Professor of Human Resource Management, UWA Business School, 35
Stirling Hwy, Crawley, WA 6009, Australia, Michael T. French, Professor of Sociology and Health
Management and Policy, University of Miami, 1320 S Dixie Hwy, Coral Gables, FL 33146, USA and
Di Fan, Associate Professor of International Business, University of Western Australia, 35 Stirling Hwy,
Crawley, WA 6009, Australia. Correspondence should be addressed to Andrew R. Timming, Associate
Professor of Human Resource Management, UWA Business School, 35 Stirling Hwy, Crawley, WA
6009, Australia.
Email: andrew.timming@uwa.edu.au
Industrial Relations Journal 50:4, 348361
ISSN 0019-8692
© 2019 Brian Towers (BRITOW) and John Wiley & Sons Ltd

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