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Budgetary bullying

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journal contribution
posted on 02.03.2012, 15:02 by Peter Jeffrey Armstrong
This paper seeks to connect two literatures: that on workplace bullying and that on the behavioural aspects of budgeting. It proposes to do so by suggesting extensions to both literatures. Arising from prescriptive concerns to recommend effective managerial approaches to the budgetary process, the general tendency in the literature of behavioural accounting has been to treat the matter of target-setting and the manner of acting on budgetary reports as independent variables, both of which are taken to influence performance as the dependent variable. Reasonable in its own terms, the unintended consequence has been a neglect of the capacity of budgetary controls to highlight variations in the cost-effectiveness with which individuals perform their work and so present opportunities for managerial bullying. The literature on workplace bullying (aka incivility, aggression, social undermining or mobbing) has been similarly inflected by its prescriptive origins. The need to enlist allies in the fight against workplace bullying has led to its depiction as a de-contextualised pathology, rather than a tendency to which managers are particularly prone. Similarly the need to detach bullying from the ‘normal’ pressures of management-by-exception has led to definitions which incorporate notions of individual victimisation and of its repetition over long periods of time. Using case material on a medium-sized shoe and slipper factory dating from 1978, this paper suggests that a comprehensive approach to workplace bullying needs to challenge these definitions. In particular it is important to recognise that there may be a collective dimension to bullying in the sense that an entire workforce can become its subject. In this scenario, sporadic and single-incident acts of aggression which fall outside the orthodox definitions of bullying have the effect of building up a kind of ‘fear capital’ (c.f. Bourdieu, 1984) such that the mere presence of the manager concerned, or even the prospect of that presence is accompanied by all the signs of psychological distress associated with more persistent forms of bullying. The paper further suggests that budgetary targets and information offer a highly effective means of achieving and maintaining the psychological ascendancy of the bullying manager over the bullied workforce: this because of their apparent mechanical connection with the employer’s interest in the employment relationship. In the case study company that interest translated into the question of survival in the face of imports from the ‘Third Italy’ and from South East Asia, thereby lending force to the practice of budget-based bullying. In this last respect, the increasingly globalized product markets which have characterised the last three decades have rendered the thirty-year old fieldwork on which the paper is based only too relevant.



Critical Perspectives on Accounting, 2011, 22 (7), pp. 632-643.

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NOTICE: this is the author’s version of a work that was accepted for publication in Critical Perspectives on Accounting. Changes resulting from the publishing process, such as peer review, editing, corrections, structural formatting, and other quality control mechanisms may not be reflected in this document. Changes may have been made to this work since it was submitted for publication. A definitive version was subsequently published in Critical Perspectives on Accounting, 2011, 22 (7), pp. 632-643. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.cpa.2011.01.011