Business Management Report


Final CourseworkBusiness Report, (3,000 words).

You are required to analyse a case study using theory and approaches from Critical Management Studies (CMS) and submit your findings in the form of a business report.  The paper will be approximately 3,000 words and will demonstrate and in-depth knowledge and understanding of Critical Management Theory (CMT) and its application as an analytical tool for resolving problems in a post-modern organisation.


Experiencing Depersonalised bullying: a study of Indian call-centre agents.

Coursework  Guidelines

Assignment 2
Coursework Guidelines

Your coursework is a Report  NOT an essay

This means it is structured in sections, (see the following slides)

It will be highly referenced

Structuring your coursework…

Report structure

Cover sheet

Contents page

Numbered sections  e.g.

1.0 Introduction

2.0         ……




1.0 Introduction 

This is where you demonstrate your understanding of critical management studies and set out the basis of your argument. An example of how you could begin is as follows: (please do not copy this verbatim, Thank you)

When applied to organisations’ critical management studies has been used to:

expose situations of oppression, marginalisation  and subjugation,   OR

question whose or what interests are being served or neglected by current Western approaches to management,    OR

champion the cause of those groups which might be disadvantaged by management.

remember these are examples of how you can begin…

Having made your statement about critical management studies you now have to tell the reader what it is and where did it come from, therefore the introduction is where you give an overview of critical management studies and how it’s linked to critical theory – you don’t need to go into too much detail but you do need to show that you understand it (synthesis is important- you only have 3,000 words, don’t waste any).

This section will lead into section…

2.0          Introduce the case  

you will need to provide a brief overview of the  case- who is it- what is it and so on.  This section is probably the shortest section.Also, you need to talk about SLA (Service Level Agreement)

This will lead you to section…

3.0    Analysis of the Case Study

you will need to show that you understand how CMS  theory applies to modern  organisations.

The theories are:

3.1 Weber Max (1864-1920)

In this theory you have to talk about

3.1.1 Bureaucracy and Iron Cage: What is it and then you have to give an example about bureaucracy and iron cage from the case study.

3.2 Karl Marx (1818-1883)

In this theory you have to talk about

3.2.1 Alienation

What is it and how Marx explained  it and then you have to give an example from the case study about alienation.

3.2.2 Exploitation

What is it and how Marx explained  it and then you have to give an example from the case study about exploitation.

3.3 Foucault (1926-1984)

In this theory you have to talk about

3.3.1 Power Relations

The same, What is it and an example from the case study about it.

3.3.2 Surveillance

How he explained it and an example from the case study.

3.4 Habermas

In this theory you just need to talk about IDEAL SPEECH and link it to the case study with an example.

4.0         Recommendations for change

Based on your reading of Critical Management Studies what recommendations would you make for change at the Call Centre.

5.0 Conclusion

Short, sharp and simple, no repetition but linking back to the introduction, e.g. Critical Management Studies help us to ……

6.0 References

The report will be highly referenced based on textbooks and journals

NO Websites please   (stay away from websites – they can cause confusion – focus on your reading list).




1.0 Introduction. 2

2.0 Introduction to the case. 2

3.0    Analysis of the Case Study. 3

3.1 Weber Max (1864-1920) 3

3.2 Karl Marx (1818-1883) 5

3.2.1 Alienation. 5

3.2.2 Exploitation. 6

3.3 Foucault (1926-1984) 6

3.3.1 Power Relations. 6

3.3.2 Surveillance. 6

3.4 Habermas. 7

4.0        Recommendations for change. 7

5.0 Conclusion. 8

6.0 References. 8

1.0 Introduction

In the world of management, the concept of critical management studies is not new. When applied in the context of organizations, this concept has traditionally been used to highlight situations in which employees are being intimidated, oppressed, and exploited. Critical management studies (CMS) derives largely from a plurality of intellectual traditions while at the same time adopting an anti-performance stance (Fournier & Grey, 2000). As a sub-discipline, CMS was the culmination of efforts during the 1990s to merge the terms “critical” and “management” in attempt to create a new academic identity that ultimately came to be referred to as critical management studies.


Given the plurality of the intellectual traditions that form the foundation of CMS, a wide range of perspectives exist through which this sub-discipline can be understood. To begin with, CMS would not have emerged without the concept of critical management. Critical management studies embraces plurality, which encompasses the adoption of an anti-performative stance. It is on this basis that theoretical frameworks such as Marxism, post-structuralism, Taylorism, and bureaucratic theory are often analyzed and critiqued in the context of critical management studies. In this respect, the underlying factor is that efforts are being made to provide answers to the issues of whether and how CMS ought to engage with contemporary practices.

Against this backdrop, the present paper sets out to analyze theory and approaches from critical management theory (CMT). The paper also seeks to assess the application of these theories and approaches as analytical tools for resolving problems in a post-modern organization. The paper focuses on the case study of Indian call-centre agents operating in the country’s ITES-BPO (Information Technology Enabled Services – Business Process Outsourcing) sector. This sector constitutes an excellent example of a post-modern organizational setting because its activities constitute a major component of global off-shoring operations.

2.0 Introduction to the case

The case under analysis in this paper is that of Indian call-centre agents operating within the country’s ITES-BPO (Information Technology Enabled Services – Business Process Outsourcing) sector. The title of the case is “Experiencing Depersonalised bullying: A study of Indian call-centre agents”. In this case, D’Cruz & Noronha (2009) expound on the concept of depersonalized bullying as a way of explaining experiences of call-centre agents working in international call centres in Bangalore and Mumbai. Because of these experiences, the employees define their work simply as an oppressive regime.

The employees attribute the oppressive work regime to the service level agreement (SLA) entered into between the employers of these agents and clients. This SLA provides a framework for the establishment of organizational practices in the call centres. The call-centre agents who narrated their experiences said that they were influenced to accept their tough working conditions by the professional identities that the employers had inculcated in them during training. The material gains associated with employment in the call centres also made them become participants in their own oppressive regime. Based on highlights of these experiences, the concept of depersonalized bullying is explained. Moreover, the case sheds light on the critical role that capitalist labour relations play as far as workplace bullying is concerned. To this extent, the objective of this case is to clarify the political platform and organizational context in which workplace oppression and bullying occurs.

According to D’Cruz & Noronha (2009), the contemporary understanding of bullying in the workplace has been dominated by socio-relational concepts. The workplace environment is said to be a major contributor to bullying. Socio-structural dimensions have also been cited as sources of depersonalized bullying (D’Cruz & Noronha, 2009). According to D’Cruz & Noronha (2009), oppression in the context of capitalist labour relations is inevitable because the underlying objective is profit-making, which cannot be sustained without continuous exploitation. This case sets out to contribute to this substantive area through empirical research undertaken using phenomenological methodology.

In this case, participants repeatedly define their work context using the phrase “oppressive work regime”. According to them, the job design, work systems, techno-bureaucratic controls, and customer service requirements are all inclined towards contributing to this environment of oppression. However, the employees are also to blame for accepting the oppressive regime by arguing that it is part of their professional identity. They reason that although the team leaders (TLs), quality analysts, supervisors, and managers are harsh to them, they are simply getting the job done as per the SLA. They argue that if the service requirements outlined in the SLA are not fulfilled, clients are simply going to run away. The agents also contribute to their own oppression by accepting it simply because of the material gains that come with employment as a call centre operator.

3.0    Analysis of the Case Study

In this section, the case study will be analyzed based on the theories developed by four scholars: Max Weber, Karl Marx, Foucault, and Habermas. In the case of Max Weber, the theory of bureaucracy and iron cage will be discussed. Regarding Marxism, the concepts of alienation and exploitation will be analyzed. Next, Foucault’s power relations theory will also be examined from the perspective of the case. Lastly, the paper will examine Habermas’ concept of “Ideal Speech”. The underlying objective in this section is to investigate the applicability of CMS theory to management dynamics and operations in modern organizations.

3.1 Weber Max (1864-1920)

Max Weber is famous for introducing the concepts of bureaucracy and the “iron cage”. In his theory of bureaucracy, Weber defined a bureaucracy as an organization with a formal hierarchy. In a bureaucratic organization, all decisions should be made in accordance with specific rules. People should assigned specific tasks on the basis of their skills. Weber also stated that every bureaucracy always has a mission such as profit maximization. In a bureaucratic structure, everyone must be treated equally.

Max Weber explained five principles that characterize a bureaucracy. The first principle is the existence of a formal hierarchical structure. This means that each level must influence the direction of the hierarchical level below it. At the same time, it must follow the direction provided by the level above it. Secondly, the bureaucratic entity must be operated through a set of rules that are clearly stipulated. There is always a protocol to be followed by everyone across the organization regardless of his status. The third principle in a bureaucracy is that functional specialties should be clearly apportioned as a way of facilitating seamless organizational operations. In other words, the right people should be put in the right positions based on their skills, strength, and abilities.

The fourth principle highlights the importance of clearly defining the mission of the bureaucracy. Every member of the organization must contribute towards the actualization of this mission. According to Weber, the mission may be either “up-focused” or “in-focused”. An up-focused mission is one where the primary objective is to serve the board that directly runs the organization. In some cases, the objective may be to serve the stockholders. In an in-focused mission, the primary objective is to provide service to the organization as well as those within it. The last principle emphasizes the importance of relations that are purposely impersonal. The relations should be impersonal in the sense that everyone within a bureaucratic organization should operate under the same standards and rules and no one should be treated in special manner.

In the case study under analysis, all the aforementioned characteristics of a bureaucracy are present. To begin with, the call centres are operated through a hierarchical structure. Agents operate at the lowest level within this hierarchical structure. They are required to follow the instructions provided by team leaders (TLs), who are their immediate superiors. The TLs are under the direct control of supervisors. In return, the supervisors report directly to managers. This way, the resulting hierarchical structure is synonymous with the one defined by Max Weber in the theory of bureaucracy.

The call centres are also operated under a set of rules and protocols that are clearly stipulated. All employees are required to adhere to the service requirements defined in the SLA. The employees have been made to understand that failure to adhere to these rules will lead to loss of clients and termination of employment. The employees even accept the sad reality of oppression by TLs, quality analysts, supervisors, and managers in a bid to ensure that everything is done strictly in accordance with the rules and that the job gets done in the right way.

Weber talks about the importance of functional specialties in a bureaucracy. In the call-centre setting described in the case, some employees handle outbound calls while others handle inbound calls. This practice matches the description of the concept of functional specialties. Similarly, the mission of the call centres has been clearly defined. Their core objective is to satisfy clients by providing high quality services that meet all the requirements stipulated in the SLA. All members of the organization are required to understand the terms of the SLA and how every action that they undertake influences the overall outcomes.


In a bureaucracy, relations ought to be purposely impersonal. In the case under analysis, agents suffer from the problem of the absence of personal relations at their places of work. This is simply because they work in a bureaucratic organization. This lack of personal relations at the intra-organizational level has led to the problem of depersonalized bullying. Those who are in higher levels in the hierarchy bully those who operate at the lower levels as a way of ensuring that targets are met, calls are picked up on time, the right tone of voice is adopted, and that the client is satisfied. The ensuing predicament of harassment and an oppressive regime unfolds in a depersonalized level, whereby the superiors are not interested in the personal circumstances of the agents.

Weber also developed the concept of “the iron cage”. According to him, rationalisation of life marks the difference between modern and pre-modern life (Mitzman, 2002). He was ambivalent about the role of bureaucracy in the modern society. On the one hand, it formed the foundation of a more just and efficient society; on the other hand, it created “the iron cage”. By processing everything through bureaucracies, the society was becoming increasingly rational (Mitzman, 2002). However, in the course of becoming rational, emphasis was on logic and impersonal relations (Mitzman, 2002). Sentiment played no role in problem-solving in bureaucratic institutions such as schools, workplaces, hospitals, and the police force (Briscoe, 2007). Consequently, bureaucracy created a heartless iron cage where humanity was treated like cogs in bureaucratic machines (Briscoe, 2007). Failure to appreciate the nature of humans as complex beings with feelings and sensibilities led to the creation of the iron cage (Briscoe, 2007).

The iron cage is evident in the call-centre environment described in the case. No one cares about the health status of employees because a culture of impersonal relations has been established. This has created a bizarre situation where an employee is required to report to work even when he is unwell. Whenever such an agent is forced by circumstances to stay away from work for health reasons, he is sacked. The person who sacks him shows no compassion or sympathy simply because he is only doing his job according to the instructions provided to him by his superiors.

3.2 Karl Marx (1818-1883)

Karl Marx developed two main concepts that relate direct to the case of depersonalized bullying in call-centre agents in Mumbai and Bangalore: alienation and exploitation.

3.2.1 Alienation

According to Karl Marx, alienation is the process through which a worker is made to feel that he is foreign to all the goods and services produced using his own labour (Wendling, 2011). In the world of capitalism, workers are exploited in the sense that they is not working to come up with a product for sale to a real person; rather, they are compelled to work in order to live. The proletariat is aware that he can only make a living through the sale of his labour in the capitalist marketplace for a wage or salary. Alienation occurs because the worker does not own the product, which ultimately becomes the property of the capitalist. In addition to the product, the capitalist also owns all the profits realized after the sale of the product.

In the Indian ITES-BPO sector, employees are alienated from the services that they provide. After handling inbound and outbound calls all day long and throughout the month, they only get the wage or salary agreed upon by the capitalist owner. The employees do not take pride in having assisted a client. Rather, they rejoice in the fact that another day has passed and they are inching closer to payday. They know that the primary motivation for assisting clients is not the benefits that accrue to the client but rather the need to receive a wage in order to stay alive. This way, the agents increasingly become alienated from the products of their labour.

3.2.2 Exploitation

Karl Marx defined exploitation as the process of forcefully appropriating the unpaid labour of workers (Fuchs, 2014). On the basis of this definition, everyone who belongs to the working class is being exploited. Marx argued that the ultimate source of profit is workers’ unpaid labour (Fuchs, 2014). This, according to Marx, is the driving force behind all production activities in the capitalist world (Fuchs, 2014). Therefore, Karl Marx concluded that the capitalist system is founded on exploitation.

The theme of exploitation as espoused by Marx is very relevant in the context of oppressive work regime described in the case. Companies that outsource back-office operations to developing countries like India where labour costs are low are simply pursuing the goal of exploitation. Such companies justify the signing of SLAs that form the foundation of an oppressive work regime by claiming that their goal is to minimise costs, maximize revenues, and maintain competitive advantage. On the contrary, the reality of the matter is that these companies simply want to exploit the labour of the working-class masses.

3.3 Foucault (1926-1984)

Michel Foucault is famous for developing a power-centred paradigm. In this paradigm, he came up with his own understanding of the concept of power relations. He also spent a lot of time discussing the concept of surveillance. This concept is often discussed in the area of surveillance studies, which draws from different fields, including psychology, sociology, philosophy, organization studies, geography, and law.

3.3.1 Power Relations

Foucault was opposed to the Marxist conception of power relations. Marx argued that power was something that institutions possessed and relied upon to oppress individuals and groups. Foucault disagreed with this view. According to him, power is not simply about how the powerful oppress the powerless; it is also about how these power interactions between individuals and institutions unfold on a daily basis (Nealon, 2008). Foucault’s view is that power should be viewed as a strategy rather than a possession; it co-exists with resistance (Nealon, 2008). It also exists as a factor of production since its sets the stage for the possibility of relations between individuals and institutions.  In the Indian call-centre settings, power interactions define the possibility of promotion from a lower level (such as that of an agent) to the next level (such as that of a team leader).

3.3.2 Surveillance

Foucault explained surveillance using very interesting insights on the events of his day. He argued that the examination process associated with surveillance converts every individual into a case (Lianos, 2003). Based on the responses provided by call-centre agents, it is evident that TLs, quality analysts, supervisors, and managers regard individual employees simply as cases waiting to be investigated. They tapped into the agents’ phone conversations to determine if they were working in accordance with the laid-down instructions.

According to Foucault, surveillance creates a scenario where the ordinary individual cannot be said to be below the threshold of description (Lianos, 2003). Therefore, it becomes a form of social ordering. Foucault argues that as a form of institutional control, surveillance is interpreted as an extension of an organization’s bureaucratic process. However, he makes a distinction between institutional surveillance and the form of surveillance that unfolds in the context of individuals and groups. Looking at the context of call-centre companies operating in Mumbai and Bangalore, the implication is that surveillance is being used as a form of institutional control. This explains why at the door, security men have to conduct random checks on workers and predictive dialling and automatic call distribution systems have to be contended with as part of the job.

3.4 Habermas

One of Habermas’ most outstanding contributions to the scholarly world relates to the concept of “ideal speech” (Cooren, 2000). According to him, the public sphere constitutes an ideal speech situation (Adams, 2006). In this situation, every individual has a right to express his views freely and share them with other people in a process that resembles a fully participatory democracy (Cooren, 2000). One of the rules of the ideal speech situation, which is applicable to the case on depersonalized bullying in call-centre environments in India, is that every individual who is competent to speak should be allowed to take part in a public discourse. The oppressive work regime that thrives in this environment would not be in existence if every agent was being given an opportunity to express his views in accordance with Habermas’ concept of “ideal speech”.

4.0     Recommendations for change

Based on the reading of Critical Management Studies, the following recommendations for change at the Indian call centres are made:

  1. Post-modern business organizations such as call-centre should work towards ensuring that problems relating to bureaucratic operations such as the “iron cage” problems are addressed.
  2. Stakeholders in the ITES-BPO sector should come together and establish a framework for the establishment of SLAs. The objective should be to come up with internationally recognized SLA standards that eliminate the need by employer organizations to alienate, bully, oppress, and exploit employees in efforts to achieve unrealistic targets.
  3. Freedom of expression along the lines described by Habermas should be introduced in all call-centre organizations in order to give employees an opportunity to give their views just like in the case of a fully participatory democracy. An excellent way of creating a platform for employment relations discourse is by establishing a trade union in which all call-centre agents would be members.
  4. Surveillance systems should continue being used as they constitute an important form of social and institutional ordering in the ITES-BPO industry.

5.0 Conclusion

Critical Management Studies enables us to appreciate the challenges being faced by post-modern business organizations in efforts to reduce costs and maintain global competitiveness. It provides a lot of information on what employees can do to avoid participating in their own oppression. It also provides insights for employers to enhance productivity without oppressing and bullying workers.


6.0 References

Adams, N (2006), Habermas and Theology, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Briscoe, F (2007), ‘From Iron Cage to Iron Shield? How Bureaucracy Enables Temporal Flexibility for Professional Service Workers’, Organization Science, vol. 18, no. 2, pp. 297–314.

Cooren, F (2000), ‘Toward another ideal speech situation: A critique of Habermas’ reinterpretation of speech act theory’, Quarterly Journal of Speech, vol. 86, no. 3, pp. 295-317.

D’Cruz, P & Noronha, E (2009), Experiencing Depersonalised bullying: A study of Indian call-centre agents, Analytica Publications Ltd, London.

Fournier, V & Grey, C (2000), ‘At the Critical Moment: Conditions and Prospects for Critical Management Studies’, Human Relations, vol. 53, no. 1, pp. 7–32.

Fuchs, C (2014), Digital Labour and Karl Marx, Routledge, New York.

Lianos, M (2003), ‘Social Control after Foucault’, Surveillance & Society, vol. 1, no. 3, pp. 412-430.

Mitzman, (2002), A The Iron Cage: An Historical Interpretation of Max Weber, Transaction Publishers, New Brunswick.

Nealon, J (2008), Foucault beyond Foucault: Power and its intensifications since 1984, Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Wendling, A (2011), Karl Marx on technology and alienation, Princeton University Press, Princeton.

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