Organisational hidden space: a network analysis of bullying experience in the UK health and social care sector

Chia-Hao Ho, Marco Campenni, Constantine Manolchev


The formal process of organization in the UK’s health sector has attracted a significant amount of research. A number of studies have discussed political pressures related to budget-cutting, the need for operational efficiency and toxic management practices. As a result, insights into this field have predominantly discussed instances of ‘deviance’, that is practices and behaviours which are in contravention of organisational policies and codes of conduct, such as bullying, harassment, incivility and so on. We contend that although valuable, this understanding is limited and fails to account for the complexity of the wider organizational ‘space’ where those practices are located and embedded. Specifically, this is the interplay between ‘formal’ and ‘informal’ spaces that interact and both contribute to ongoing processes of everyday organizing. In line with organizational space theory as developed by Lefebvre, Yeung, Harvey we define ‘formal’ spaces as those organized by human resource policy, Government legislation, trade union representation and so on; while ‘informal’ spaces are those of hidden deviance and casual interactions among employees outside formal organizational channels. Using network theory we identify the egocentric network of a variety of agents in managerial and non-managerial roles across three UK National Health Service organizations (n=2,514). We then identify the process of relational space making and the channels (formal or informal) favoured by different staff groups. We use agent-based modeling (ABM) to model differentiated relationships (i.e., "formal" and "informal" connections) between individuals in order to test the effects of those relationships on the "wellbeing" of the whole system. We do so, systematically varying networks topologies and properties and characterising in different ways the behaviours of individuals and their preferences. This enables us to comment on what kind of agent-based relationships determines the type of space which employees engage with and the implication this has for organisations.

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