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Forms of employee negative word‐of‐mouth: a study of front‐line workers

Lloyd C. Harris (Warwick Business School, The University of Warwick, Warwick, UK)
Emmanuel Ogbonna (Cardiff Business School, Cardiff University, Cardiff, UK)

Employee Relations

ISSN: 0142-5455

Article publication date: 1 January 2013



The aim of this article is to supply grounded empirical insights into the forms of negative word‐of‐mouth by front‐line, customer contact employees.


The article adopts a qualitative approach through interviews with 54 front‐line employees in three retail organizations: food, clothing and electronic goods.


The paper finds four different forms of negative word‐of‐mouth behaviours which are labelled customer‐oriented, anti‐management/firm, employee‐oriented and anti‐competitor word‐of‐mouth. The paper shows how each of these behaviours varied in terms of the target audience (the intended listeners), the focus of attention (the focal point of comments), the motivation (the perceived rationale for the behaviour) and the extent to which employees perceived their own comments to be truthful.

Research limitations/implications

The article calls for an expansion of research horizon to incorporate a fuller understanding of the dynamics of employee (mis)behaviour in the workplace in relation to resistance, subjectivity, instrumentality and clandestine control of certain aspects of workplace dynamics.

Practical implications

The findings suggest that managers should be concerned with front‐line employee negative word‐of‐mouth especially because some of the examples which were uncovered are potentially damaging to both financial and non financial performance measures.


The article contributes insights into the neglected area of employee negative word‐of‐mouth. The article argues that the identification of the forms of employee negative word‐of‐mouth is an important step towards developing a theory of employee negative word‐of‐mouth that is especially pertinent to front‐line service work. The article develops a series of propositions which future researchers may find useful in advancing research in this area.



Harris, L.C. and Ogbonna, E. (2013), "Forms of employee negative word‐of‐mouth: a study of front‐line workers", Employee Relations, Vol. 35 No. 1, pp. 39-60.



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