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Behind the Stigma Shield Frontline Employees’ Emotional Response to Organizational Event Stigma at Work and at Home


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Behind the Stigma Shield

Frontline Employees’ Emotional Response to Organizational Event Stigma at Work and at Home

Frandsen, Sanne; Morsing, Mette

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Journal of Management Studies



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Frandsen, S., & Morsing, M. (2021). Behind the Stigma Shield: Frontline Employees’ Emotional Response to Organizational Event Stigma at Work and at Home. Journal of Management Studies.


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Behind the Stigma Shield: Frontline Employees’

Emotional Response to Organizational Event Stigma at Work and at Home

Sanne Frandsen


and Mette Morsing


aLund University; bCopenhagen Business School & Stockholm School of Economics

ABSTRACT We investigate how frontline employees manage their emotional experiences of or- ganizational event stigma as an implication of organizational wrongdoing. Our research is based on a longitudinal case study of Danske Bank, which was involved in a money laundering scandal of historical magnitude. We evoke Goffman’s epistemological understanding of stigma as arising in social interactions in all aspects of life. We analyse the emotionally straining spill- over effects of stigmatization at home, as event stigma blurs individuals’ work– home boundaries. Our study shows how frontline employees develop a ‘stigma shield’, that is, emotional detachment strate- gies used at work and at home to protect against the negative implications of event stigmatiza- tion and maintain their organizational pride and loyalty. Interestingly, we find that the stigma shield enables identity protection rather than identity restructuring in response to the identity threat posed by the scandal. We contribute to the literature on organizational event stigma and identity threat by offering a theoretical lens focusing on individual- level emotional responses to

‘felt’ stigmatization among frontline employees in an organization facing scandal.

Keywords: organizational stigma, event stigma, identity threat, emotional responses, at work/

at home, frontline employees


Organizational stigma following organizational wrongdoing has a significant impact on the organization and its members, even those employees not directly implicated in the wrongdoing. Corporate scandals seem to have grown in number and magnitude in recent years. Organizations and their employees are increasingly tarnished for per- ceived involvement in organizational misconduct in traditional and social media (Pollock

Address for reprints: Sanne Frandsen, Department of Business Administration, Lund University, BOX 7080, 22007 Lund, Sweden (sanne.frandsen@fek.lu.se)

This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which per- mits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


et al., 2019). Companies in the financial sector (Roulet, 2015; Stanley et al., 2014), as well as in many other industries, have faced charges of organizational wrongdoing, in- cluding well- known firms such as Enron, Arthur Andersen, WordCom, Barclays Bank, and Volkswagen (Palmer et al., 2016). These examples illustrate that omnipresent media exposure can quickly escalate wrongdoing into the stigmatization of organizations and their members. Such stigma is known as ‘organizational event stigma’ and entails a scan- dal or a ‘discrete, anomalous, episodic event’ (Hudson, 2008, p. 253).

Research interest in organizational stigma has emerged over the past decade (Devers et al., 2009; Hudson, 2008; Mishina and Devers, 2012; Vergne, 2012). This research has primarily focused on the implications of stigma at the organizational level and manage- ment’s attempts to mitigate or eliminate stigma (Carberry and King, 2012; Elsbach and Sutton, 1992; Hampel and Tracey, 2017; Hudson and Okhuysen, 2009; Pfarrer et al., 2008; Sutton and Callahan, 1987). Notwithstanding the germane extant literature, the intraorganizational implications of stigma have been largely ignored in organizational event stigma studies, creating a significant theoretical and practical gap in this domain.

Our study contributes to knowledge about organizational stigma by examining the under- explored issue of organizational event stigma for individuals working at a stigma- tized organization. The transfer of organizational event stigma to employees is problem- atic for the individual, who others suddenly see as a miscreant. Goffman defines such individual- level stigma as ‘an attribute that is deeply discrediting’, reducing the stigma- tized individual ‘from a whole and usual person to a tainted, discounted one’ (1963, p.

3). Specifically, we focus on frontline employees’ emotional experiences and responses to stigmatization in interactions with extra- organizational audiences at work (especially customers) and at home (family, friends, and acquaintances).

We believe that the investigation and theorization of individual- level (frontline em- ployee) emotional experiences and responses to stigma are of paramount importance for at least two reasons. First, Goffman (1963) argues that an individual may experience stigmatization as personally, existentially, and emotionally damaging. Others’ social eval- uations can induce strong, negative emotional experiences, such as personal embarrass- ment, shame, and disgrace (Creed and Hudson, 2014; Dutton et al., 1994; Goffman, 1963; Helm, 2013). Second, these emotional experiences are connected to the identity threat stigmatization poses (Miller and Kaiser, 2001; Paetzold et al., 2008), which may engender individual- and organizational- level problems, such as decreased job satisfac- tion, lower job commitment, and augmented intention to leave (Petriglieri, 2011).

During a scandal, managers logically and importantly rely on externally directed strategies to attend to event stigma (Carberry and King, 2012; Elsbach, 1994; Elsbach and Sutton, 1992; Pfarrer et al., 2008). Owing to the foregoing research gap, managers lack much needed knowledge about how to enhance employees’ positive emotional re- sponses by providing a supportive organizational environment. Furthermore, scholars have observed that employees’ emotions are intertwined with individual- level sensemak- ing, which has significant implications for organizational- level actions taken in response to such critical events as organizational stigma (Dutton and Dukerich, 1991; Petriglieri, 2011, Petriglieri and Devine, 2016).

Our study addresses the following research question: How do frontline employees emotion- ally experience organizational event stigma and how do they emotionally manage stigmatization in social


interactions? Our unique access before, during, and after a scandal involving Danske Bank (the largest bank in Denmark) provides evidence from an in- depth longitudinal case study spanning 2016– 19. During that period, the bank’s involvement in money laundering of

€200 bn through their Estonian branch was revealed. This event had significant effects on Danske Bank and its employees. We focus solely on frontline employees, who inter- acted with customers daily during this difficult time. Specifically, we examine frontline employees’ responses to organizational event stigma during three phases: the beginning of the scandal, its peak, and the immediate aftermath.

The case we present in this article is surprising because the findings did not align with our expectations of how employees would likely respond to organizational event stigma following organizational wrongdoing. First, we anticipated that event stigmatiza- tion would be difficult for frontline employees to manage at work during ‘front region’

interactions with customers and that they would use their homes as ‘back regions’ to relax and receive support (Dick, 2005; Goffman, 1963). These assumptions did not hold true. Employees felt stigmatized not only in interactions with customers, but also with friends, family, and acquaintances. Indeed, at home interactions were more emotionally demanding than those in the front region at work.

Second, we expected employees to have strong emotional responses to the stigma (Creed and Hudson, 2014; Dutton et al., 1994; Goffman, 1963; Helm, 2013). However, our study demonstrates that the very loyal frontline employees use a ‘stigma shield’ to minimize the emotionally damaging effects of the stigma. We propose the stigma shield concept to explain a variety of emotional detachment strategies employees use to pro- tect themselves from stigmatization in social interactions at work and at home. The stigma shield is utilized to defend employees’ pride in and loyalty to their organization.

Employees describe it as having a ‘thick skin’ or ‘toughness’ that helps them guard against others’ obloquy and defend their organization in the ‘war zone’ of stigmatization. We identify the triggers, characteristics, and outcomes of stigma shield use.

Third, based on the identity threat literature, we anticipated that employees would engage in ‘identity restructuring’ utilizing cognitive and behavioural strategies (i.e., strat- egies that involve changing an aspect of a threatened identity – such as downplaying it’s importance to the self- concept) to manage the identity threat posed by event stigma (Dutton and Dukerich, 1991; Petriglieri, 2011). Our findings reveal, however, that em- ployees primarily engage in emotional detachment strategies directed toward ‘identity protection’ (i.e., strategies designed to maintain a threatened identity in its current form – such as attacking the source of threat). To fully examine how employees experience event stigma, we contribute to the current focus on individual cognitive and behavioural re- sponses by adding an processual lens focusing specifically on emotional responses to stigma.

Based on these unanticipated findings (Alvesson and Kärreman, 2007), this study ad- vances knowledge and understanding of employees’ emotional responses to organiza- tional event stigma and highlights the need to rethink current assumptions about how employees react to stigma. Organizational stigma research tends to focus on the man- agement of stigma ‘sent’ by an organization’s audiences. However, Sutton and Callahan (1987), in their seminal article about organizational event stigma following bankruptcy, noted that stigma is not only ‘sent,’ but also ‘felt’. In this paper, we bring to the fore the critical individual- level emotional experiences of stigmatization.


THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK Organizational Event Stigma

At an organizational level, stigma is typically defined as a ‘collective stakeholder group- specific perception that an organization possesses a fundamental, deep- seated flaw that deindividuates and discredits the organization’ (Devers et al., 2009, p. 157). Devers et al.

(2009) argued that organizational stigma results from a labelling and attribution process that ties the organization to a category of organizations that is negatively evaluated by a certain group of stakeholders due to perceived transgressions of social norms. Hudson (2008) explained that organizational stigma can be either event stigma or core stigma.

Event stigma is caused by a ‘discrete, anomalous, episodic event’ (p. 253), while core stigma is attributed to the organization because of the fundamental nature of its core at- tributes – such as ‘core routines, core outputs, and/or core customers’ (p. 252). Tobacco companies, nuclear power firms, tattoo parlours, men’s bathhouses, abortion clinics, and strip clubs are all examples of organizations that belong to a stigmatized category or a ‘sin’ industry – and thus, may acquire core stigma (Grougiou et al., 2016). However, all kinds of organizations may face organizational event stigma caused by deliberate organizational wrongdoing, such as oil spills, accidents, product recalls, corruption, and bankruptcy (Hudson, 2008; Sutton and Callahan, 1987).

Organizational wrongdoing has received extensive negative media attention recently, as companies have transgressed both legal rules and social norms (Palmer et al., 2016).

Such scandals can be theorized as stigma- producing events (Hudson, 2008; Pozner and Harris, 2016; Warren, 2012), in which audiences such as media (Zavyalova et al., 2012), activist groups (James and Wooten, 2006), and other stakeholders like consumers, in- vestors, communities, regulators, suppliers, and the government (Sutton and Callahan, 1987; Pfarrer et al., 2008), all contribute to stigmatization. For organizations, the con- sequences of stigma involve economic outcomes (e.g., legal prosecution and stock price decline) and adverse non- economic effects in the form of the long- lasting social deval- uation of the organization and its elite members (Johnsson et al., 2009; Pozner, 2008;

Pozner and Harris, 2016). Stigma also causes ‘a spoiled organizational image’ (Sutton and Callahan, 1987), internal tensions related to organizational identity (Tracey and Phillips, 2016), and stakeholder disengagement (Durand and Vergne, 2015).

The current research on organizational stigma focuses on organizational strategies to manage, diminish, or eliminate organizational stigma (Carberry and King, 2012; Hampel and Tracey, 2017; Helms and Patterson, 2014; Hudson, 2008; Hudson and Okhuysen, 2009). Furthermore, the literature on organizational wrongdoing and scandal has em- phasized identifying organizational strategies to repair the organization’s impaired image among external audiences (Sutton and Callahan, 1987) and restore legitimacy (Carberry and King, 2012; Elsbach, 1994; Elsbach and Sutton, 1992; Pfarrer et al., 2008). These strategies include impression management efforts – ‘tactics designed to affect the per- ceptions of the image, identity, or reputation of an organization’ (Elsbach, 2006, p. xvii) – and changes in organizational practices to ensure organizational justice and renewal (Pfarrer et al., 2008). Sutton and Callahan (1987) identified six strategies leaders em- ploy to deal with stigma: concealing information about the event, emphasizing positive


organizational attributes, redefining the situation for the organization’s audiences, with- drawing from the organization’s audiences, and either accepting or denying responsibil- ity for the event.

Although the majority of research on organizational event stigma has focused on ex- ternal impression management strategies, attention to the internal implications of an organizational stigma event following organizational wrongdoing is warranted, given the scant insight into how organizational members, especially frontline employees fac- ing stigmatization from customers, experience and react to organizational event stigma.

Although Sutton and Callahan (1987) distinguished between ‘sent’ and ‘felt’, our under- standing of how organizational event stigma is felt by those employees confronted with it on an everyday basis is limited.

Individual- Level Experience of Organizational Event Stigma

At an individual level, Goffman (1963) argues that individuals may experience stigmatiza- tion as personally, existentially, and emotionally damaging. Moreover, research has shown that management is not precluded from being stigmatized following organizational wrong- doing (Jansson, 2016; Pozner and Harris, 2016). It may cause damage in terms of loss of social network ties and reduced career prospects (Sutton and Callahan, 1987; Pozner and Harris, 2016). However, stigmatized individuals at all ranks may also be subject to bullying, harassment, and social rejection (Paetzold et al., 2008) owing to the organizational event stigma. This stigma transfers to individual members (Kulik et al., 2008), which means that ‘In the eyes of others, the stigmatized group and its members are spoiled, blemished, devalued, or flawed to various degrees’ (Kreiner et al., 2006a, p. 621). In the case of or- ganizational event stigma following organizational wrongdoing, such transference means that the stigma ‘spills over’ to other organizational members who, although they were not engaged in the wrongdoing, can still be perceived as ‘bad members’ of the ‘bad organiza- tion’ due to their organizational membership (Wiesenfeld et al., 2008).

Stigma is thus seen as a stressor with which individuals try to cope (Miller and Kaiser, 2001). As noted above, stigmatization has severe consequences for the individual, as in- dividuals experience it as an identity threat (Crocker and Major, 1989; Goffman, 1963;

Petrieglieri, 2011; Petriglieri and Devine, 2016), which is defined as ‘experiences appraised as indicating potential harm to the value, meanings, or enactment of an identity’ (Petriglieri, 2011, p. 641). Such identity threat can arise from stigma, as others’ devaluating beliefs and prejudices threaten employees’ ability to value their identity positively (Ashforth and Kreiner, 1999; Dutton and Dukerich, 1991; Dutton et al., 1994). This phenomenon is particularly important in situations where the threatened social identity (i.e., of being an organizational member) is seen as salient to the individual and if the individual experiences recurrent and/

or exposed incidences of identity threat (Petriglieri, 2011). Organizational identity threats may also be seen as threatening members’ individual identities (Dutton and Dukerich, 1991;

Elsbach and Kramer, 1996; Petriglieri and Devine, 2016). Petriglieri (2011) has averred that it can lead to decreased individual performance, loss of self- esteem, resistance to organiza- tional change efforts and company rules, and increased voluntary employee turnover.

Employees attend to identity threats while at work using various cognitive and be- havioural strategies. Identity protection responses include derogation, in which individuals


condemn others; concealment, which entails ‘hiding or downplaying the threatened iden- tity in front of those who threaten it’ (Petriglieri, 2011, p. 647), or positive distinctiveness, in which individuals reframe their identity to emphasize its positive aspects. Identity restructuring responses can also be used to change the importance of the identity, alter the meaning of the identity, or abandon it. Abundant literature on stigmatized professionals has discussed identity protection strategies (Ashforth and Kreiner, 1999; Ashforth et al., 2007; Tracy and Scott, 2006), while examples of identity restructuring include Dutton and Dukerich’s (1991) study of the New York Port Authority.

Although research on identity threats is valuable for advancing germane knowledge, it suffers from two key limitations. First, it has focused on individual responses at work and virtually ignored social interactions outside work in the employees’ home sphere. Second, the extant work has identified insightful cognitive and behavioural strategies but has overlooked emotional experiences and strategies for managing stigma. The importance of each of these shortcomings is explained below.

Stigmatization in Social Interactions

Goffman (1963, p. 3) conceived stigma as ‘an attribute that is deeply discrediting’, reduc- ing the stigmatized individual ‘from a whole and usual person to a tainted, discounted one’ and emphasized that stigmatization often occurs during fleeting moments of social interactions between audiences, especially with acquaintances and strangers. Research on organizational stigma has frequently quoted Goffman’s (1963) definition of stigma (Devers et al., 2009; Helms and Patterson, 2014; Hudson, 2008; Paetzold et al., 2008;

Vergne, 2012) and conceptualized organizational stigma as an extension of individual stigma at the organizational level (Mishina and Devers, 2012). This research, however, has focused less on Goffman’s epistemological understanding of stigma arising from so- cial interactions among individuals (Jensen and Sandström, 2015; Warren, 2012). This is problematic because existing published studies have overlooked the everyday responses in interactions between stigmatizers (extra- organizational audiences) and stigmatized in- dividuals (especially frontline employees) working in the stigmatized organization.

Goffman (1963) espoused that stigma is not isolated in a particular setting (e.g., a work- place or an organization), but can exist everywhere for an individual. Stigma is thus a concern for stigmatized individuals, as they risk being embarrassed and disgraced in any interaction with others. Goffman (1963) professed that the stigmatized thus engage in impression management strategies that focus on concealing, transforming, or resisting the stigma. These efforts are undertaken in a ‘front region’ when the stigmatized and the stigmatizer are in the same social situation (Goffman, 1963, p. 23) – a region that has to be managed by the stigmatized, who the stigmatizer holds accountable. In contrast to the front region, the ‘back region’ is a place where people withdraw, rehearse, and relax (Goffman, 1959, p. 112) – such as one’s home.

Emotional Experiences of and Responses to Stigma

The discomfiture of being stigmatized in interactions with audiences requires immediate emotional management on the part of the stigmatized (Goffman, 1963). Ironically, the management of negative emotions has not been explored in the context of stigmatized


organizations. Management scholars have explored the significant influence of emo- tions during organizational work in general (Ashforth and Humphrey, 1995; Boudens, 2005; Fineman, 2000; Hochschild, 1983; Maitlis and Sonenshein, 2010; Sandelands and Boudens, 2000). We draw upon Ashforth and Humphrey’s (1995) definition of emotions as ‘feeling states’, including both basic emotions, such as joy, love, and anger, as well as social emotions, for example, shame, guilt, and jealousy. Scholars have argued that emo- tions and interpretations of events are intertwined; thus, emotional experiences motivate individuals to make decisions and act in response to organizational events (Ashforth and Humphrey, 1995; Ashton- James and Ashkanasy, 2008; Kiefer, 2002).

We adopt a social constructionist perspective in arguing that the experience of emo- tion largely depends on the social/symbolic interaction in a given situation, which shapes the way the individual labels their emotional experience. As such, we posit that individ- uals are likely to engage in emotion management, which we define, per Wharton (2009, p. 167), as a ‘worker’s efforts to regulate their emotions’. Based on Grandy and Marvin (2014, p. 6), we understand emotion management as connected to individuals’ thoughts and self- understanding, and that emotion management is utilized not necessarily for commercial purposes, although it occurs within the organization’s boundaries. The or- ganizational context and interactions with colleagues, managers, customers, and others outside the organization have a significant influence on individuals’ beliefs about their emotional states, the vocabulary available for expressing them, and the socially accepted way of displaying them. The negative emotional experiences associated with organiza- tional event stigma are thus unlikely to be expressed directly (Ashforth and Humphrey, 1995), but rather adapted to hew to socially approved emotional displays.

Although emotional experiences and their management have not been studied empiri- cally in the context of organizational stigma and particularly in relation to organizational event stigma, we believe that experienced stigma is likely to cause strong adverse emo- tional reactions (Goffman, 1963). According to research on organizational wrongdoing, employees react emotionally to their top management’s unethical behaviour through emotions such as cynicism, pessimism, paranoia, fear (Pelletier and Bligh, 2008), disap- pointment, anger, and disgust (Dufour et al., 2019). Stigma can also elicit ‘self- directed’

social emotions alternatively called self- conscious emotions (Leary, 2007; Maitlis and Sonenshein, 2010). Such emotions are linked to the understanding of oneself as having violated a social order (in others’ eyes). Self- directed emotions include guilt, embarrass- ment, and shame (Creed and Hudson, 2014; Dutton et al., 1994; Tangney et al., 2007).

Empirical studies involving individuals working in stigmatized professions have found that these individuals often face emotional dilemmas (Lemmergaard and Muhr, 2012) and emotional ambiguity (Grandy and Marvin, 2014) in response to outsiders’ social devaluation.

Notwithstanding the foregoing germane work, the emotional experiences of and re- sponses to organizational event stigma among individuals working at the organization require further examination. Thus, as a reminder, our research question focuses on how frontline employees emotionally experience organizational event stigma and how they emotionally manage stigmatization in social interactions. To answer these questions, we analyse empirical material from Danske Bank, which was stigmatized due to involvement in large- scale money laundering. The bank’s wrongdoing caused the stigmatization of


both the organization and the organizational members – even frontline workers who were not directly involved in the misconduct.


Context: Danske Bank’s Pre- Scandal Position

Danske Bank has a unique position in Denmark housing its headquarters. It is the larg- est bank and services both private customers and small, large, and institutional clients, including the government. The bank’s origin dates back to 1871. It has been a promi- nent and reputable bank, and almost a source of national pride. Before the 2008 global financial crisis, it was considered a prestigious place to work and was known for its in- tegrity and competence. The financial crisis damaged Danske Bank’s public image. In the following years, media often published negative articles about the bank and its top management, considerably reducing its popularity.

After another image crisis in 2013 due to a failed rebranding campaign, Danske Bank launched a new strategy to increase customer satisfaction, thereby strengthening its or- ganizational image among the general public. This strategy was successful, and by 2016 and early 2017, the bank’s image had been markedly ameliorated. Accordingly, salutary media stories and a popular management book were published to document Danske Bank’s successful turnaround.

Our research collaboration with Danske Bank began in light of its success in 2016. In our conversations with frontline employees and managers, organizational members were exceptionally loyal to the bank and expressed pride to work at Danske Bank. There are several reasons for these positive emotions. Many employees had worked at the bank for decades, starting as apprentices and working up the ranks. Indeed, self- identification as one of the ‘bank folks’ was common. Second, the bank’s ability to improve its situation postliminary to the 2013 image crisis further added to employees’ sense of pride and augmented their self- confidence. In fact, frontline employee satisfaction surveys regard- ing employee loyalty to and engagement with the bank achieved a measure of 94 out of 100 – an unusually high score for this part of the bank. Interestingly, although employees mentioned the stigmatization of the financial sector, they generally felt proud to work at Danske Bank. As evidence, employees described the bank as a ‘decent bank’ and ‘the good house in the bad neighborhood’ vis- à- vis its shadier counterparts.

During 2017 and culminating in the autumn of 2018, Danske Bank was accused of enabling criminals to launder €200 bn via a regional branch in Estonia. The scandal was of such a scale that it influenced the bank’s legitimacy, credibility, and financial stability, and received extensive national and international media coverage.

Data Collection

We utilized an interpretive, qualitative, and longitudinal case study that combines eth- nographically generated empirical material via interviews, observations, internal docu- ment collection, and media articles. As such, we adhered to scholars’ recommendations


within organizational stigma research to employ multiple data sources in single case studies (Helms and Patterson, 2014; Tracey and Phillips, 2016). A longitudinal study was undertaken to illustrate the development of frontline employees’ emotional responses to stigmatization, given that, according to Fineman (2000, p. 14), ‘Contextually rich, real time emotion studies of organizational life are still relatively rare’. Our unique access to Danske Bank as the scandal unfolded allowed us to present empirical material reflecting employees’ pre- scandal experiences of stigmatization (2016) and then in three phases: 1) the beginning of the scandal (Q3 2017– Q2 2018), 2) the peak of the scandal (Q3+Q4 2018), and 3) immediately after the scandal (Q1+Q2 2019) (identification of these phases will be subsequently discussed).

Generating ethnographic data during an organizational scandal of this magnitude de- pends on the researcher’s ability to build rapport and trust with managers and employees (Fineman, 2000; Ybema et al., 2009). Negotiating access is not a one- time event, but a re- occurring case- by- case matter (Morean, 2009). Our ethnographic goal was to arrange in- terviews systematically with frontline employees and their managers, and spend sufficient time in the bank documenting unfolding events ‘up close and in person’ (Ybema et al., 2009) to parlay any opportunity to observe and participate in meetings and collect per- tinent documents. We attempted to achieve what Fineman (2000, p. 14) described as an emotion ethnography that ‘can track events- in- context, as reported by key actors. Direct, emotionalized accounts (stories, confession, explanations, and gossip) can be gathered as decisions, issues, or crises unfold, and enfold different organizational members’. The data sources are listed in Table I.

The first author conducted interviews with frontline employees serving as financial advi- sors working in the bank’s retail branches and call centres. She also interviewed bank man- agement and executive managers, as well as the communication director responsible for the bank’s corporate- level communication. Seventy- four interviews were conducted primarily in meeting rooms (designed for customer meetings). Each interview averaged 1.5 hours in duration. All interviews were recorded. Notes were taken during the interviews, and reflec- tions were noted immediately after. The interviews were then transcribed verbatim.

Participant sampling was theoretical (Tracy, 2013), as we were exclusively interested in collecting data from frontline employees because of their role as organizational represen- tatives interacting with extra- organizational audiences diurnally during the scandal. We attempted to include an array of participants in the sample. In addition to visits to com- pany headquarters, interviews were conducted at 14 geographically dispersed locations across the country (bank retail branches and office buildings). Typically, one manager and five frontline employees were selected for interviews at these locations. Frontline employees in the sample represented diversity vis- à- vis age, tenure, and gender. We inter- viewed 33 men and 41 women. Their average age was 42, and they ranged between 22 and 58 years. Their average tenure was 19 years, ranging between 2 and 45 years. The relatively long tenure reflected that the majority of frontline employees had been with the bank from a young age (after gymnasium).

All interviews followed a flexible protocol with open- ended questions designed to gain an in- depth understanding of frontline employees’ work lives. The first author was granted access to research the impact of strategic cultural change on financial advisors’

beliefs, work practices, customer interactions, and everyday life in the organization. For a


detailed description of the interview guide and the questions asked during the phases of the scandal, please see the supplementary material.

In addition to using interviews, the first author made observations in the field as the events unfolded. She observed a 24- hour strategic management meeting involving 300

Table I. Overview of empirical data set Study covering the period before the scandal and

during the three scandal phases Ethnographic material

Pre- study

Before the scandal 2016

• 11 interviews

◦ 1 manager

◦ 10 financial advisors

◦ 2 males and 9 females

• Visit to 2 retail branches

• Observation of 1 meeting

• Articles: 675 Phase 1

Beginning of the scandal Q3+Q4 2017, Q1+Q2 2018

• 38 interviews

◦ 1 executive manager

◦ 7 managers

◦ 30 financial advisors

◦ 17 males and 21 females

◦ Average age: 41

◦ Average tenure: 21 years

• Visit to 5 retail branches

• Observation of 1 meeting

• Observation of telephone customer interactions

• Articles: 1,326 Phase 2

The peak of the scandal Q3+Q4 2018 • 12 interviews

• 2 managers

• 10 financial advisors

• 3 males and 9 females

• Average age: 44

• Average tenure: 20 years

• Visit to 1 retail branch and 1 call center

• Observations of strategic management meetings

• Observations of workshops

• Observation of meetings

• Articles: 1,357 Phase 3

Immediately after the scandal Q1+Q2 2019

• 13 interviews

◦ 1 communication director

3 managers

◦ 9 financial advisors

11 males and 2 females

◦ Average age: 44

Average tenure: 17 years

• Visit to 3 retail branches

• Observations of 2 dialogue meetings

• Observation of meetings

• Articles: 988


managers and regular team meetings with approximately 20 participants when visiting retail branches. She also spent a few hours at the call centre, listening to customer calls and documenting employee– customer interactions. In addition, she attended two ‘dialog meet- ings’, where the bank explained the money laundering case to customers. All observations were logged in field notebooks, along with informal conversations over lunch meetings, in hallways, and at other locations as the researcher moved about within the organization.

Six feedback meetings were conducted, where the first author presented preliminary findings and performed a member check (Silverman, 2011) on the analytical results.

These were undertaken with project managers, the bank’s retail department’s execu- tive management team, and the senior vice- presidents of the communication group.

Most of the meetings were recorded; otherwise, elaborate observational notes were taken. The meetings provided feedback to the bank and ‘clarif[ied], extend[ed], and qualif[ied] the findings produced by other methods’ (Silverman, 2011, p. 210) for the researchers. The meetings further afforded the opportunity to ask additional questions to nuance and elaborate our analysis (Tracy, 2013).

Finally, as background material, we searched for all mentions of Danske Bank in Børsen, a leading agenda- setting national business newspaper equivalent to the Financial Times. Throughout our 24- month study, Danske Bank was mentioned in 3,671 articles in Børsen’s print and online versions. The average number of daily articles was five over 2 years at this single outlet (print/online). Numerous other national newspapers, televi- sion and radio stations, and online media noted Danske Bank’s debacle. The scandal also received significant international attention owing to the scale of the money laundering.

We used the foregoing data to create a timeline of the major events of the scandal and augment the understanding of the media’s portrayal of Danske Bank.

Data Analysis

Data analysis was largely designed to abductively be ‘open to the mystery’, focusing on empirical deviations from expectations to examine what we found novel and interesting in our empirical material (Alvesson and Kärreman, 2007). The idea was to identify un- expected findings that challenge our theoretically informed understanding of what to expect from a situation.

The analysis was performed in several steps to achieve trustworthy results; for a de- tailed description, please see the supplementary material for this article. In short, the steps were:

1) initial interpretation of empirical surprises were written down in real time through- out the phases of the scandal (Alvesson and Kärreman, 2007); 2) process analysis of the collective dataset was performed, including temporal bracketing and narrative analysis (Langley, 1998); 3) systematic coding, including first- and second- order cod- ing of emotional responses at work and at home (Rennstam and Wästerfors, 2018;

Tracy, 2013), was performed; and 4) to look for similarities and differences until the- oretical saturation was achieved, and we arrived at the final framework of felt emo- tions and emotional detachment strategies utilized to manage emotions in response to stigmatization.



In our findings, we first explain the key events of the three phases then turn to frontline employees’ emotional experiences of stigma and emotion management ‘at work’ and then ‘at home’ during each phase.

Key Events of the Scandal

Phase 1: Beginning of the scandal. By the start of our study, media, government, and financial sector attention to money laundering had grown nationally and internationally over the past years. In September 2017, a leak revealed that Danske Bank had engaged in money laundering. In December 2017, a Danske Bank whistleblower argued that bank management must have known about money laundering at its Estonian branch. These two events increased the media attention to Danske Bank. The bank became typified as a morally dubious enterprise, and articles in the spring of 2018 repeatedly accused management of engaging in money laundering and/or deliberately ignoring the illegal transactions for their own benefit. April 2018 saw the first executive board member’s departure, and in July 2018, 26 employees at Danske Bank’s Estonian branch faced criminal charges for money laundering.

Phase 2: The peak of the scandal. On 19 September 2018, Danske Bank publicized its own investigation of the money laundering case. The press conference was broadcast on all the national news channels, and the internal report showed that the money laundering amounted to €200 bn. In the days that followed, the bank’s chief executive officer (CEO) resigned, and politicians and public authorities nationally and internationally demanded an investigation. In October 2018, several public institutions in Denmark terminated their customer relationships with the bank. In November, the whistleblower spoke at a government public hearing. Shortly thereafter, Danske Bank was officially charged for money laundering. Its internal report and the events that followed caused intense omnipresent media attention. The bank’s image suffered dramatic decline, as did its stock value.

Phase 3: Immediately after the scandal. During this phase, new information about the scandal revealing its comprehensive scope appeared in the media, but this was rarely commented on in the interviews in our study. Respondents focused more on media satire in the form of television comedy sketches, editorial cartoons in newspapers, songs about money laundering on YouTube, and jokes shared about Danske Bank on social media.

Emotional Experiences of Stigma at Work

At the beginning of the scandal, employees stated that the scandal directly influenced customer interactions at work. Dennis explains:

Some of my customers have come to our meeting and have had the attitude from the very beginning that we were scammers, frauds, and stupid assholes, and we only had one intention: to ‘milk them’.

(Dennis, Phase 1)


While we expected deep negative emotions of shame, guilt, and embarrassment among the frontline employees in response to stigmatization, they described the impact of the degrading public opinion as ‘infuriating’, ‘too bad’, and ‘a pity’, highlighting emotional experiences of annoyance and irritation. For example, Monika expresses:

It is indeed annoying. […] It says [in the newspaper] that Danske Bank’s image has fallen drastically.

Then, you just feel drained, […] you know, this is irritating. You do not want to read that about your workplace. (Monika, Phase 1)

The employees seem to have emotionally detached themselves from the scandal, that is, not taking it personally or letting it ‘get to them’, as Cynthia explains:

I think that it is crazy that it even happened. […] But I do not take it, it is not something I take personally. I just feel that it is a pity that this is damaging to the bank’s image here [in Denmark].

(Cynthia, Phase 1)

According to the interviewees, the only way to overcome the maelstrom was to keep going and focus on one’s job, without being too concerned about the scandal.

I think you have to distance yourself from it because otherwise it affects you too much. You have to say to yourself… ‘Oh well, that was back then’. That’s it. Then I just move on. (Heidi, Phase 1) During the peak of the scandal, organizational members were abruptly exposed to intensified charges of unethical behaviour and degrading comments from the media and customers. The media questioned the ‘decent’ bank’s fundamental values. During the scandal’s climax, interviewees used metaphors such as being ‘hit’ and ‘hailed down upon’, and experiencing ‘push back’ or ‘meeting a wall’.

We were so badly hit at that moment by the [money laundering] case, right? It really was … so you feel a little bit pushed back. (Hassan, Phase 2)

However, their emotional lexicon was shallow, with references to annoyance and irritation.

It is really not cool to read the newspaper and hear the news, and then there is something once again […] It’s annoying, it really is. (Hassan, Phase 2)

When interviewing employees about how media stigmatization influenced their work, few suggested that this was particularly traumatic experience for them. The bank’s cul- ture did not seem to include an elaborate emotional vocabulary to express the emotional experience of the stigma. Instead, employees appeared cavalier and ‘tough’, as if the stigma was not a major concern to them. As one participant declares:

Instead of hiding in a hole and saying ‘We are embarrassed’, we have faced and answered the questions people might have and said, ‘Yes, we are super annoyed and sad, but such and such … [happened]’.


Interviewer: But do you want to hide in a hole and say, ‘We are embarrassed’ or…?

Participant continued: We, of course, say that we are really, really sad, and we are. Yes, it would be nice if you did not have to talk about it. It would be, but we have to… but sometimes it’s just a little difficult because there are so many nuances to it. […] You cannot dwell on all those little things, right?

No. I think we just have to deal with it. (Anna, Phase 2)

Immediately after the scandal, the employees maintained that they were annoyed and irritated. Despite the scandal’s magnitude, they claimed that it had little influence on their working lives. Participants said that customers no longer talked about the scandal and appeared rather indifferent to it.

There are customers who now say that we do not want to talk about it. Often, they just need to say, this is a shitty case, and then I say the same, ‘Yes, it is a shitty case. Is there anything you would like to ask about?’. And they say, ‘No, there is not’. Fine. Then we are over it. (Gabriel, Phase 3).

While the employees seem to have been influenced by stigmatization by the media and customers in their everyday work life, their emotional responses were surpris- ingly shallow and less intense than anticipated. They emotionally detached from the stigma using different emotional shielding strategies, comprising an emotional shield to fend off outsiders’ disparaging comments and reduce the negative emo- tions associated with stigmatization. We elaborate on these strategies in the next sections.

The Stigma Shield

Table II provides an overview of frontline employees’ emotional management of orga- nizational event stigma during Phases 1– 3 of the money laundering scandal. The stigma shield encompassed all emotional strategies employees utilized at work and at home. An employee used the term ‘shield’ to explain how she managed negative emotions gener- ated by others’ stigmatizing comments. Her terminology prompted us to conceptualize the construct of the stigma shield as employees’ emotional strategies utilized to protect their loyalty to their organization and detach from the negative emotions arising from social interactions with stigmatizing others.

Emotional Management at Work During Phases 1– 3: Emotional Detachment from Stigma

We observed that employees utilized detachment strategies at work to protect themselves from customers’ stigmatizing comments early in the scandal and that they maintained the use of such strategies throughout the phases of the scandal. The emotional strategies were identified as thick skin, blame shifting, defending, and idealization. Interestingly, we saw limited variation in the strategies utilized across the three phases; rather, utilization of the four aforementioned strategies only intensified as the scandal peaked.


Table II. The stigma shield – frontline employees’ emotional management at work and at home in response to organizational event stigma Phase 1Phase 2Phase 3 Beginning of the scandalHigh peak of the scandalImmediately after the scandal Emotional management at workEmotional detachment from stigmaMaintaining emotional detachment from stigma

Continuing emotional detachment from stigma Thick skin Protecting yourself from offending comments from customers Defending We stand up for the organization Blame shifting Others have done something wrong Idealization We are truly a good bank Emotional management at homeEmotional detachment from stigmaEmotional shock and bounce back from stigma

Emotional detachment from stigma Defending I stand up for the organization Hiding I avoid family and friends’ offensive comments Ignoring I talk about something else Temporary shock Momentarily lowering my guard (Continues)


Phase 1Phase 2Phase 3 Beginning of the scandalHigh peak of the scandalImmediately after the scandal Claiming innocence I did not do anything wrong Justification I set others’ stories straight Constant defense mode Bolstering my guard Sarcasm Using humor as a defense Carefreeness I cannot be bothered anymore Key: Grey cells: Strategy is utilized by frontline employees in this phase White cells: Strategy is not utilized by frontline employees in this phase

Table II.Continued


Thick skin: Protecting yourself from offending comments from customers. The employees believed that they were unfairly treated by ‘others’, as they were stigmatized and blamed for

‘everything’ owing to Danske Bank’s central role in the Denmark. Working on the frontline meant that employees were particularly exposed to stigmatization and needed to manage (perceived) unjust accusations. The emotional strategy of possessing ‘thick skin’ was a central component of the stigma shield. ‘Thick skin’ was primarily directed at protecting oneself from customers’ and the general public’s offensive comments, and limiting the negative emotional effect of degrading remarks. According to one interviewee:

When you are a leading bank, like Danske Bank, we are blamed for all sorts of things. Everything. It comes from even very close friends who have had some [bad] experience with the bank. Or they [other people] generalize and say that ‘all the misery of financial systems’ or ‘money laundering’ or ‘false banknotes in [name of another bank]’…all this is channelled into you as a person when you sit out there [at the counter facing customers], and you have to take responsibility for that. Over time, I think we just developed such a shield … I think we have become more tough skinned. (Emma, Phase 1) Frontline employees described how they mentally ‘put up their shield’ to protect them- selves from blame and accusations during their frontline work, which they described as being ‘in a war zone’. Emma continued her remarks about the shield as follows:

What I meant was that I had developed a filter, and I just choose to say ‘Now I go out into the war zone’ and then that is it…This case [the money laundering] is abstract, something that happened in another country. After all, we adhere to company policies, and we stand up, with loyalty, for what has been said and done. (Emma, Phase 1)

Evidently, in reference to an event in which she did not participate and could do nothing about, Emma highlights the importance of supporting the bank, standing in solidarity with colleagues, and helping peers cope with the emotional strains of being stigmatized for something ‘abstract’.

In the later phases, thick skin protected employees’ pride in working for the bank, despite others’ stigmatizing comments at work.

It is of no use to dwell on all the bad things because it does something to all of us; when you have a culture where you have been proud and you stand up tall and hold your head up in loyalty, then we also need to have this sense of pride. Otherwise, it will crack, and I think that it is not healthy.

(Muhammed, Phase 3)

Muhammed emphasizes that everything, including the shield, will fall apart if employ- ees fail to manifest esprit de corps, remain proud, and move on from the scandal.

Defending: We stand up for the organization. The stigma shield enabled employees to support the organization verbally in interactions with customers and simply ‘deal with it’ by expressing appropriate emotions toward customers (e.g., sadness and regret), as evidenced by the following excerpts from aforementioned quotes: ‘We stand up, with loyalty, for what has been said and done’ (Emma, Phase 1) and ‘We, of course, say that we are really, really sad – and


we are’ (Anna, Phase 2). During working hours, the employees showed their dedication to the bank by calling customers and explaining the money laundering scandal from the bank’s perspective.

It is also a bit annoying this thing… it is the media again. […] Danske Bank has been misused, you can say, as a catalyst. However, it is not Danske Bank that has scammed, but, of course, we agree, that it should have been us who should have discovered the problems, but it is not just us who are like

… scammers. We have been misused and that is annoying. (Hassan, Phase 2)

Other respondents argued that as bank representatives, it is important for employees to remain loyal to the bank and defend it. This opinion finds support in the following aforementioned quote: ‘You stand up tall and hold your head up in loyalty’ (Muhammed, Phase 3). Muhammed further explains:

We use so many hours on this and working different networks to represent [Danske Bank]. If you are not proud, then at least you […] defend it a little. (Muhammed, Phase 3)

Blame shifting: Others have done something wrong. A central component of the stigma shield involved blaming the money laundering on others. This was evident in all three phases of the scandal. The frontline employees ascribed the money laundering to a few ‘bad apples’

in a remote part of the organization, which they claimed had nothing to do with Danske Bank as an organization. Since the wrongdoing had taken place several years earlier, it was not considered germane to the contemporary bank. The employees engaged in this

‘blame shifting’ to avoid associating themselves with the money laundering scandal. They argued that the morass had nothing to do with their department within the bank or with their job. According to one participant:

We see this in the media; we are shot down. First, I think that, okay, people can differentiate. It is not here. Here, we behave properly, and we have changed and improved. It happened in Estonia. People can understand, that is somewhere else. I was possibly naive enough to think that the two could be separated. Obviously, it could not. (Charlotte, Phase 2)

Interviewees also argued that the money laundering was viewed as problematic for the entire financial sector and not as unique to Danske Bank.

It is really far away from us, but, of course, it has changed our everyday life […], but it is not only Danske Bank. It is all banks. (Eva, Phase 2)

Based on the blame shifting, the scandal did not adversely influence the frontline em- ployees’ emotions, nor did it seem to affect their understanding of Danske Bank’s values.

Idealization: We are truly a good bank. When asked whether the money laundering scandal influenced their own perception of the bank, respondents emphasized their loyalty


to the bank, which they idealized as ‘truly good’ – despite the criticism and offensive disparaging remarks. This idealization of the bank as decent, credible, and possessing integrity persisted throughout the phases of the scandal.

What eight, ten, or fifty people in Estonia are doing has nothing to do with the base we have in the bank; it really does not. It is not without reason that I have been at the bank for 40 years. I think we have a great organization. […] It saddens me that we have somehow ended up doing this because of a single swallow. (Mathew, Phase 3)

Immediately after the scandal, employees described themselves as heroes involved in saving the bank from the scandal’s damaging effects. They argued that their commit- ment, loyalty, and good customer relationships diminished the damage caused by the scandal and that it had minimal impact on customer flow. They again expressed pride in working at the bank and contributing to re- establishing its positive image.

The values the bank has… now I put the money laundering case aside. The case must have its own life. The bank has some great value for our customers. After all, we have been involved in adversity and hardship. We do decent things; we behave decently in relation to our customers, we behave decently, and we also behave decently with our employees. […] I still feel like we have a well- oiled machine; we are a credible bank, so we can look ourselves in the eye. That’s how I have always felt, and then we just forget the money laundering case. That someone made a mistake…I still want to say that with a proud voice. (Andrea, Phase 3)

Emotional Experiences of Stigma at Home

Although the employees seemed relatively unconcerned about stigmatization following the scandal, they stated that they faced stigmatization outside work in their private lives.

A middle manager who also worked on the frontline with responsibility for customer accounts said in an informal conversation:

The problem is not our customers. We know how to deal with customers. The problem is that we face accusations from friends and family. That is the tough part.

During non- work social interactions in all three phases of the scandal, comments from friends and family made the employees feel stigmatized and as though they had been actively involved in the money laundering. According to one participant:

People in the general public believe that there have been some Danske Bank employees who have sat in some basement and washed money, or something similarly caricatured, right? They think that it is something that we have been directly involved in and that there have been some of the bank’s employees who have really tried to cheat; however, it is all about the fact that you have not had any proper systems that have been able to detect that there were some outsiders who cheated.… but it is not the image you get when you see the media because it is not an exciting story. (Dennis, Phase 1)


The employees averred that others imputed the money laundering to them, casting them as ‘bad guys’ owing to their organizational membership. They were keenly aware that others viewed them as Danske Bank representatives outside work, and they ex- pressed stronger emotional responses, for example, anger, as evidenced by the comment

‘Then I fume’ (Emma, quoted in the next section). They evidently experienced just as much stigmatization in their ‘private sphere’ as in their ‘work sphere’ – and it did not seem to go away.

I think it’s an annoying sticker to have on you […] we will continue [to wear the sticker] regardless of what we do. […] We cannot change that no matter what. (Gillian, Phase 1)

During the peak of the scandal (Phase 2) in particular, while employees continued to use emotional detachment strategies at work, there appeared to be underlying shock and trauma. They were stigmatized by friends and family who had read the newspapers and started questioning their loyalty to Danske Bank. This influenced employees consider- ably, as they began to reflect on whether the scandal indeed was connected with their own identity.

I have a friend.… She says, ‘[Eva] how the fuck … how can you navigate all that with the money laun- dering case? Do you still want to be there?’. I answer, ‘Yes, why wouldn’t I want to be there?’. ‘I just think I would have had enough’, she tells me. God! I just had not seen that coming, that people could think about me: Why do you want to be at Danske Bank? It knocked me out a little. Of course, I want to be here at Danske Bank, but then I thought, do some of my other colleagues also feel like this? (Eva, Phase 2) Though the media storm and accusations from friends and family were considered distressing, the employees expressed ‘sadness’, ‘disappointment’, and ‘humiliation’.

I think it has been humiliating in many ways because it is not at all the way I am as a person. (Sarah, Phase 2)

We are all terribly sad about it, and it probably has something to do with the fact that you want to be seen as decent. (Anna, Phase 2)

Immediately after the scandal, in the work environment, employees and their cus- tomers seemed ready – or more accurately, eager – to move on. Employees nevertheless experienced difficulties in doing so in their home sphere, as they continued to face ac- cusations in their private lives. Employees mentioned that they still confronted brickbats from family and friends; however, the form had changed: serious questioning (as in the peak phase) was largely replaced with persiflage, as Lisa explains:

Well, [in] other relationships or family relationships and similar, [I have to] explain what it really is about. However, it is just to be honest and to say it is a damn shitty case. It is. […] I think it’s annoying too, especially … Now I also have a brother- in- law […] [who will ask] ‘Can you wash some money for me?’ or things like that. Or I hear something where you just go like (deep sigh). […] I do not want to hear those [comments] all the time. (Lisa, Phase 3)


Although seemingly less harmful, employees experienced emotional exhaustion from constantly having to discuss and defend the scandal in their private life – to the extent that they stopped disclosing their employer’s name in social encounters with acquaintances:

In the end, you are tired of it. So, you are just ‘employed in the financial world’, [even if when] you started it was Danske Bank […]. Such a case wears on us because we have to listen to it – ‘What happened?’ and such – in my spare time. (Michael, Phase 3)

Emotional Management at Home During Phases 1– 3: Emotional Detachment from Stigma

In contrast to the emotional shielding strategies utilized at work, the emotional strat- egies used in the home sphere multiplied throughout the phases, and strategies were added as stigmatization from friends, family, and acquaintances changed in intensity and character. The Phase 1 strategies we identified were also evident during Phases 2 and 3.

New strategies appeared in Phase 2, and the Phase 2 strategies also appeared in Phase 3, alongside new ones. Thus, over time, the employees’ strategy repertoire expanded to manage the difficult emotions they experienced in their home sphere. The remainder of this section examines this development by illustrating the new emotional strategies in each phase.

Defending: I stand up for the organization. During Phase 1, employees stressed that degrading comments from their friends and family caused emotional responses eliciting anger and the aggressive defence of the bank in order to uphold their organizational pride in their private sphere.

For me, Danske Bank is, after all Danske Bank; it is in my blood that runs through my heart – it is not just a business. After all, it’s me in a DNA kind of way. It matters when you have been here so long; so at home… when my girls say something, they should not say anything bad about Danske Bank. Then I fume. End of story.…We cannot conclude anything from the news headlines: this is my work, after all. (Emma, Phase 1)

Emma sees her identity as closely affiliated with Danske Bank. Employees’ strong loy- alty to the bank, which spurs them to defend the organization outside work, is under- scored throughout the phases of the scandal.

Hiding: I avoid family and friends’ offensive comments. Another strategy employees used to shield themselves from accusations from their friends and family was hiding their association with the bank when outside work to avoid constantly facing accusations and having to represent and defend the bank.

It has something to do with, you know, the identity. You know, we sell Danske Bank, so we become Danske Bank at some level. We take responsibility for this, as human beings, and we stand up for it through good and bad. Then, there are certain times we hide under the radar, and we do not say that we work in the bank. We do not say where we work, because we can no longer stand it, but we do not


stop being at work, and we know what the consequence is. We know about bad publicity and how little bad publicity it takes. (Emma, Phase 1)

Employees reluctantly faced stigmatization outside work, as corroborated by the pre- viously mentioned quote from Michael, who, instead of specifying Danske Bank as his employer, simply told acquaintances that he worked ‘in the financial sector’ as a means of hiding from others’ stigmatizing comments.

Ignoring: I talk about something else. Another strategy was simply to ignore negative emotions induced by degrading comments, which entailed ignoring the comments and/or changing the subject.

There are also those who just fly into rage. ‘Those damn banks’, and then you get the whole drama; if you are at get- togethers and dinner parties and such, yes, then occasionally you turn a little deaf on one ear and nod and smile and talk about something else. (Robert, Phase 1)

‘Turning a little deaf on one ear’ appeared as a central detachment strategy, when hiding was not possible.

Temporary shock: Momentarily lowering my guard. Stories from the scandal’s climax (phase 2) centre on the press conference where the internal report was released. The employees described the emotional shock they felt that day. The stigma shield appeared to be momentarily ineffective. They also reported managing their emotional experiences either by going home for the day or ‘putting on the fake life’ (the stigma shield) to deal with the shock.

I stepped ‘out of production’; I read newspapers and followed the media. It was not like I stuck my fingers in my ears. No, I ‘ate it all,’ all media reactions. I just sat and surfed the net all day and read the reactions to it. I did not do anything that day. I would say, though, that from the day after you are

‘on’ again because it is our daily bread in some way. (Inga, Phase 2)

I remember coming in the morning […] Then, suddenly, someone says Thomas Borgen [the CEO]

is leaving. I had not anticipated this at all myself, and I am thinking that it cannot be true… it was just like getting a baseball bat in my face. I just had to say, I will turn on autopilot and tell myself,

‘Now you take on your fake life here and then… you get this!’ When I was done with work at 5 pm, I went out, got on a train, and got home. As I got into the car, my partner came and picked me up. I was completely wasted. She asked, ‘Oh my God, what happened to you’ [I said,] ‘It’s just been such a tough day, and I am just really sad and I have not been able to tell anyone’. I really was the duck with my legs just paddling underneath the surface. (Hans, Phase 2)

The employees noted that while the peak of the scandal was emotionally difficult, it was a relatively short- lived emotional experience for which they sought support and com- fort in their back region at home. The next day, they were back at work and ‘in business’.

They said that they spent most of their time thereafter calling customers. The shield seemed to have been put back on for new battles.



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