Bullying at Work

18 April 2013

Liam Reid’s first-class speech at the Scottish Labour conference last week in Inverness moved the successful Dundee Labour Party motion calling for “the amendment of existing Health and Safety legislation or campaign to introduce new legislation that will stop employers damaging workers mental health.” (link to Liam's speech )

The motion referred to the study by Professor Phil Taylor of Strathclyde University – “'Performance Management and the New Workplace Tyranny” which has associated the rise in work-related mental health problems to Human Resource Management Poiicies such as “Performance Management” and “Sick Absence Management.” (download the study)

 To quote just two references to bullying in Professor Taylor’s report ,

“According to CWU officers there had certainly been a dramatic change in the policies and practices of companies in the telecommunications sector. 

"It amounts to bullying people back to work before they are actually ready to come back.

"If you look at the sickness absence policies, why does the manager want to go every week and speak to this individual about work when the cause of the problem may be the manager or the work? "(Telecoms, National Officer 3)

 “…corporate bullying. What is the justification for constantly chasing someone when they are off sick?

"To claim it is because we are a caring company is a load of nonsense.

"Similarly, when they say that they want to make you better at your job – that is only a justification for turning the screw in terms of performance.

"They use the word behaviours, which is a great word that can mean all things to all people, but for an HR Manager it is a very specific, even scientific, word about how we put a square peg in a square hole and a round peg in a round hole and how if you can’t get them to do it fairly quickly then how you can bully them into doing it by using one of the ‘off-the-shelf’ processes and say, ‘You are not doing this properly, we are putting you on that process’, be it absence management, performance management or some other process that they can dream up.

"The intensity now for people in the workplace is so great that some people cannot cope with it.

"At an estimate, I would say that at least 15 per cent of people seriously struggle with it." (Telecoms, CWU Regional Officer)

Perhaps the place where bullying would be least expected would be the National Health Service, the  most important public institution in people’s lives which helps bring them into the world, tries to make those of them who are ill better, and allows them to die with dignity.

 However last year’s survey of NHS staff in England found that almost 1 in 4 of those questioned said they had experienced bullying, harassment or abuse from colleagues in the previous 12 months.

The cost of this intimidating, insulting behaviour comes at a heavy price to the NHS.

In England it is estimated at around £325 million a year on matters such as sickness pay and working days lost.

The extent to which bullying has developed in the NHS in Scotland was acknowledged in the Partnership Information Network Policy on “Preventing and Dealing with Bullying and Harassment in the NHS in Scotland” , issued two years ago.  

The report commissioned by the Scottish Government last year helped bring to light  a “bullying culture” in parts of NHS Lothian.

The report enlightened us that, speaking generally,  there is not just one form of bullying .

There are several , such as,

Pressure bullying

Corporate bullying

Organisational bullying

Institutional bullying

Secondary bullying

Residual bullying

“Mobbing”; gang/ group bullying

Vicarious bullying

It then described how these operate ,

“Where the bully is in a position of power, others in the direct report groupings may start to react to the bullying culture by imitating or joining in on the behaviour.

"This can lead to institutional bullying when it becomes entrenched and accepted as part of the workplace culture.

"In some cases if the primary bully leaves the organisation and the institution does not invest in radical change one of the other “bullies” may step in (residual bullying). Others join the “gang” because they fear if they do not participate they will be the next victim.”

It is small wonder then that ACAS have condemned bullying as creating an “ unhappy and unproductive workplace where you may have poor morale and poor employee relations , loss of respect for managers or supervisors , poor performance / lost productivity , absence / resignations and tribunal and other court cases and payment of unlimited compensation.”

Bullying is abhorrent .

A licence to degrade people is not on anyone’s job description.

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