Workplace Bullying

Monday, February 22nd, 2010 - Blog, Disciplinary Procedure, Employment, recruitment, Workplace bullying

Workplace Bullying

Holly Schaeffer

This weekends launch of a new version of a book by political journalist Andrew Rawnsley, and the relaunch of the Observer in a new format, all in the year of a UK general election have brought to the front pages of many newspapers the issues of Workplace Bullying.

But, unfortunately the political tones and repercussions in a general election year, plus the address and behaviour of the main players, has tilted the debate towards politics and media intervention over bullying in the workplace

Political bullying

Lets start with the basics, before we get into what happened on Sunday 21st February 2010. Journalist Andrew Rawnsley re launches his book, which focuses on the 13 years (so far) of Labour power in the UK. He has added sections which focus on the term of Gordon Brown as Prime Minister, which includes some input on Gordon Brown’s well politically documented temper. But Rawnsley steps a little further ahead and alleges he has solid sources.

On Saturday 20th February, Labour (unofficially) launches its 2010 election campaign with a slogan “A fair future for all!” The day after Rawnsley launches his book with much media coverage, thanks to the relaunch of the Observer. Hence the next headline is a set of denials from both the Cabinet Office and the Labour party denying the allegation.

By midday, the political journalists have spotted the holes in both set of responses – no investigation, but no denial of a conversation between Cabinet Office Secretary Sir Gus O’Donell and Prime Minister Gordon Brown. This results in a second set of press releases or repress releases from again both the Cabinet Office and the Labour Party tightening their positions.

National Bullying Helpline

Come late afternoon, and the media cameras have moved to the home of Christine Pratt, founder of the National Bullying Helpline. She appeared earlier in the day in interview to Adam Boulton on SkyNews, alleging that the fist set of denials by the Cabinet Office and the Labour Party were incorrect, and that the charity had been contacted on 3 or 4 occasions with issues associated with 10 Downing Street.

This results in a third set of press releases or repress releases from again both the Cabinet Office and the Labour Party tightening their positions, with private briefings suggesting that the charities position was politically motivated. They also state that there are procedures for dealing with such issues.

By today, Monday 22nd, the politics and media scrutiny of the politics has overtaken the issues of bullying. Professor Cary Cooper resigns as a patron of the charity, Former Home Secretary Jacqui Smith rebukes Pratt for opening one of her constituents to the media, and Pratt’s local Labour MP advises the media that she cut all ties to Pratt in 2008 over issues of judgement.

Workplace Bullying

It seems sad to me that the issue of workplace bullying have been lost in the whole political debate. But by that in a general election year should come as no surprise, even though Christine Pratt keeps trying to say in interviews this morning that is not the issues. She’s either politically or media naive, and I don’t know which.

The key for me comes down to: what is bullying? The Oxford English Dictionary says that it is “a person using strength or power to coerce others by fear.” If I then refer to Roget’s Thesaurus for politics tactics, it refers me to 688 Conduct, under which it notes Governance 733 with the words: lifemanship, gamesmanship, one-upmanship.

So, politics is a game of one-upmanship, and bullying is an issue of strength or power coercion. If you place a man with a well-documented short temper and high drive in the highest political office, should we be surprised that some working around him interprets this as bullying? I don’t think so either, not that in any way that I am accusing Gordon Brown of being a bully. It’s a matter of workplace environment and perspective.

Bullying environment

All bullying personally is an issue of environment and personal perspective. I don’t know any boss – myself included – who hasn’t been accused of bullying at some point in their career. Sorry, but it comes with the territory, when one person feels that they are not being heard or not making the progress that they want to be.

Is this an excuse then to reject it? I hope not, much like the debate around what does go on in 10 Downing Street has moved on to politics.

Much as though I do believe that all bosses have to accept that personal perspective of some employees at some times will lead them to accuse the boss of being a bully, there is real issue here.

There are bullying bosses, and there are bullying workplace environments. The reason they exist is because bosses feel the power, and want to exert it over everything in their environment. Then the line managers pick up on this “what’s OK” culture, and it all filters down. I am a great believer in the trickle down theory, and this is one of the pieces of evidence.

The problem with workplace bullying comes when it goes unnoticed, or known but unaddressed. That’s why we should all be supporting the National Bullying Helpline as a way in which such affected employees can get out from workplace hell, over the numerous I see seeking new opportunities because they didn’t get on with their boss. However, those in employment they enjoy and are good at but feel bullied probably now won’t engage the charity because of the media attraction it has gained through Christine Pratt’s poor timing judgement and naivety. Cary Cooper is right in his resignation statement that she has wrongfully broken confidences.

Workplace Bullying advice

If you are in a situation where you think you are being bullied, what should you do?

The best guide I could find was at, which states:

  • Before taking action – speak to a friend or trusted work colleague
  • What to do if you are bullied at work – Employers have a ‘duty of care’ to their employees and this includes dealing with bullying at work
  • Get advice – Speak to someone about how you might deal with the problem informally, such as: employee representative (ie: trade union); human resources department
  • Talk to the bully
  • Keep a written record or diary
  • Making a formal complaint – if you are getting no where, and still feel bullied, then make a formal complaint

It is a great pity today that the message of workplace bullying has been lost in the politics. But then in an election year, what did we expect?

Good Luck!


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