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Why are people still bullied at work?

25th Apr 2016

We have laws to prevent it and there are innumerable policies and procedures that employers advocate to back up those laws. No one should ever feel bullied in their workplace but far, far too many people still do.

One of our new members gives vent to his frustrations on the subject and seeks to understand why this is still happening…

The problem in the workplace is that, these days, whilst most employers have Codes of Conduct and usually make it clear to staff – sometimes in training, sometimes in one-to-ones, sometimes by regularly circulating instructions on “Equality” or “Workplace Behaviour”, they then feel that’s it – job done. If an employee then raises a complaint, it is they who are seen to be ‘rocking the boat’ and too often, it is they who are then deemed the problem. Doesn’t that seem a tad two faced? We could call it “institutionalised bullying” and it’s rife.

Why? Well, when you add to this complacent procedural B/S the fact that, these days, both competition for jobs and pressure on, (usually), middle managers to deliver efficiencies and simultaneously motivate overworked and underpaid staff has thoroughly corrupted any sense of belonging at work, it’s not surprising, when problems arise, that the policies go out of the window in favour of a quick solution. Where does that leave the bullied? Up the creek without a paddle. Essentially – they’re made a scapegoat and sometimes, resign. That might not be listed as a positive outcome in the Codes of Conduct, but…who cares?

It’s bad enough for someone who is being bullied for the first time, but imagine what it’s like for someone who might have a history of being abused by their peers and who, perhaps, isn’t socialising after work on Fridays because they are desperate for 48 hrs respite from their persecutor.

Eventually, they come forward, only to see raised eyebrows and a look of either contempt or disdain staring back at them. Might that not be just the same as it was before – all those years ago in school or at home: nobody really cares and nobody, obviously, is going to do anything constructive about it.

Does this shock you – does it sound implausible.  I’m afraid it remains the reality.  We’re not (other than where it may make good headlines for a business – and that has nothing to do with the rights and wrongs of any case), dealing with bullying in the workplace – we’re just saying ‘it’s not allowed’ and hoping that’ll stop it occurring. That’s simply not good enough.

I’ve been through this mill.

I went through it for more than ten years as a Civil Servant. There is a great swathe of literature in Government Departments, as there doubtless is in private sector workplaces, telling everyone how they should behave. It is upheld by Managers; if when they believe that they will accrue credit by upholding it, but if they don’t, it’s much simpler to scapegoat the person making the complaint – especially if what they are saying might undermine the very fabric underpinning the day to day operations of the business.

Over more than ten years, I was bullied mercilessly by a succession of Middle Managers, Senior Managers and Team Leaders and invariably this was because I wanted things done correctly, questioned authority and wasn’t (ever) one of “the lads” – a description that can and should be taken to include both sexes. I became the go to football for the office and in their own worlds of inadequacy and desperation (as the whole shebang was going down the toilet anyway), too many people around me needed something – or someone, to kick.

Offices are very frequently poisonous environments, conducive to breeding enmity and petty jealousies that are the fuel that fires bullying and harassment. Tied to a desk, the sufferer can’t escape. Those were always the worst days. I got out of the office environment whenever a work opportunity to do so presented itself and when that was no longer possible, I went in late, took longer lunches and left as early as I could get away with.

On more than one occasion, close to the eventual end, I was stood in the street, on my way from the train station to the office in the morning, literally talking to myself and telling myself that I had to put one foot in front of the other and reassuring myself that the day would end and persuading myself that this would really be quite soon.

I would get up early and go to bed late to make sure I spent more waking hours away from work every day than I spent there. That gave me some solace, but it also made me tired, unproductive and, of course, irritable and easily roused to defend myself – which never worked.

Throughout almost all of this time – until close to taking the redundancy that was my escape, my output remained of very high quality. In many ways, ensuring that was so was some sort of answer. I felt satisfied with my efforts no matter what was done to me. I remained, for the most part, very professional and relatively successful at work.

There were times of course when I couldn’t contain the frustrations. Once, a newly appointed local manager, not burdened with the culture of hierarchical brainlessness, did listen to me. He agreed with what I identified as the true underlying cause of my emotional distress, which up to that point had given rise to disciplinary proceedings and threats to sack me if I didn’t see a therapist, and vowed to put things right. He was, so I heard, silenced by senior officials who essentially told him that if he wanted to keep his own job, he’d better back away from a position of looking to support me.

I’m not alone. Many people are going through these sorts of things at work. I knew a colleague reduced to tears by managerial bullying, but even then, once the lady in question had been calmed down and placated, no one wanted to pursue a case against the manager concerned – everyone just wanted to get on with their job.

That’s wrong. If it’s happening to you and you know that, no matter what the literature says, your employer probably won’t help, speak to BulliesOut. You aren’t alone.

BulliesOut Member 2016

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