Tuesday, 29 May 2007

Workplace Bullying: Putting myself at risk

In my post of 16th March 2007, 'Bullying in the UK Workplace' I outlined how three colleagues at my company were being bullied by managers using the company's mechanisms to do it. The intention of the managers is to get these people to leave or be sacked simply because the managers do not like these staff. The colleagues are all hard working with years of service to the company, but that seems to count for nothing when a manager simply takes a dislike to you.

The worst bullying, of a woman by her female boss, has now been going on for over 6 months and I assumed that it was common knowledge in the company as it is often a topic of conversation when I meet with people across the company. Last week towards the end of a very informal meeting (one of the colleagues described a play she had seen recently and people talked about the weather) among colleagues of the same rank and status across the company, one manager was present. She has begun bullying a different colleague so that he retires early as she seems to see him as 'dead wood' which has clearly distressed him. I thought (probably foolishly) if I brought up the other two cases of bullying currently going on in other sections, that it might make her stop and reflect on what she is doing herself.

What I had not anticipated was that one of the colleagues on my level was surprised when I mentioned the bullying of the woman that has been happening for 6 months. She dismissed it as nothing and furthermore that the manager in question (who I assume now must be a friend of hers) had the right to behave how she chose because she headed a section. When I complained about the time and effort that must have gone into the trumped up complaints, she dismissed this too, saying if discipline was needed then it had to be thoroughly documented. She gave no consideration that the poor woman being bullied is not guilty of any of the charges put against her. That seemed to be less concern than the manager being able to act how she felt fit.

Now, I know that we all live in hard times in business, but the assumption that someone can simply have someone they dislike removed seems to jar with the personnel policies of the company which portrays itself as a model employer. The dismissal of a complaint because the manager has an important job simply smacked of the attitudes you find in totalitarian states, that the leader is always right simply because they are the leader and no morals come into it. I had previously respected the colleague who spouted these views and she lost that respect entirely in a matter of minutes. I did not come into this business to work in an environment, which I accept is not like a real dictatorship (I have studied enough of those over the years), but is showing similar patterns of behaviour.

I had joked with another colleague who was at this meeting, that in the bullying environment we were now working in, we had to be careful about who overheard our conversations. In the meeting I also began by saying that I was worried that once the three people being bullied have been pushed out or left, the bullying managers would turn their targets on other people. Both of these things now seem to have come true and this week I have found out that that I should not have treated them lightly or rhetorically.

Back after the Bank Holiday break, I was called immediately to my boss's office and warned that my comments in the meeting had been reported to senior colleagues and that there was now a sense that the section I am working in 'is out of control'. I was a fool to take the informal atmosphere at face value, I was a fool to think my previously respected colleague had shared my opinion on the rights or wrongs of what is going on. Now I am seen as a trouble maker and am being encouraged to re-build bridges for the sake of my section. My workplace has changed in 6 months to a place where you cannot judge any situation on its merits or morality, you simply have to toe the line of the managers as they seek to expand their empires and not only eliminate anyone who stands in their way, but anyone they simply take a dislike to.

No, I am not going to be found face down in the company pond, but I could find difficulties in my work and under attack from the managers I have raised concerns about. I cannot believe that morality has gone so quickly out of the window at this company, which was never previously a 'greed is good' place to work. The greed here seems to be about arrogance and vanity, that managers cannot accept anyone with a different view to themselves or even a different way of behaving or thinking, despite all the supposed efforts at inclusivity. No-one seems willing to stick up their hand and say 'hang on, surely we should not behaving so shabbily to workers here'. This is not the place I came to work for in 2005 and it is not an atmosphere I want to remain in.

I need to get out as quickly as I can and find somewhere with the approach this place had a couple of years ago. I know that is abandoning a sinking ship (I doubt this company can succeed in the long term if it permits such corrosive behaviour among its managers) but I fear I will damage my long-term future if I stay here, whether I protest or not, especially if the 'removal machinery' is turned on me. I know my life is nowhere near as bad as those who flee tyranny, but these incidents have certainly allowed me greater insight into what people must experience in those conditions.

Clearly I am not going to risk my job by stating the name of the company here, but if you wish to know, especially if you work or intend to work in the UK, then email me and I will let you know. Saying that I increasingly guess from what I read that tens of UK employers in my industry and elsewhere turn a blind eye to bullying especially when it is carried out by senior staff.

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