Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Bullying in recessionary times

From the Sunday Times:

TOUGH TIMES ARE A BOON FOR BULLIES
The pressures of the recession are contributing to a rise in workplace harassment - by Gabrielle Monaghan
Nelson Muntz - funny in The Simpsons, awful in real life.
In the recession-hit workplace - where managers are under pressure to cut costs and staff are stressed out from longer hours and less pay - bullying and harassment are thriving, according to HR advisers and employment lawyers.

"There has always been an undercurrent of bullying in the world of work but it's worse now because of the kind of pressure everyone is under," said Rowan Manahan, the managing director of Fortify Services, an HR consulting firm. "More time is being spent in disciplinary hearings over untenable behaviour. The old-world courtesies previously afforded to employees have gone out the window because employers are in survival mode."

"Some employers feel that there are too many chiefs and not enough Indians, and make life difficult for older, expensive employees," added Manahan. "When, as an investigator [for bullying cases],  you question their behaviour; many are genuinely mystified. But their victims suffer issues such as insomnia and anxiety states."

He describes the workplace as a "turf war" and says that some employees are making a "land grab" for colleagues' territories because they see their own job under threat. "If you are not politically savvy and don't understand what's really going on, it can come as a horrendous shock to you."

While the stereotypical bully may be an Alpha-male boss screaming abuse at minions cowering in the stationery cupboard, the reality is far less dramatic. "It tends to be more insidious than that. The kinds of people who habitually bully do not necessarily throw crockery at you in front of 29 other staff."

By 2009, almost half of the Irish workforce had experienced bullying, with seven in 10 employees too frightened to report it ...
...

Bullying and harassment are particularly acute in workplaces accustomed to rigid hierarchies, such as schools, universities and the public services, reveal Manahan and Scott-Lennon.
...

With a dearth of job vacancies in the recession, workers who feel they are being bullied are more likely to put up with it, out of concern the alternatives are unemployment or a drawn-out court case that will affect their income or future career. Until Irish courts award damages similar to those in the US -  where victims of bullying have received millions in compensation, in part because of the loss of future employment prospects - victims here are more likely to keep schtum.

"I have testified in the High Court in these cases, and there is this fear factor that, even if you win the case, you'll 'never work in this town again'. It will be a Pyrrhic victory, because it doesn't do your career any good," Manahan said. [Indeed, for every case that I have seen proceed down the legal route, there are 15-20 who decide to stay schtum, put up with it, or vote with their feet.]
...

Even if a company does not have a policy that documents what amounts to inappropriate behaviour [and let's not forget that to do this is now illegal in Ireland!], Manahan recommends the following litmus test for managers or employees considering whether their comment or actions are suitable: would you be happy for your mother to know about it?

Full article in the Sunday Times.

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