Wed. Nov 25th, 2020

Bullying: Never Ok, Never Worse Than Now

Bullying: Never Ok, Never Worse Than Now

The fact that a known bully, whose staff have quit in droves, is now being seemingly forgiven by the Prime Minister with the rather vacuous statement that Mr Johnson was “reassured that the home secretary is sorry for inadvertently upsetting those with whom she was working”, is significant in a number of ways as it relates to employee well-being, at a time when we should be taking better, not worse, care of each other and the people who work for us.

Too often, during this pandemic, the rhetoric from managers and leaders has focused on “all hands on deck” and “crises demand urgency” attitudes. Without doubt, these are challenging times, and they demand that we pull together and do our best work. However, it is well-known that bullying costs. Its cost is most felt in loss of productivity and depression attributable to bullying and job strain, which at the population level, can be as high as 8.7%. Even sub-clinical levels of depression can significantly affect company productivity and bring an economic burden that hasn’t previously been recognized properly.

As Benedict Carey wrote about a long while ago, when we were less in need of mindful leadership than we are right now, whilst in leadership positions that require some wilful aggression, such as in military operations or sporting teams, “strong” leadership can be appropriate or successful, it has no place in an office or factory floor. There, “different rules apply, and bullying usually has more to do with the boss’s desires than with the employees’ needs.”

Carey is still right today, and as Dr. Gary Namie, director of the Workplace Bullying and Trauma Institute pointed out in his report, women are “at least as likely as men to be the aggressors.” Priti Patel’s behaviour is not unique: it echoes behaviour’s in London’s finance district, in large corporations all over the world. She is simply in a far more visible domain, surrounded by the public eye. When Sir Philip Rutnam quit as permanent secretary to the Home Office in February, doubt should have been enough to question Patel’s job.

The fact that the government’s own standards adviser (Sir Alex Allan) found that Ms Patel’s behaviour breached the ministerial code and Mr Johnson has now rejected Sir Alex’s findings simply arguing that he has “full confidence” in Ms Patel reflects also structures that can be seen all over corporate leadership: when a bully prevails, they do so not because bullying is effective (the data says otherwise), but because they are sanctioned by their peers or people further up the organisation’s ladder.

As I wrote last month, we have a unique opportunity to look at the future of work and how to help each other thrive. Top governmental leadership perpetuating the very worst, most ineffective people strategies does not bode well, but we should look beyond it, to our own corporate practice, beyond gender and beyond the awful example they are setting, and towards simply more humanistic understanding of the issues.

Published at Fri, 20 Nov 2020 06:16:00 +0000

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