An anonymous post a while back caused a huge response and struck a chord with many people. What happens when low level sniping starts getting more sinister? In this post the NUJ's PR section offer advice.
by Phil Morcom
The recent, anonymously credited, "office politics? let's leave politics to the politicians" piece seemed to chime with many people I know. Apparently a snap survey answered by a fair number of Comms2point0 readers, showed half had either left their job because of bullying or found their health suffering because of it.
Over my career, I have seen bullying raise its ugly head time and time again. It takes many forms and affects different people very differently, but has been a malign presence - lurking like a poisonous smell - in too many workplaces.
The anonymous article highlighted a range of examples of behaviour that could be called bullying. People talking about someone behind their back, hurtful texts or emails, work belittles or credit for success usurped.
At a time when employment is increasingly precarious, budgets are tight and the pressure is on, it is too easy to see thoughtless behaviour piling straws onto an already overburdened camel's back.
In some ways, one of the worst things is that it can be thoughtlessness rather than maliciousness that undermines, depresses and darkens someone's working day. We all have our role to play in these tough times, keeping an eye on colleagues and seeing how we can boost the team rather than bust it, as well as watching our own behaviour.
When there are determined bullies though, digging pits for people, sniping and undermining, then you need support. Support can come from friends, colleagues and HR departments. But it is also when the real value of being a union member can blossom. Union's don't have magic wands to wave, but having a union to turn to allows you access to expertise, informed support and a voice to be your cheerleader and adviser.
The TUC says "Workplace bullying can be defined as offensive, intimidating, malicious, insulting or humiliating behaviour, abuse of power or authority which attempts to undermine an individual or group of employees and which may cause them to suffer stress."
Last year solicitors Slater and Gordon found over two thirds of those questioned had been a victim of such behaviour, a further one in five said they had witnessed colleagues being bullied with 'rudeness, bitchy or gossiping behaviour, and humiliation in front of colleagues' most common.
Allied to this, a poll last year carried out by YouGov found:
· nearly a third of people (29%) are bullied at work
· women (34%) are more likely to be victims of bullying than men (23%)
· the highest prevalence of workplace bullying is amongst 40 to 59-year-olds, where 34% of adults are affected
· in nearly three-quarters (72%) of cases the bullying is carried out by a manager
· more than one in three (36%) people leave their job as a result of bullying.
There ought to be a collective 'wow' on reading those statistics. But sadly it is probably too recognisable to be as shocking as it should be.
TUC recommendations include not suffering in silence by taking a number of measures, including confronting the bully, keeping a diary, and telling a trusted friend or colleague, as well as involving a union. Bullies do not like being confronted, and where people have made genuine mistakes or misjudgements, they can take steps to put things right. Some people don't realise they are being offensive or causing a problem and are only too willing to try to put things right.
Where someone is actively undermining you though, you need support and a union can provide that. There will be access to support which is not tied so directly to the same employer, and so can speak with more resilience and impact. For those of us working in the creative industries, it is worth checking out Creating without conflict too. The campaign is about workers in entertainment and media industries having the right to do their job without being bullied or belittled by bosses or colleagues and there are helpful online resources available.
Your employer needs to know that the workplace is being undermined too. An unhappy, disjointed and stressful workplace will see productivity fall, quality suffer and recruitment and retention harder. Even when times are hard and workforces are getting smaller, the boss won't want to see the best leave because they have little time for a bullying culture.
Week in, week out, the NUJ are helping members in their workplace, as are other unions. Remember the NUJ is committed to overcoming bullying and abuse in the workplace. While confronting a bully may not be immediately successful, the more done to tackle bullying, the less it will be seen to be tolerated or condoned. Bullies really don't like an individual, supported by their union rep, standing up for their rights. By doing so, you are taking away the power on which the bully depends. Your union can provide a valuable sounding post for advice and guidance, as well as more formal support. But like insurance companies, it isn't much use signing up after you have been driven into by some uninsured teenager on the lash...
Phil Morcom is chair of the NUJ Public Relations and Communications Council.
Picture credit: Library of Virginia / Flickr