Do we admire bullies?

What’s the difference between bullying and harassment in the workplace?  Simple: harassment is an offence and you can take someone to court for it.  Bullying is not.  Or not yet, if the largest public sector trade union Unison has anything to say about it.  Last week, they launched a Bully Busters campaign together with women’s magazine ‘Company’ to highlight the extent of bullying suffered by young women in organisations in the UK.  About one third have been bullied recently or regularly at work.  The full findings are available here:

I found the entire survey results disturbing, but a couple of them particularly struck me:

1) The vast majority of the bullies are women in more senior positions

What does that say about female solidarity and helping each other succeed in the male-dominated workplace?  Or about the pressure that women feel they are under to emulate the image of what is perceived to be the successful male senior manager?  The lone ranger CEO who comes in to reivent the organisation, never mind the emotional cost?

2) Management is too geared towards performance and are exploiting job insecurity to get away with bullying. 

35% even believe TV programmes (i.e., shows like ‘The Apprentice’) are responsible for a tacit acceptance of bullying as part of organisational culture.  Sarcasm and quickfire gut responses may make for great telly, but they are not ideal managerial tools in a real organisation.  Clearly, also, the credit crunch is forcing managers to squeeze more out of fewer people to reach increasingly unachievable targets, so the ‘niceness’ and consultative approach to management is falling by the wayside.

3) Bullying policies are ineffective. 

Most organisations do have some kind of bullying and harassment policy in place, but they are seldom enforced.  Perhaps the terms are too vague to be useful, as 65% of the respondents thought.  Or perhaps bullying can be done so subtly that it is difficult to pin down.  As my favourite headmaster said recently: ‘Don’t believe the school that says they have no bullying – there is bullying everywhere.  It’s just more hidden.’  If you look carefully, you’ll see the signs in the workplace too.  Simple things, like not letting someone be part of the ‘in’ group, spreading oh-so-amusing little gossip stories about someone, constant monitoring disguised as concern…


Recognise any of these bullying tendencies, or experienced them  yourself?  Have you ever felt you had to act like a bully in order to live up to the company’s expectations and hit your targets?  Are we still too much in thrall to the strong, decisive, fearsome manager as the epitome of success?



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