Intimidation at work


A friend of mine is experiencing some difficult times at her work place right now. She has been systematically undermined by a boss who was appointed 6 months ago and her job is being moved from one location in the office complex to the other, without any discussion about what that means for her job. Adding my voice to the list of experiences over on Flirty’s recent posting about being ‘crazy busy’, I might add the following: the boss who believes that he / she is invulnerable to human compassion and connection. This allows the boss to send emails to staff announcing changes after the decision has been taken, to insist that s/he knows about every little minor detail of certain people’s work and to demote people at will because it doesn’t fit with what the boss believes is his own superior’s instruction.

Many people in Irish workplaces now believe that they are invulnerable to connecting with their colleagues on a human level because they are the boss. In the cauldron of ‘performance-based managing’ that conforms with ‘international standards’ they see their role is to make other people’s lives hell, not to their own work. As they have been given a job to do and feel that this is a very important job to the organisation as a whole, they must make sure everyone knows that they are the boss. Very quickly they cannot talk to people on a one to one basis, preferring that increasingly-used bullying tool, e-mail. And because they cannot talk to people face to face, all subsequent interaction with that person then also has to be done by e-mail, hardly a medium that lends itself to absolute clarity. Unclear and dismissive communication leads to indirect threats, often using other people.

Because they are the boss and they have internalised what they believe to be the organisational imperative of the moment (you know, annual targets, quarterly plans, micro-management of important projects and then complete disengagement), they cannot go for a drink with you on a Friday, dislike the idea of a staff Christmas party and remain aloof at coffee break. Above all, those who carry out intimidation at work, hell, let’s just call it bullying, do not like to share the toys. The toys are generally the recently-changed organisational rules, which the bully thinks s/he has more access to than her colleagues. So insecure are bullies that to share would mean knowing that you as a colleague also have something to contribute and the bully might discover that they too do not know everything. The vulnerable and the acknowledgement of your own vulnerability are their enemies.

In a previous job I worked in it was a woman bullying more junior members of staff, including me. I give no support to the idea that women are incapable of bullying in a large organisation. Insecurity affects us all to varying degrees. So, it is about time we took some individual and collective action against workplace bullying. Intimidation, threatening language used at meetings and in public settings is not acceptable. No time like today, no place better than where you work right now. Those with more presence of mind can take the lead because those being bullied are so fearful that they won’t, can’t, speak up. Reach out to the bully because that’s what he hates most of all. Tell him it is ok that he doesn’t know and should not feel the need to have an answer.

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2 thoughts on “Intimidation at work

  1. Great post.

    For me, when you try to tackle workplace bullying, you’re up against two things…first, an all-too-common “stick-it-to-the-man” attitude among those on your own paygrade whereby they stretch their sick days to the limit, get away with doing as little work as possible, etc – thus playing right into the hands of bullies who use them as an excuse to treat you all like they’re treating them [think of Bush & terrorists]. Second, you’re up against one of the prime directives for success in global capitalism – the more people you are prepared to step on, the more you’ll succeed. I really hope there’s a way of preventing workplace bullying without having to eliminate those two things first otherwise we’re all screwed.

  2. Thanks JL. Let’s take it down a step or two on the global front: your workplace, today, right now. After that we can worry about Bush and terrorists. Whenever I see someone succeed in the world of business or politics, I think: “how many people suffered so that he could be top of the shit pile?” Guilt?

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