So then...

About Me

Welcome to my blog. My pen name is Eva James. I'm an aspiring writer paying the bills working as a legal secretary. Relentlessly bullied by my former boss, I looked for another job but the recession hit. Feeling trapped, I recorded everything in this blog, which serves as a revealing insight into workplace bullying. WEEK 1 starts the story and, as the weeks progress, you'll note what starts as banter soon spirals out of control. Sadly, it's all true. Whilst along the way I've found alternative employment, my passion for blogging about workplace bullying remains. Trevor Griffiths, legendary theatre, TV and film writer said at the outset, "I like the writing a lot: smart, cool, placed. If you were prepared/able to take your prick of a boss on, you'd marmelise him."

Saturday, 31 December 2011

WEEK 207 Invitation

Invitation

Eva James requests the pleasure of your company to raise awareness of workplace bullying and celebrate the launch of her groundbreaking self-help book:-

Bullied by the Boss

8.30am – 10.30am, Monday 26th March 2012, Canary Wharf, London.

Entertainment will be provided. You're welcome to just come and watch if you're in the area.

If you would like to actually join Eva James in handing out flyers on the day and receive a free goody-bag of thanks on the morning of the 26th March 2012 do RSVP: bulliedbytheboss@gmail.com
Very best
BBTB

Saturday, 24 December 2011

WEEK 206 Grand Designs

Season’s Greetings!

Hurrah! I got my workplace bullying book off to the publishers in time, so I can relax over Christmas.

Still, I feel like those couples on Grand Designs. You know the ones – where they start out telling Kevin McCloud their budget and insisting that they’ll have their derelict property renovated and beautifully restored by Christmas. Kevin McCloud, standing out of earshot, raises an eyebrow and tells the camera he applauds their optimism – but thinks they’re completely crazy.

Then, something like two and a half years later, having spent three times their budget and applied to the bank for a bigger mortgage, the older and wiser couple move in and confess to Kevin the many ways in which their project was compromised.

So, seeing out 2011 older and wiser, I’m looking forward to my book being finally on sale around February 2012. That’s not the end of it, of course. After all this effort – I’m going to have to have a fabulous launch. It’s another of my Grand Designs; already wildly over budget and highly ambitious.

I’ll reveal all after Christmas.

For now, I’ll just say if you’re anywhere near London on the morning of Monday 26th March 2012 – and you particularly dislike workplace bullying - you might want to keep it clear. I’ve got something fun planned.

In the meantime, I’m wishing you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. Thanks for all your support in 2011!

Very best

BBTB

Sunday, 11 December 2011

WEEK 204 As Good as a Rest

Quite out of the blue, Ollie’s ex secretary phoned.

After 8 months of unemployment, she’s found a job and she’s happy.

I didn’t have much to report. Worn out, I’m just longing for the Christmas holidays and a chance to recharge my batteries.

The conversation turned to our former firm. She thinks something’s in the wind; a possible new claim against them in the Employment Tribunal. She wondered if there was a way to find out. I didn’t think so, but said I’d do a Google search and see if anything came up.

We finished the conversation agreeing to meet up nearer Christmas, as we did last year, for mince pies and mulled wine in her garden. She’ll burn kindling in her BBQ bucket again. We’ll have a proper catch up.

I haven’t looked at my former firm’s website since I left. They’ve had a redesign; offering a couple of new services. They appear to be doing well. What shocked me, however, is that Howard is still there. His photo and profile have been updated. After everything that went on, they still employ him.

I genuinely believed that when they found out the extent of the bullying, they would quietly get rid of him.

Not the case.

And almost two years on, the gory details will have faded. Howard and his pals will have come to believe the BS of their legal defence against me. They’ll refer to me (as they did everyone who tried to make a stand) as a lonely, malicious secretary who was out to extort money from her employer.

So my attempt to take them to a Tribunal changed absolutely nothing.

Up to the point of Googling their website, I was tired – mostly of being ignored. It’s hard to make a difference. But after seeing how much my former firm have supported Howard. I feel energetic again. They say change is as good as a rest, but this time no change is as good as a rest. I obviously need to work harder.

My workplace bullying book will be out in March 2012 and I’m going to move heaven and earth to make it a success. I’ll commit whatever it takes in terms of time and money! Details of the launch will be coming soon.

At some point, employers are going to have to sit up and listen.

Best wishes

BBTB

Saturday, 3 December 2011

WEEK 203 Riot Act

In the last couple of weeks you can’t fail to have noticed Vince Cable’s latest attack on employment rights.

James Chapman wrote in the Daily Mail on Wednesday:

‘Emergency measures to kick-start Britain’s faltering economic recovery by reining in a £1 billion a year employment tribunal bonanza will be unveiled today’.

Vince Cable, it was announced, plans to cut the number of Tribunal claims by a quarter – by making sackings easier, allowing firms to ‘read the riot act’ to underperforming staff and even remove rights to a Tribunal hearing altogether.

Allowing bosses to ‘read the riot act’ is surely giving carte blanche to companies to bully staff. But, of course, it’s all played up under the guise of helping our poor UK businesses recover. Vince Cable would have us believe it’s the employees and their employment rights causing all the problems. If it weren’t for this, business would be booming. Legal actions, causing distraction and wasting time and money, would be a thing of the past.

But would it?

No. Commercial litigation is booming! Businesses are well used to defending themselves in Court on corporate matters. They’re issuing statutory demands, summonses and countersuing. Then there are the lawyers that find the tax loopholes and disputes about VAT. Nobody in business wants to be seen to be taken for a ride. Nobody in business wants to pay a penny to someone they don’t have to.

Blaming employees isn’t going to make a scrap of difference apart from reinforcing the ‘them and us’ dynamic that’s so harmful to business. Business is having a tough time, but creating an imaginary, diversionary enemy of the UK workforce is hardly going to help matters.

As for Vince Cable’s ‘riot act’ – I wish his boss would read him one.

Best wishes

BBTB

Sunday, 20 November 2011

WEEK 201 Slow Burn

I’ve been saying it for years - when a company has significant problems, look to the man or woman in charge. This, of course, is at odds with the usual message from the press and government. You know the one - where every employee who claims to have been bullied is presumed to be simply compensation hungry and litigant happy.

But this week, a central London Tribunal heard how a multi-billion-pound firm was brought to its knees by a city bully.

Mr Duffield was well known as the CEO of fund manager firm New Star Asset Management, but he was known for something else too.

As Jonathan Russell wrote in the Telegraph:

‘The Central London Employment Tribunal heard how Mr Duffield called employees "morons and criminals" and asked them whether they were ashamed of themselves if their funds under-performed’

The Tribunal also heard that when a colleague accused Mr Duffield of bullying, the member of staff was labelled ‘emotionally disturbed’ and sacked. Mr Duffield also had a history of bullying young women. He’d settled a prior claim for sexual harassment in the early 90s. He had a reputation for prowling floors and barking at his staff. But presumably, Mr Duffield’s business partners and associates believed his business skills outweighed any negative personality traits.

They were wrong.

The case continues in the Tribunal, but what doesn’t continue is the trading of the company. The firm collapsed. It’s claimed that Mr Duffield’s toxic work environment had a great deal to do with that.

It’s an extreme example of how workplace bullying harms a company, but this situation is being played out countless firms in the UK. It’s just happening at a slower rate.

I’d be interested to see how often the slow burn of workplace bullying from a profit making CEO eventually leaves a company in ashes. And I bet those numbers are far greater than the press or the government would have us believe.

Best wishes

BBTB

Sunday, 13 November 2011

WEEK 200 Twelve Percent

Jogging past the Senior Solicitor from my old firm threw me off balance last week.

My Water Under the Bridge blog was a little premature because the incident caused more than one spell of water works. Initially, I was pleased I’d carried myself with dignity, but following our crossing of paths I kept recalling awful bullying incidents from my old firm. It culminated in my bursting into tears in front of my new boss – much to his surprise. Choking and sobbing, I apologised and ran off the toilet.

‘You’re only human’, I told myself.

Feeling down, I went to ‘hot yoga’, listened to my affirmations, and threw myself into work and activities like Twitter, which is where a Twitter friend (@pprmintpatty28) asked me to look into mobbing. I’d heard of it, but wasn’t sure exactly what it entailed.

Professor Heinz Leymann invented the term. It means:

‘Hostile and unethical communication which is directed in a systematic manner by one or more individuals, mainly towards one individual, who, due to mobbing, is pushed into a helpless and defenceless position and held there by means of continuing mobbing activities.’

I may not have used the definition myself, but I know exactly what mobbing means.

I’ve always referred to it as dehumanisation (as it’s known in armed conflict), where the aggressor convinces himself and everyone else that the target is sub-human and beyond the bounds of human decency. It’s far easier to commit atrocities when you convince yourself the target has nothing in their makeup that’s redeeming.

I’m sure my delayed but overwhelming emotional reaction was because the Senior Solicitor himself, together with Howard and the Practice Manager, had been involved in the mobbing/dehumanisation. Indeed, my desk was eventually positioned in the centre of their three desks.

As I said, it’s a psychological technique used in armed conflict (see my Sticks and Stones blog at WEEK 37). Professor Leymann writes:

“Not infrequently, mobbing spelled the end of the target’s career, marriage, health and livelihood. From a study of circumstances surrounding suicides in Sweden, Leyman estimated that about twelve per cent of people who take their own lives have recently been mobbed at work”.

Hand on heart, I can believe it. Twice, I stood on the brink of joining that twelve per cent.

The most dangerous stage of this most extreme form of workplace bullying is when the target begins to accept the majority opinion. It’s when you question whether they must be right. They’ll convince you your objections are unfounded. The collective will persuade you that there's something badly wrong with you. They’ll assure you they’re just telling you the truth – for your own good.

And you begin to believe them.

It takes years to overcome this kind of emotional abuse. Even when I convince myself I’m fine – it just takes a close encounter to bring it all back. But perhaps it’s timely. This is my 200th blog and I’m considering what I can do to celebrate the launch of my workplace bullying book early next year. I’ll be pulling out all the stops to raise awareness of workplace bullying.

Whatever I can throw at it in terms of time and money I will.

I’ll be remembering the twelve percent come 2012!

Best wishes

BBTB

Monday, 7 November 2011

WEEK 199 Water Under the Bridge

On Sunday mornings, I run.

Come rain or shine, I’ll jam myself into my trainers and head for the lake.

Yesterday morning, it wasn’t hard to motivate myself. It was textbook autumn; my favourite time of year.

I ran down to the playing fields, here and there still studded with the black stalks of the previous night’s rockets and fireworks. Then I followed the stream, crossing at the bridge where the stream bed on either side was a glittering mosaic. Autumns leaves were everywhere; covering metallic green grass with gold and red. Distant church bells cut through the silence.

Runners smiled as they jogged past on the popular route, as if to say: ‘Those in bed don’t know what they’re missing’.

The lake is popular.

And then it happened. I knew our paths would cross some day, because we both enjoy running.

The Senior Solicitor from my old firm was jogging towards me.

This was the guy who helped cover up Howard’s bullying. He was the one who lied in the ET3 by implying I was the one virtually stalking Howard. The only mitigating factor was that I’d heard from my own solicitor that this guy felt pretty bad about it all afterwards. I don’t know how true this is, but that’s the way I heard it.

I could see it in the guy’s face. ‘Eva’, he said ‘Are you alright?’

What did I do? Did I cry? Did I run away? Did I scream at him? The times I’ve imagined I might do one or all of these things!

No, I threw him a smile and said cordially ‘Good Morning’.

It was a huge test for me. The importance of it lies in the fact that it proves my interest now lies with workplace bullying as a whole and with your experience. My experience, thankfully, is past.

The main thing is to get you to a place where, if you were to pass your bully or those covering for him or her in the street, you can also say its all water under the bridge.

Best wishes
BBTB

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

WEEK 198 Trump Card

I've read the same statistic twice this week from various sources:

'Statistics show that around 80% of employment claims do not go to a full hearing'.

First, this was quoted in connection with Adrian Beecroft's leaked attack on employees last week. Then it turned up in a promotional pack for a lawyer touting anti-Claimant seminars.

Read out of context, of course, it implies that 80% of claims lodged are unjustified or bogus.

The true picture, however, is that the legal system throws everything they can at Claimants to encourage settlement. I have no problem with this as such, because going to Court can be hugely expensive and stressful. Also, it rarely brings the kind of justice people really want – the sort where the bully ends up crying and apologising from the witness box. But to then exploit settlement figures to paint a picture of litigant hungry employees is fundamentally wrong.

This was further demonstrated by a lady who got in contact with me this week to ask for my advice.

Having lost her job after an unpleasant case of racial bullying, my anonymous friend had secured Legal Aid. She was determined to go to trial and asked her panel solicitor at the outset: 'Will this cost me anything?' Her solicitor assured her it would not. As time went on, her solicitor tried everything to tempt her to settle. She was resolute. She wanted her day in Court. Then, a week before the hearing, her solicitor said: 'Do you have the money for a barrister? It's going to cost you £750.'

The poor lady was distraught. She did't have the money.

This happened to me, of course, written about in my blog 'Impossible Causes'. Back in the summer of 2010 I faced the same previously unmentioned, insurmountable hurdle of barrister's fees, quoted at the last minute, in the region of £10,000.

There is, of course, no reason why her solicitor couldn't represent her at the informal Employment Tribunal. Equally, there was no real reason why my solicitor couldn't have represented me either. In the end, she decided to ask for an adjournment until she could raise the money.

I now wonder how often solicitors use barrister's fees as their 'trump card' to get their own way. It's not really surprising, therefore, that I'm annoyed that this 80% settlement figure is used as an indication of money-grabbing fraudsters, when more often that not, it's the Claimant's inability to raise any money at all which forces settlement.

Best wishes

BBTB

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

WEEK 197 Speak for Yourself

Like many others today, I was shocked by the leaked 'Unfair Dismissal' report written by Tory toff, Adrian Beecroft. It reads like the worst sort of scaremongering propaganda. Employees are painted as compensation vultures. They're lazy. They're out to exploit the gravy train compensation system.

Beecroft thinks UK employees are so bad, it's our collective fault we're not leaping out of recession.

Also included in the report is the bizarre notion that firms are terrified to expand because hiring new staff is like Russian roulette. Look at a new staff member the wrong way, he implies, and they'll sue for every penny. Beecroft's assertion is all the more strange since the government has recently changed employment law to mean employees now have to have been employed for 2 years before they're able to allege unfair dismissal. Thus his UK employer expansion worry idea is completely contradicted.

The sad thing is that whilst employers are given more and more power, they are constantly fed stories about rotten employees, milking the system and bringing businesses and the economy to near ruin. Even the most sensible and good-willing employer must be starting to look at their employees with suspicion.

And bad employers are completely off the hook in the report. There's no comment on CEOs who run shoddy businesses. There's no mention of workplace bullying, stress, horrendous hours or inadequate training etc.

Where does Beecroft's attitude come from, I wonder? I get the sense that there's more than just Tory philosophy talking. Beecroft seems very sure of himself. I'm just throwing this out there, but perhaps Adrian Beecroft is projecting his own work ethic onto the general public?

Perhaps that's why, thank God, his advice isn't being acted upon. If I'm right, he'll be too workshy to do anything but talk about it. My advice to Beecroft as an employee is:-

"Speak for yourself!"

Best wishes

BBTB

Monday, 24 October 2011

WEEK 196 Wishful Thinking

I came across an interesting article last week called “What Works to End Bullying” by K J Dellantonia.

The article focussed on research into school bullying by a noted sociologist, Robert Faris, and Anderson Cooper from CNN. The results, sadly, were pretty depressing, but what caught my attention was that amongst their findings they found an over-focus of anti-bullying programmes routinely attempting to alter the
perceptions of those being bullied rather than the perceptions of the bullies.

Looking at the employment world, there are plenty of guidelines for the targets of workplace bullying, such as the ACAS Code of Practice. If you’re bullied at work – there are rules to be obeyed and office politics to take into consideration. If you fail to follow these rules and end up lodging a claim in a Tribunal – they can actually deduct up to 25% of your final compensation award. Sure, if your company doesn’t play by the rules, they might be penalised too, but again, that’s your company – not the individual bully.

Bullies, on the other hand, don’t play by the rules – and that’s fine, apparently. There are no guidelines for putting a bully back on the right track. No company is going to openly admit they have a problem with workplace bullying it and therefore they'll only deal with those targeted. Let’s change their perceptions, the company thinks. They are the complaining party, so that’s the easier option.

What they're effectively saying is that bullies don’t need more angst – they probably just need more support! The problem is, of course, their problem is our problem.

You can kind of see what they're saying. If we stop complaining and help the bully – then there is no bullying. There’s just harmony…lots of peace and harmony.

They wish!

Best wishes

BBTB x

Monday, 17 October 2011

WEEK 195 Can't Beat 'Em?

Behind the chipper Twitter exterior, I’ve been pretty low this week.

The second publisher falling through was a real knock. Having worked so hard on my workplace bullying book, I couldn’t understand where I was going wrong. Obviously, I could hook the fish, but yet again I’d failed to get it in the net.

Then there was the legal training I’d asked for – months ago. My boss was excited when I’d initially asked him. Despite e-mail reminders, nothing had come of it.

So I’ve been in a bit of a funk; feeling sorry for myself and throwing a pity party. “What’s the point?” I asked myself. I’m a victim – of a publisher’s random change of heart; of recessionary cutbacks in training and of general misfortune.

I did snap out of it. Of course I did!

A Twitter friend of mine, @Fiona_WordsBird, who happens to be an editor, offered to give my book a final edit before I self-publish. I found a great cover designer. I also decided if my boss doesn’t fund my course, I’ll pay for my own employment law studies in night school, in the New Year.

All this made me think of an apt phrase from Susan Jeffers’ famous book “Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway”:-

“What am I expecting others to do for me that I could be doing for myself?”

It’s hard to get over these psychological slumps whether they're caused by workplace bullying or publishing setbacks, but if we adopt a position of ‘victim’ we are both giving up and beating ourselves up about it. There are enough people out there who’ll give us a tough time without us lending them a hand.

When others are letting us down, we must be wary of thinking “If you can’t beat ‘em, join em” because that’s exactly what we want them to think when they look at the example we set!

Best wishes

BBTB x

Sunday, 9 October 2011

WEEK 194 Indian Summer

I’m back from catching the tail end of an Indian summer in Paris.



It was heaven!

Not so heavenly was returning to a lukewarm, week late e-mail from my potential publisher. She had reservations. Overall, I think she wanted my workplace bullying book to be less personal; a more generic self-help book. Au contraire, I thought. That’s the exact opposite of what my American editor recommended. She said make it more personal.

The publisher was unenthusiastic and suggested I might want to re-write – although she wasn’t guaranteeing she’d like it any more after that.

Here was the crux of it. I got the impression she didn’t like the blog. She didn’t believe people would be interested. They just want a regular self help book with none of that “Hey, I went through it too” malarky. It all came down to a difference of opinion.

The good news is, by self-publishing, my book should finally be out within a month or two. When it is, I'm sure it'll feel like my own Indian summer.

I’ll keep you posted.

A bientot!

Best wishes

BBTB x

Sunday, 18 September 2011

WEEK 191 Bomb Disposal

Last week was a toughey.

Writing’s therapy. But like all things that are very good for you (vigorous exercise and healthy diets etc) it’s not necessarily pleasant.

I’m in the middle of a massive re-write of my workplace bullying book. I realised that just because I’m anonymous, doesn’t mean the reader can’t get to know me. I’m now wearing my heart on my sleeve for what is part workplace bullying memoir and part self-help. There’s nothing like it currently on the market, but it comes at quite an emotional price.

As part of the editing process, I had to go back through my documents and reconnect who I was when I was working with Howard. I had to relive my most uncomfortable moments and consider them again for the reader. I did, and the book is greater for it, but I crashed again. I cried all night the first evening. I barely held it together in work. On Wednesday I had another of my terrible headaches. I felt sick and constantly on the verge of tears.

As I calm down and make headway with my manuscript, it amazes me that Howard’s jokes which started three years ago in the autumn of 2008, still do so much damage. How many of us underestimate the long term effects of workplace bullying? We all do, surely! We all figure our problems will be solved the minute we leave the bully behind and start a new job. The minute our external problem is resolved, we think it’s dealt with.

We mustn’t underestimate the internal problems. It may be easier to bottle it all up and pretend it’s gone away, but if we don’t deal with it by talking or writing, at some point our bully might start attacking us again from the inside out.

Can you imagine what state I’d be in if I hadn’t have written the blog or the book? What shape would I be in had I not expressed myself and got my grief and anger out in manageable stages? Quite easily I could have buried it and pretended I was over it all, but it would have been sat there like a psychological time bomb.

The emotional damage from workplace bullying takes a long time to defuse. Make sure you dispose of it safely.

Best wishes

BBTB x

Monday, 12 September 2011

WEEK 190 Assistance for Assistants

This week, I’ve been asked to write a little piece for Bully OnLine for their ‘bullying within professions’ section. Here’s my breakdown of the kind of bullying that exists in law firms:-

1. Partner

The higher a person is in a law firm, the less likely they are to be bullied. By the time a solicitor makes partner, whatever people think of them – only the brave or stupid are going to say it to their face.

2. Solicitor

A few rungs down the career ladder, and the chances of being targeted increase a little. Bullying, as we know, can take many forms, but in the legal profession it’s often jokes and ‘banter’ about one particular person, or it’s a superior riding someone about every case file they’re working on.

3. The Trainee or Solicitor inexperienced in a new legal field

From my own observations over a decade working in law firms, complaints of bullying come mainly from trainees. I think the Solicitors’ Assistance Scheme may well agree with me on this point (provides initial free employment law advice to solicitors in trouble – visit www.thesas.org.uk).

This is a profession well know for the demands of the job. The long hours are legendary. The pressure to bill is constant. The areas of law are complicated and vastly different to each other. Therefore trainees and solicitors crossing to a new field need much assistance and, if a solicitor or partner takes a dislike to them, it’s easy to flag up every error made and every request for help to imply they’re not making the grade. Stonewalling is common to help a trainee sink rather than swim. A friend on Twitter wrote that her boss routinely met her requests for help with “utilise your resources” before eventually firing her.

A lack of support can be cruelly delivered it in the guise of “I’m doing this for the good of your future career!”

A further problem is that, given their law training, trainees, paralegals and solicitors are more likely to seek legal redress when bullied at work. The law is an adversarial field and legal bullying is a part of it. There’s no law against it - but what they can do is claim for any connected disability/sexual or religious discrimination etc. Law firms, in anticipating legal retaliation from a soon to be ex-employee, will sometimes resort to ‘stitching the employee up’ under the banner of ‘self-defence’. Targets of bullying may find their case files examined for the slightest mistake or unnecessary delay, their billing may be gone through with a fine tooth comb and even their conduct may be monitored. Then, if possible, the word ‘incompetent’ or ‘liability’ will creep into their personnel file. If the bullied trainee wants to take legal redress – they know they’re taking their future career in their hands to do so. That file will be the first thing shown to a Tribunal.

4. The Assistant

Lastly, there are the support staff and secretaries to consider. There’s no ‘Assistance Scheme’ for this group when it’s in trouble – and you’ve got the legal profession bearing down on you if you take action. Obviously, it’s the group most targeted and most openly bullied. I’ve yet to work in a place where there wasn’t one legendary bully making his/her secretary’s life hell.
So, the solicitors have the Solicitors’ Assistance Scheme. But perhaps what the profession really needs is the Assistant Scheme where assistance is offered to the assistant of the professional person under stress.

Maybe that’s my next move...

Best wishes

BBTB x

Saturday, 3 September 2011

WEEK 189 Ravens in the Tower


Firstly, I’d like thank everyone who sends me Twitter links to newspaper bullying stories. I can’t begin to tell you how helpful it is.

If it hadn’t been for one such helpful act, I’d have missed the next instalment on the Beefeater bullying saga. I don’t know if you’ve heard of it, but it’s been rumbling along since 2009 when the first female Beefeater, Moira Cameron, admitted that she was being regularly bullied and harassed during her duties at the Tower of London.

What followed was a saddening tale of two Yeomen Warders bullying their female colleague. One apologised to Moira and was allowed to keep his job. The other was dismissed and went running to the Tribunal. A £65,000 settlement was offered to him to shut him up.

The sad thing is that the Beefeaters’ bullying of Moira continues still. She recently said to the press “I love my job, but can honestly say that I would never recommend another female to apply for the position of yeoman at the Tower”. And this is from a woman with a 20 year history in the army - hardly a pushover.

The icing on the cake for me, however, was the spokesman for Historic Royal Palaces who said the organisation “does not tolerate bullying or harassment on any level of any members of staff.”

Did I read that right? Sorry spokesman, but actions kind of speak louder than words on this one! It reminds me very much of my WEEK 27 blog post ‘All Banter’, when the firm I worked for wrote exactly the same thing in their new Employee Handbook, but did nothing to address the bullying.

If you’re familiar with the legend, you’ll know that if the ravens ever leave the Tower of London the tower and the monarchy will crumble. But ravens, of course, are mythically considered the birds of ill-omen so I guess, with all the bullying going on, the Tower and the Monarchy really haven’t a thing to worry about.

Best wishes

BBTB x

Monday, 29 August 2011

WEEK 188 The Best Disinfectant


This week, I’ve been thinking about the many obscurities to the real figure of those bullied at work.

There are two major masks to the truth.

The first is us - the targets. A recent ACAS report revealed that a major obstacle to dealing with bullying is the reluctance of victims to come forward due to guilt, shame and anxiety. I can sympathise, of course. It’s a million times easier to pretend to my new colleagues that I’ve never had a work problem than admit the things I’ve experienced. I don’t know how I’d begin to tell them. If I had to, I’d cringe with embarrassment doing it.

Even on a wider scale, Brits don’t easily share problems; men shrink from going to the doctor when they know they’re ill and women have to be desperate to ask for help, even when they’re drowning under their own multitasking. This, after all, is the culture of ‘keep calm and carry on’.

And even when targets do speak up, the second major obstruction to the truth comes into play - the confidentiality clause.

I have a real problem with the legal use of secrecy in settlement agreements to ensure employers’ wrongdoing remains hidden. It seems unethical. Surely it gives employers no incentive to change? Surely it masks the real scale of employment problems today?

As well as suiting the employers, the lawyers benefit too. Helping employers pretend nothing happened by way of compromise agreement is an uncomplicated income stream for lawyers. Take away the confidentiality, however, and the employer might have to change for the better. If they did things right, employers would have less of a requirement for solicitors to clean up their dirty work.

Would removal of the confidentiality clause make a difference to the amount of cases which settle? Of course not. The compromise agreement is still the cheaper alternative to litigation.

So perhaps it’s 50/50. We don’t want to talk about it and they don’t either. What we need is a bit of tough love. We have to talk about it. We must to get it out in the open. In doing my American employment law research, I came across a great quote from Justice Louis Brandeis:-

“Sunlight is the best of disinfectants”

I couldn’t agree more.

Best wishes

BBTB x

Thursday, 25 August 2011

WEEK 187 Judge & Jury

I’d like to extent a huge thank you to everyone who left comments on the HR debate. The feedback has given me serious food for thought.

It seems I’m not alone in considering HR to be a role of conflict of interest.

Every one of the comments left here (or on Katherine Connolly’s HR blog) agreed with this point. However, a many readers took it a stage further, allowing HR the mitigation that they were often not sufficiently trained to deal with such complexities.

On researching the point, it seems they’re right. An ACAS study revealed that from an ‘Opportunity Now’ survey of 800 line managers, 59% of female managers and 74% of male managers felt ill-equipped to deal with bullying. Aren’t these the same line managers who are supposedly giving HR the resources to deal with it instead?

When it’s one staff member accusing another of abuse – the only in-house option is for HR to play Judge & jury. How many people would rise to that challenge? Even Trade Unions baulk when faced with representing both the accused and the accuser in cases of bullying.

Helen Frewin makes the pertinent point that the role of HR has transitioned, whilst the training has remained the same. And allnottinghambasearebelongtous’ comment that HR staff are often from an admin background further supports Helen’s observation. I’m sure there was a time when recruiting for HR from an administrative background was appropriate. This is certainly no longer the case.

Trying to see it more from a HR perspective, the pressure HR receives from management can also be intense. Management routinely views employees with problems as one or all of the following:-

1. They’re creating an unwelcome distraction to business.
2. They are a potential legal/financial liability.
3. They want to turn the workplace into a Courtroom drama.

Until the situation is resolved, management will be constantly chasing HR for progress updates.

Sadly, the situation in most cases (as the example from Fiona WordsBird shows) is that the accuser is terminated. Remove them – and you’ve removed the immediate problem. HR can relax, management can relax and the bully can relax. It’s difficult for HR to try a different approach when jobs are on the line. I’m sure many feel it’s not the place to experiment with outcomes.

But this, it seems, is the point. Things have changed. HR has to play Judge and jury whether they like it or not – to ensure a fair outcome. And they need to be trained accordingly. They can’t be allowed to continue to overrule the target for a quiet life.

Anything has to be better than the situation at present, where HR’s refusal or inability to play the Judge has them holding every victim of bullying in contempt.

Best wishes

BBTB x

Monday, 22 August 2011

WEEK 186 A Spoonful of Sugar


This week I’ve been asked to guest blog on Katherine Connolly’s ‘Keeping HR Simple’ website. It’s very kind of her. I’m posting the blog here too because the role of HR is often controversial - especially when people have turned to HR for help with a workplace bully.

Kudos to Katherine! She knows I regularly give HR a hard time on Twitter, so it’s refreshing to see someone relishing the opportunity to listen - and put their own side across. This could be very interesting.

So here’s my take on HR:-

I believe that, for HR to work as intended, it has to be the middleman. HR has to win the trust of the CEO and the office junior. I’ve seen countless misunderstandings caused by this conflict of interest. And it’s a deliberate conflict of interest isn’t it? Paid for by the boss? The boss knows that employees want someone senior to take their problems to. If we take HR out of the equation, then the problems are going to land at his/her feet.

“Perish the thought!” says the boss.

Worst case scenario is that if there’s no-one to listen to the daily frustrations and needs of the workforce, they might then come up with their own answers.

“Perish the thought!” says the boss.

HR’s job then, surely, is to deflect conflict away from the boss and reassure staff that “I understand, but this is just the way things are here, I’m afraid.”

I know it’s a challenging viewpoint, so I’d be interested in your opinion. I’ve got a feeling the debate is going to be anything but simple. Am I right? Is HR is simply sugar coated management to help make the corporate medicine go down?

What do you think?

Best wishes

BBTB x

Thursday, 18 August 2011

WEEK 185 A Good Sign


Hurrah! WOO-HOO. I’ve got an interested publisher!

The reason I kept this quiet for a week is because I wasn’t sure I could pull off their requirement in such a short space of time.

They were the ones who suggested I should include the American angle I wrote about in my 'Uncle Sam' blog last week. They gave no promises, but said if I can undertake a revision to include American examples, statistics and law, they’d seriously consider publishing it.

The whole process of rewriting was very rewarding. I learned a huge amount. I’m delighted with the new and improved book, and the whole thing’s getting exciting now. The most exciting thing, however, is that my manuscript is currently on its way to New York!

New York! Can you believe it?

I found a fabulous self-help editor in New York who’s agreed to take a look for a final check that it’s been suitably ‘Americanized’.

With all this going on, I can’t help thinking back to my WEEK 32 blog, ‘A Sign’ where HOWARD put a sign up about me which included the Statue of Liberty inscription. Do you remember that one? He hung it above his desk in full view of the office. It even stayed there long enough for me to take a couple of photos of it for evidence.

Think of this whenever Eva speaks:-

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore
Send these, the homeless,
The tempest-tossed to me
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.

There I was worrying that it was a ‘sign of things to come’.

And perhaps it was. Perhaps it was a good sign.

Best wishes

BBTB x

Sunday, 14 August 2011

WEEK 184 Cramming up on Law


I’m taking a break this week from work and blogging as I’m determined to finish my workplace bullying book rewrite. I feel like I’m cramming for a final exam or something. Still, it’s going very well, I’m learning a lot and I’ll have a great deal to pass on when I’m done.

Talking of cramming, it’s amazing how many hardback American employment law books I’ve squeezed into one very small British bedsit.

Do bear with me. I’ll be back to normal next week.

Best wishes

BBTB x

Monday, 8 August 2011

WEEK 183 Uncle Sam

Last week, I was given a genius suggestion in respect of my workplace bullying book, which was:-

Why help just the Brits with this book when Americans need it too?

I thought the US was way ahead of us on employment law, but it turns out American employees are having just as hard a time as the UK. So I’m now all over American employment law. I’ve got half a ton of employment law books coming from the States. I’m researching the position on the internet. I’m shortly about to take time off work so I can really get on with it.

A big re-write is taking place.

It’s exciting! I’ve got a million questions which need answering. What’s the US equivalent to our internal complaint known as the grievance process? Is there a Code of Practice that employers and employees are meant to follow in respect of reported workplace bullying? I need to know about the kinds of free representation available to employees in the States and how effective these services are generally. I need to know if people can represent themselves in Court, as they do in the UK. What’s the structure of compensation? Is it also based on loss of earnings and injury to feelings? How much do US solicitors charge on average etc. Does America have Employment Tribunals like us Brits? If not, what type of Court are these claims heard in?

Huge isn’t it? Still, I’m on a roll. I don’t know if he wants me, but I like to think Uncle Sam needs me.

Best wishes

BBTB x

Thursday, 4 August 2011

WEEK 182 Legend

Too many companies have a legendary bully.

Bullies who are central within a firm have often had time to build up an aura of haranguing folklore and fairytale to be enjoyed by the people who don’t work directly for them. You know what I’m talking about, right? The bully’s exploits are re-hashed in amused whispers. They provide an element of humour to a dull working day. And when the current target of their bullying walks out or complains, the whole firm ends up rallying around the bully with indulgent sympathy.

Sadly, it doesn’t stop there.

It’s all too tempting for people to then believe currying favour with a legendary bully reflects well on themselves. They’ll say:-

“I worked with them when so and so was off – and they loved working with me. In fact, they asked if I could work with them more often”.

I guess we all know people like this too. They’re happy to be involved in the drama – and happier still that a short term period of working well with a well known bully endorses their own self esteem.

When you think about it, this egocentric bias is unbelievably harmful. It can put us in harm’s way. We tell ourselves that in the same circumstances, it wouldn’t happen to us. We’d be the exception to the rule. They’d love working with us. It also places all the blame on the targets of bullying. They obviously weren’t good enough. If that person were more like us - they’d have worked out just fine.

Too easily, the bully becomes an occupational stress test – by which strength of character within a firm is measured. In the world at large, however, it’s the opposite. It’s your ability to resist the dramatic pull of such ‘legends’ that really says volumes about who you are.

Don’t forget it.

Best wishes

BBTB x

Monday, 1 August 2011

WEEK 181 Textbook

Last week was a strange one.

I grew really tired of waiting for a response to my workplace bullying book proposals.

It’s impossible not to see the eventual publication of my book as my moment of triumph. To have written a book and found a publisher, what a comeback that would be in response to such an awful case of workplace bullying. On a personal level, I’ll have lost a few battles, but I’ll have certainly won the war.

From the last round of submissions sent out, 3 agents and 1 publisher have yet to respond. I’m told no news is good news, but I’ve waited four months for this lot.

That’s four months of staring at the phone on my desk.

Four months of staring at the little light on the phone.

Four months of jumping every time the little light on my phone begins to blink.

For someone so keen to get on with the job, it’s driving me crazy.

Self-publishing is the alternative. I’m doing the research now, but I know what HOWARD would say. He’d laugh his head off. He’d accuse me of being a vanity author. If I self publish and sell few books, he’ll say its proof that he was right about me all along.

So whichever way I do it, it has to be a huge success.

HOWARD may not technically be my boss anymore, but I know his ghost will always be breathing down my neck asking how many books I’ve sold. If I underachieve, he’ll be whispering in my ear telling me I’m a failure and a loser. If the publishers knew the pressure I’m under to make this work – they’d be calling first thing.

Surely at some point, someone has to realise that what I’ve done isn’t just a good example of how injustice can motivate someone to strive for their absolute best. No it isn’t just a good example...

It’s textbook!

Best wishes

BBTB x

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

WEEK 180 Suzy Lamplugh Anniversary

Tomorrow marks the 25th anniversary of Suzy Lamplugh’s disappearance - sadly, HOWARD’S favourite joke.

It went way beyond banter.

I took his perverse modern retelling of June 28th 1986 (with me imagined in the place of Suzy Lamplugh) as a veiled threat. Who wouldn’t? His knowledge of the details worried me enough that I’d feel sick. HOWARD assured me he knew what happened. He told me in grisly detail, even miming some of the action. He said he knew her fate was what I longed for myself; male attention at any price.

These days, I wonder if he actually meant to scare me as much as he did. It was only last weekend I realised, with Suzy Lamplugh’s case in the papers again, that he’d been making it all up. Every word was fabricated. They never found her.

The joke was on me.

And take last Friday, for example. Where the world’s majority are praying for the Norwegians after the Oslo bombing and hideous massacre at the island youth camp, HOWARD would no doubt have viewed it as nothing more than another way to fire off cheap, disgusting jokes at my expense.

I worked with him long enough to know the kind of comments he’d be coming out with. But with people like HOWARD, their callous lack of compassion creates something else too. When someone else couldn’t care less – it often inspires others to care more.

And so we do.

Best wishes

BBTB x

Saturday, 23 July 2011

WEEK 179 Horrible Bosses

Welcome to BBTB’s first film review:-

First things first, Horrible Bosses is crude; in similar style to The Hangover. I probably should have paid more attention to this before dragging my poor mother along.

The film’s workplace dynamics are as follows:-

Nick’s boss, Mr Harken (Kevin Spacey) is humiliating him and working him round the clock.

Dale’s boss, Dr Julia Harris (Jennifer Aniston), is sexually harassing him at work.

Kurt’s boss, Bobby Pellit (Colin Farrell) is a coke addicted psychopath.

The main employer/employee relationship is that of Nick and Mr Harken (Spacey), with Jennifer Aniston and Colin Farrell playing for laughs, and crude laughs at that. Personally, I could have done with the whole movie drawn on Kevin Spacey and his worker. They had something there. Take it from someone who knows what it’s like to have a boss look you in the eye and tell you they’ll wreck your future chances of employment if you leave – Kevin Spacey was on the money. In a movie of one-dimensional characters, there was surprising depth to his carrot/stick abuse of Nick.

The first half of the movie is completely contrived. “But why don’t you just get another job?” one of them asks the other after they tell their horror stories over rounds of beer. Cue the co-incidental and timely arrival of an old school chum, once voted most likely to succeed, who is now a begging ex-Lehman Brother employee who’s been out of work so long he’s forced into offering the guys hand jobs for money. Yep. It’s THAT clunkly.

Nevertheless, the movie improves as it goes on. The empowerment the guys feel when they decide to go up against their bosses is spot on and funny. There are plenty of twists and Jamie Foxx’s character has his moments. The soundtrack was also good.

Overall though, as with real life, it’s the subtleties of workplace bullying rather than the crude incidents that you remember. It’s Nick having to drink a tumbler of whiskey at 8.30am because his boss said so. Doesn’t sound like much – but that’s the awful truth of workplace bullying – the things that don’t sound much are the most torturous.

So what did Mrs BBTB senior think? Being well acquainted with HOWARD, she wasn’t too shocked at the bosses behaviour. She did think the swearing, crude, misogynistic, racist and homophobic jokes were a little much. How did she put it?

That’s it...

It was hard work!

For a film that was 9 to 5 meets The Hangover, I give it 5 out of 10.

Best wishes

BBTB x

Monday, 18 July 2011

WEEK 178 Fake Fur

If you’re a regular reader, you’ll probably have picked up on the fact that I’ve little time for ‘experts’ who haven’t had real experience of workplace bullying. Statisticians and academics may mean well, but they often end up blinding us with untested theory or irrelevant statistics.

But at least theory and statistics are harmless. Poor advice, on the other hand, could cost someone their career.

Recently, a new and confident generation of corporate strategists are throwing their hat into the workplace bullying ‘expert’ ring. What worries me is that I’ve yet to read an article by one of these ‘experts’ which does anything other than pander to the fashionable ‘ethics’ of the corporate world – regardless of how risky their suggestions might be.

Bursting with confidence, the strategist is convinced they HAVE the answer. Their ideas WILL eliminate workplace bullying.

WOW! I went through it for years, studied it for years, worked with employment lawyers for years and I don’t claim to have the answer.

So what is it?

The strategists then offer a paragraph or two of generic, one size fits all suggestions, such as having a ‘roundtable’ meeting to expose the bully to their boss. Their articles are filled with buzzwords and management speak. Recently one corporate strategist confidently recommended a forensic audit once the bullying is made public. Really? A forensic audit? Can you see your average UK small business allowing the office junior to confront a bullying manager, upon which the small business sets about an immediate forensic audit?

ONLY IF THE OFFICE JUNIOR IN QUESTION IS THE GRANDCHILD OF THE CEO.

What happens, I want to ask them, when the company’s financial survival depends on the profits brought in by the bully? What happens when the internal damage a bully does is offset by their external commercial success? What about bystander apathy? What about the companies whose very culture encourages boasts about their CEO/Management bullies who plough through staff and makes lives miserable? What about when people are too scared of the consequences to challenge the status quo?

What’s missing from these corporate strategists and self proclaimed experts is that they’ve never lost their job because of bullying and they’ve obviously never sat down with anyone who has and listened.

Let me say it again so the strategists in the back can hear me. Workplace bullying is situational. You cannot eliminate workplace bullying because it’s human nature. All you can do is be honest, lay out the various resources to those who are going through it and hope they get themselves out of it as quickly as possible.

These new experts don’t care about those being bullied. Such articles are written to impress the corporate world and nothing more. They’re what my Nan would have called “all fur coat and no knickers”.

And in the new wave of corporate ‘ethics’ - it’s going to be fake fur.

Best wishes

BBTB x

Monday, 11 July 2011

WEEK 176 Match Fix

Ken Clarke, as Justice Minister, is doing everything he can to encourage Claimants to represent themselves at Tribunal. He’s harking back to the origin purpose of Tribunals; a place to represent yourself, or get a Union Rep to help. And, naturally, he believes that hundreds of millions of pounds would be saved.

Okay, so it takes money to lodge a claim and find representation. But if you’re taking a stand against your employer because of workplace bullying it is usually impossible to represent yourself and win. The law on workplace bullying is hellishly complicated. The timescales are tricky.

Many people think they’ll be okay gambling on common sense, but common sense, when it comes to accusing your employer of workplace bullying in the Employment Tribunal, counts for nothing. The bullying has to be on proven protected grounds, such as race, sex, disability etc. And your claim must be lodged within the strict time limits.

So time and again I hear lawyers coming back from Tribunal telling tales of Claimants who turned up alone and argued all the wrong points, even arguing themselves out of a claim they might have won. I hear stories of Judges rolling their eyes and trying their best to point a Claimant in the right direction, or drop massive hints, to no avail.

I can’t help wondering how different the statistics might be if people actually knew the law before they represented themselves. I have a feeling the success rates for employees would head skyward.

So just because you have the balls to represent yourself – doesn’t mean you should. Team up that courage with strong representation – and you’re getting somewhere.

Ken Clarke’s idea makes me question his role as Justice Secretary. Isn’t encouraging employees to represent themselves in Court going to pre-determine the result in most cases? Especially when your employer will always have their lawyers/barristers in tow?

It smacks of a Judicial match fix.

I say don’t make it too easy for them!

Best wishes

BBTB x

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

WEEK 175 True Colours

I wasn’t going to post this week. It’s been very quiet, but there’s always my 3 day watercolour taster course which ends today.

Oh boy. Has it been intensive!

Monday morning, my friend and I were nervous. We all were. Nine nervous students sat before our easels, carefully opening our boxes of 24 paints and clutching a handful of brushes as the register was called.

By the afternoon, practice over, the teacher assembled a still life of apples, vases, teapots and various backdrops.

“Choose whichever section you want” he said.

Me being me, of course, I did it all. I painted the green and gold curtains, the blue curtains with white birds in flight, the reflective red teapot, the two cobalt blue bottles, the plate of fruit and a little aquamarine cup with the gold rim.

It didn’t occur to me to make my first attempt easier and paint, say, JUST THE APPLES.

During break, I realised my fellow students had been more savvy. I was the only one to attempt everything.

“You’ve done this before” the teacher said.

I can’t remember the last time I used watercolours, but if it’s my overall approach he’s talking about - it’s one which seems to work for Bullied by the Boss. Even when I doubt I can do workplace bullying justice, I mix the colours in my palette and give it a go.

Best wishes

BBTB x

Monday, 27 June 2011

WEEK 173 Telepathy

Impatient, as always, to find a publisher for my workplace bullying book, I’ve been thinking about the market. At first, I kind of accepted the market was niche, and therefore placing my book would take time. But then I started to wonder. How many people are actually suffering enough to go in search of literary assistance?

Just thinking about the people in my circle, my best friend’s brother was bullied out of his job and is still struggling to get back on his feet. OLLIE’S ex secretary, as we know, is getting counselling and trying to gear up for a return to employment. They’ve both been hit hard.

Considering my wider circle of friends, there are a number of examples of moves made due to workplace bullying. If you think about employment experiences of your own family and friends, a job change or transfer because of a boss from hell is not unexpected.

For such a common occurrence, it’s strange that it’s so rarely discussed in a solution seeking way. Now and again, nightmare bosses are joked about – but that’s about it.

Let’s face it. Workplace bullying is an employment taboo.

Few of us are happy to admit that a boss hated us enough to force us to walk out. We worry people will think we’re at fault, either incompetent at our job or annoying to work with. We’d hate to give our new colleagues the idea that, “Hey, what if she’s super-sensitive to constructive criticism? What if I say the wrong thing and she accuses me of bullying?” We worry our new workmates will be walking on eggshells, thinking we’re litigious or oversensitive, prone to exaggerating or combative, paranoid or vindictive.

And that’s the magic of books. As Stephen King writes in On Writing:-

“[Writing is] telepathy of course...I didn’t tell you. You didn’t ask me. I never opened my mouth and you never opened yours. We’re not even in the same year together, let alone the same room...except we are together. We’re close.”

And so we are.

Lots of us.

Best wishes

BBTB x

Thursday, 23 June 2011

WEEK 172 Interview with a Vampire

This week I’ve been reading Payback: Why we Retaliate, Redirect Aggression and Take Revenge, as recommended by a friend on Twitter. It’s so in keeping with my BBTB philosophy, I’ve decided to share it with you.

It didn’t take me long to realise that HOWARD’S problem wasn’t actually me. We’re not targeted because of some annoying aspect of our character or personality. We’re targeted because someone in a higher post is in pain and needs to make someone pay for that. And they’re always going to choose the person HR would (albeit reluctantly) let go if it was a 50/50 decision between you and them.

HOWARD had significant problems outside work which caused him pain, and his way of coping was by passing it on. I soon realised I had to put my pain somewhere or I’d take it out on my family and friends.

Pain is Vampiric. Once bitten, we have an almost compulsive need to bite back and if we can’t – we may well experience an urge to bite someone else, someone completely innocent. Unfortunately, whilst it’s not right and possibly dangerous even, it does make us feel better – short term.

So we have two problems. The first is, obviously, what we are going to do about being bullied at work. The second is how we are going to avoid biting and snapping at someone else. I tried everything and anything to successfully control my anger and frustration. The last thing you want to do is become the epitome of what you hate in the first place.

If we have to bite through something, let it be the chain of bullying.

Best wishes

BBTB x

Monday, 20 June 2011

WEEK 171 Definition

I’ve been asked a number of times this week for my definition of workplace bullying. The first question that always pops into mind is why. Why is someone curious or struggling to come up with a definition?

Our motives will greatly affect our definition.

This is why definitions of workplace bullying in HR Staff Handbooks are long and woolly; an attempt to cover everything. For example, here’s an extract from the Staff Handbook HOWARD and his HR pals hastily scrambled together after the office junior tried to take HOWARD to an Employment Tribunal:-

Our firm did not condone:-

“Harassment related to gender, race, ethnicity, colour, disability, age, religion, nationality, occupation, marital status, sexual orientation or other personal characteristics. There was to be no abuse through e-mail, texts or websites; no invasion of personal space, spreading malicious rumours or insulting someone. There was to be no intended isolation or exclusion, stalking or offensive sexual remarks. There was to be no public ridicule, sarcasm or humiliation; no abuse of power, position or knowledge. They did not want people to be stressed, demotivated or frightened”.

This definition was intended solely to protect HOWARD and his pals from future legal accusation. It did not stop the bullying, nor was that its primary goal. On the contrary, HOWARD was comforted that, should he be accused again, he could throw the Staff Handbook at the Tribunal and say – “Hey, we DEFINED it! We’re not bullies.” This is the dangerous thing about definitions. It implies understanding. It implies awareness. It implies some academic thought.

It is academic. The more people that discuss it, the more abstract it becomes. Experts want to be heard and naturally want to include all the various legal, ethical and social angles. This prompts more questions. A researcher thinks they have a good definition until someone says:-

“Yes, but can racial, sexual etc bullying could be defined as 'bullying' or is it more 'harassment/discrimination’?”

Or

“Is it perhaps dependent upon how the individual themselves perceives it?”

Definitions belong in the same place as statistics and surveys. It’s the territory of the ‘expert’. It may be interesting, but it proves little assistance to a torturous employment problem.

So where do I stand?

Workplace bullying is situational. Within any firm, company or organisation every employee arrives each day with their own prejudices, problems at home, stresses at work, personal likes and dislikes, preferred ways of working etc. How they are allowed to behave toward each other and how these prejudices and problems manifest are down to the company structure and management. Therefore, it really doesn't matter much why one employee is targeted, so much that it is left unchecked and becomes a real problem.

So my definition of workplace bullying is "Where a firm, company or organisation permits one employee to torment and harass another".

I don’t claim for a minute that my definition is the best example or the unquestionable conclusion, but I’m happy that it works for its money; it implies a company is to blame.

What are your thoughts? Do let me know.

Best wishes

BBTB x

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

WEEK 169 Traversing the Wire

Having arrived fresh from a lively discussion on Bully OnLine relating to digitally recording incidents of bullying at work, the following ‘rules’ aren’t only drawn from my own experience of recording bullying (January 2010 WEEK 31 to WEEK 34), but also from a legal and HR perspective.

1.If you do record your colleagues, don't use the material until after you've left. Recording colleagues in work is gross misconduct. Therefore, if you were to play it in a grievance meeting - even if it does show evidence of bullying - you'll probably face disciplinary or dismissal

2. Don't turn it into a fishing expedition and become 'the human wire'. Try it once or twice - and only if you are really scared of your bully. In my case I had a deal of trouble with my boss when there were few around. If it's bordering on criminal levels of harassment - by all means use a digital recorder.

3.If you do record colleagues and they find out - they'll hate you for it! They will personally want to see you fired.

4.I know a case where someone recorded meetings and came up with only minor incidents of their boss behaving like a jerk. That's not to say their boss didn't behave worse than that - but the tape did them no favours and, yes, the person who recorded the meetings was fired and their colleagues hated them.

5. It's also very stressful
So, for the moment, I would advise that no-one tape records anyone until there is serious abuse at work taking place and I'd certainly advocate trying everything else first.
Best wishes
BBTB x

Saturday, 11 June 2011

WEEK 168 The Law of Attraction


I still kick myself for initially believing everyone’s assertion that HOWARD was harassing me because he’d developed a crush. It’s taken me this long to open up and write about something so personally embarrassing.
Staff assured HOWARD’S fixation on my appearance and sexuality was his inability to deal with very strong feelings. I was told I should be flattered. Who wants to make socially awkward guy even worse by reporting his relentless, but insulting, attention to HR? Not forgetting he was my superior. Not forgetting also that everyone felt sorry for him. Time and again I gave HOWARD the benefit of the doubt because of it.
I knew it was bullying, but these issues made it tricky
Whilst it didn’t take me long to realise how wrong we were, years later I’m still humiliated. It annoys me that I believed someone who later came close to destroying my sanity actually liked me in the first place. Gullible, I call myself, for believing all that reverse psychology hokum. And now I find myself doubting any guy that teases me. What’s he trying to say? Is he another HOWARD, I wonder?
So I was heartened by a report recently circulated by Bullying UK about sexual bullying. It made me think. The list they give of sexist incidents is this:-
·         Abusive, sexualised name calling
·         Unwelcome looks and comments about someone’s appearance or attractiveness; either face to face or to others.
·         Spreading rumours of sexual nature
·         Inappropriate and uninvited touching
·         Inappropriate sexual innuendo and/or proposition
·         Graffiti with sexual content
·         Display/circulation of inappropriate material of a sexual nature
·         Badges or clothing depicting inappropriate sexual innuendo or language
·         In the most extreme form, sexual assault and rape
The thing my former colleagues and I readily misinterpreted is that some of the above list genuinely are the preoccupation of immature teens and young men. It’s a grey area. Sometimes it really is an inexpressive, awkward guy trying to impress his friends and having a secret crush on the girl he’s teasing. Abusive, sexualised name calling can be construed by an audience as banter. The same goes for sexual innuendo.
As I said, however, I did know there was a difference.
So what was it?
The difference is this; where the behaviour is 100% negative then it’s sexual bullying. HOWARD indulged in many things from the Bullying UK list, particularly name calling, comments about my looks, rumours, graffiti with sexual content and a preoccupation with sexual violence and rape.
What he didn’t once do is say anything kind or complimentary.
Not once!
Never.
So I guess the Law of Attraction is very much on face value. If you’re not sure whether someone is attracted to you or sexually bullying you then think about the last time they genuinely gave you a compliment. Even the inexpressive, awkward guy is itching to find a way to show his softer side. If you’re trying too hard to twist what may be reverse psychology, then you’re probably dealing with a very twisted character.
And it’s time to run a mile.
I realise now I’ve been a little hard on myself.  It’s only over a period of weeks or months that you’re going to get a true picture of someone’s motivation. The important thing is that you trust your instincts and listen to yourself. We all read people wrong, especially with our workmates telling us this, that and the other, but with increasing amounts of information to hand, we learn to keep ourselves and each other safe.  
And we learn to forgive ourselves in the process.
Best wishes
BBTB x

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

WEEK 168 "I QUIT" Sequence

This week, I thought I'd give you a break from my relentless blogging.

Ever felt unappreciated by your boss, but not sure why? Here's a hilarious sequence of photographs I was e-mailed yesterday from a friend:-



































Brilliant. Hope you enjoyed.

Best wishes
BBTB x

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

WEEK 166 The Sermon of Father McKenzie

My workplace bullying book receives high praise, but my small social platform is causing publishers to think twice. It’s not big enough. And I’ve been kicking myself ever since that major publishing rejection.

The mistake I’ve made, of course, is in concentrating so hard on the message - I’ve overlooked my lack of messenger. This was something concerning me in my first ever Eleanor Rigby blog, 167 posts ago. I wrote:-

“I’m not scared of HOWARD. I’m not scared of being just another Eleanor Rigby either. I suppose at the moment I’m scared of one thing. I’m scared of blogging to no-one and, like Father McKenzie, ‘writing the words of a sermon that no-one will hear”.

Yes folks, I’ve been a bit naive. I’ve written my sermon, only to neglect to tell everyone there’s a new preacher in town.

Tackling workplace bullying begins with two schools of thought on education and awareness. One is employer focussed and the other is motivated toward employee. I’m pro employee. At present, employers have all the power. We need more examples of employees who creatively kicked back against workplace bullies. We need to get those employers a little concerned. Not that they should be terrified, but they should be aware that their employees have the power to do something more than raise a grievance or telephone ACAS if they’re targeted by bullies at work.

But who cares what I think, because the point is – with a small social profile, too few are going to get the message? At this rate, no-one (God forbid) will read the book.

So I’m geared up to shout a bit louder and help similar minds get their voices heard too. I’m getting to grips with Twitter (thanks to the help and support that is @Twiterrock). So if you like the blog and the message behind it – then please follow me on Twitter. I’ll follow you back and I’ll retweet.

Please re-tweet to your friends.

And ask them to re-tweet.

For ever and ever.
Amen.

BBTB

Friday, 27 May 2011

WEEK 165 Truth Will Out

Last Saturday, the Daily Mail published a story about how a council chief’s bullying tactics led to the hard-up council paying out £400,000 for compromise agreements to silence departing staff. The Counsellor is currently suspended after a colleague of hers committed suicide.

Having been the subject of a temporary Restricted Reporting Order and a compromise agreement, I’ve first-hand knowledge of gagging. But if the Daily Mail story and the recent super injunction debate show anything, it’s that the truth will out.

The problem with super injunctions and compromise agreements is that they give those handing them out the illusion of control. They think the problem has vanished when, in truth, it’s temporarily off radar.

Until these people learn to control themselves and their impulses, they’re unlikely to have any real control over those around them. The situation is bound to repeat. Replacement colleagues arrive and new friends are made, until they too are gagged when things inevitably go wrong.

As seen with the cash-strapped Council, how much companies and councils spend on keeping staff quiet is a story in itself. You cannot buy permanent silence and any business, organisation or footballer celebrity continually throwing financial resources at such an ill conceived investment is crazy.

Fortunately, even gagged I can still shake my head.

Best wishes

BBTB x

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

WEEK 164 True Colours

I've finally finished a play I’ve been writing for the past six months. Hurrah!

Whilst it’s a play about job identity, you won’t be surprised that it touches on themes of workplace bullying. The following is an extract from the extensive first-draft feedback I received from two professional playwrights who kindly offered to take a look last month:-

“What is strongest or most prevalent dramatically, is the way that the harassment develops insidiously and escalates. This is in part because you sketch with detail the grey area in which the characters operate.”
The ‘grey area’ got me thinking. If workplace bullying was a colour – it couldn’t be anything but grey. It’s the epitome of grey. Firstly there’s the leaden depression which comes hand in hand when working for a bully. Secondly, there’s the legal grey area, where you can’t do anything about it unless it’s tacked on to a ‘black and white’ violation of your statutory rights.

It’s the subtleties of workplace bullying which make it grey. It’s the can’t-quite-put-my-finger-on-it/I’m-just-not-telling-it-right difficulties we face when trying to express ourselves which compound the overcast gloom already caused by workplace abuse.

But here’s where art comes into its own. When life’s grey areas are difficult to express in conversation, art lends a deeper, more considered vocabulary. I’m not saying we have to turn into tree hugging hippies, but it helps to creatively express ourselves when we’re mentally washed-out.

So I say we should do what we can to restore our true colours, and leave the bullies standing in our shadow, where they belong.

Best wishes

BBTB x

Saturday, 21 May 2011

WEEK 163 If you Can't Take the Heat

Gordon Ramsey’s made headlines again.

I’m surprised it’s taken me this long to write about the king of workplace bullying. Perhaps there’s some psychological reason I chose to wait until his empire is crumbling around him.

After falling out with his CEO father-in-law, he unfairly dismissed his mother-in-law and anyone else related to his wife’s family because they were ‘too close’ to his wife’s father. His wife’s mother and brothers are now submitting their ET1s to the Employment Tribunal.

There are rumours of Gordon’s violent mood swings and speculation of drug addiction.

There are always going to be potential employment problems when a firm is set up by someone talented in a specialist field, but with no specific business training. For example, a good chef, solicitor, chartered surveyor, or architect can easily be convinced they can turn their hand to anything. It’s only a matter of time before they’re dreaming of their empire - a company of their own. That’s when it becomes apparent that their lack of business skill makes them lousy and incompetent to work for. And this is also where HR comes into play, protecting any talented liability at the top from accusations of from the bottom.

Running a business and managing people is a skill in itself. That’s why Ramsey needed his father-in-law CEO to steer him in the right direction. Without the business brain and human shield, the ET1s are flooding in.

If someone like Gordon can’t take the heat of the boardroom then let him get back in the kitchen.

It’s a lesson to them all.

Best wishes

BBTB x
Bottom Swirl