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. Bullied by my boss in 2008, I looked for another job but the recession hit. Feeling trapped, I started this blog. 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." I was unaware back then that it would catalogue one of the most extreme cases of workplace bullying in the UK. I've found another job, but am subject to a gagging order. I'm still blogging, of course. Just don't tell the lawyers!

Monday, 29 August 2011

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


Thursday, 25 August 2011

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


Thursday, 4 August 2011


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

Bottom Swirl