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."

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
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