Following on from last week’s post where a journalist in the Guardian laid the blame for workplace bullying at the target’s door, I’ve been surprised by a related matter. I came across one of those ‘Dear Jeremy’ columns in the Guardian, published in late October, related to bullying.
The question to Jeremy involved whether someone who was just about to leave a company should blow the whistle on their vindictive bully. What really grabbed my attention were the comments from readers. There were almost 100 of them and the majority of them were along the lines of:
‘Yes, of course you should!’
‘It will make life easier for your colleagues’.
‘If no-one does anything, nothing will change’.
‘It will be really helpful [for remaining colleagues] to place your experience on record’.
‘Fill in your exit questionnaire!’
‘Tell them please, you’ll feel so better for it [sic].’
But as anyone with experience knows, workplace bullying is more complicated than that. HR will read the truthful, tell-it-like it is questionnaire and think: ‘Holy crap! I bet they told their colleagues this before they left’. In what we’ll call Operation Damage Limitation, they’ll rubbish their former employee to their colleagues the minute they’re gone. They’ll say they had mental issues. They’ll say they couldn’t cope with the job. They’ll discredit that person - and they won’t be around to defend themselves. They may even go as far as not being particularly helpful when asked for a reference in the future by this particular employee.
As Anti-Bullying Week came to a close yesterday, it made me think that we’re not going far enough. We need to go beyond simply telling people it’s wrong to bully. It’s a stickier situation than that. In the workplace, bullies are often protected by a management structure, or the money they bring in. Stating that it’s wrong or encouraging the target to ‘man-up’ and do the right thing isn’t particularly helpful.
Bullying is wrong, but we have to deal with it carefully.
We should start by pointing targets of workplace bullying in the direction of those who have been through it already. The good news is there is a growing number of us out there ready to listen and understand.