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Beating The Bullies

We recently touched upon the issue of health and safety at work and looked at the case of Stephen Stamper, who lost several fingers in a workplace accident. His employer, Smurfit Kappa, had not trained Mr Stamper how to use the machine and did not have a suitable risk assessment for the work. Mr Stamper will now have to live with his disability for the rest of his life, and quite frankly, in such a dangerous environment with so little training, it was only a matter of time before something like this happened.

People always think “it won’t happen to me” and sometimes it seems that it takes a horrific incident to happen before there’s a rethink on safety policies and procedures. After the Jimmy Savile scandal, the BBC has again been pushed into the spotlight, after one of its employees committed suicide last year. After formally apologising to the family of the employee, they have now made changes to their HR policies on bullying and harassment. Better late than never I suppose, but the fact that it could have been prevented in the first place is the real issue here.

Russell Joslin had worked for the BBC as a reporter and journalist for the BBC Coventry and Warwickshire radio. A BBC-commissioned report on the case, the Granger report, which was published in March, found that Mr Joslin had complained to managers that he was being bullied and sexually harassed by a well-known female BBC star (who has not been formally named). Although he kept recordings of abusive phone calls and text messages he had received, the report indicated that a number of factors, including workplace culture, made it difficult for Mr Joslin to raise his concerns.

Mr Joslin’s family have said that he had been experiencing mental health problems, but believe that the BBC ‘could have and should have done more’ to help him, as his complaints dated back to 2007. Mr Joslin died in a Warwickshire hospital in October last year.  

Since then the BBC has introduced a confidential helpline for staff who might have concerns about bullying and harassment. Training has also been developed for managers to help them spot the signs of bullying, and plans have been put forward to hold sessions for local radio teams, such as those in which Mr Joslin worked, to give staff the opportunity to discuss what standards of behaviour they expect from each other.    

These actions and improvements have allegedly been discussed and approved by the Joslin family. The death of a family member is always a distressing time, but I can’t imagine how it feels to know that it’s been caused by the words and actions of somebody else and there is no doubt that it could have been prevented.

We see many complaints of bullying which are meretricious, frivolous or retaliatory, but a genuine case is an abuse and must be taken seriously. I have been bullied myself (by an HR Director!). While I didn’t feel suicidal, I was a career manager and could see that my health and career would be wrecked if I stayed. In fact, the decision to leave was the best I have ever made. I decided I would never again work for a pig like that (sorry pigs – maybe I’m being unfair to you; this man was a psychotic monster). The experience coloured my life and when I set up this business I swore I would never again work with people I didn’t like or who showed discourtesy to me.  

Given that most employees spend more time at work than they do at home, it’s important to foster a positive environment and to stamp out any problems of bullying and harassment before they escalate out of control.

Training managers on how to spot the signs for bullying is a good idea since they are often the ones who work closely with a certain number of individuals. However, it’s important that everybody knows what they should be looking for. In some cases, bullying will be obvious, but there are also more subtle forms that bullying can take. For example:

  • shouting or swearing at another employee;
  • keeping back information or giving wrong information on purpose;
  • physical violence;
  • setting somebody up to fail by setting impossible goals;
  • constantly criticising someone;
  • constantly changing targets;
  • ignoring or excluding somebody on purpose;
  • making people feel afraid, e.g. by threatening them;
  • spreading malicious gossip;
  • and sudden rages that are often over minor matters.

If you’d like help in introducing a dignity at work policy that specifically deals with bullying and harassment in your organisation, or you would like us to revise your existing policies and procedures, then please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Russell HR Consulting provides expert knowledge in HR solutions, employment law training and HR tools and resources to businesses across the UK.

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