27 August 2009

Workplace Bullying or Firm Management?

The National Bullying Helpline website does not publish a definition of workplace bullying, the closest thing being an article for employees which describes it as a "fact of life", and something that "takes many forms" with "... a cumulative effect which builds into a much more serious situation."  A clear definition makes it reasonably easy for a person to know whether they are being bullied or bullying someone else, and it helps an investigator explain the basis of their recommendations.

The absence of a definition can result in one person thinking they are being bullied, while another person thinks they are not. Helpline founder and CEO Christine Pratt has herself been in this situation. In 2005 she described her experience to the Wiltshire Gazette:
"I was bullied for two and a half years by a senior level manager. He took it upon himself to belittle and publicly humiliate me, to the point where I had to take leave of work and suffered a breakdown. It was a terrible experience that no-one should have to go through. When the bullying started I thought I would be strong enough but after a while it really breaks you down. I felt like I couldn't cope and had a breakdown."

That wasn't how the Southampton Employment Tribunal saw Ms Pratt's work for an automotive component manufacturer. They concluded that, after her employer had appointed a new General Manager, Ms Pratt made no secret of her disagreement with the decision:
"From the moment Mr Roberts took up his post as General Manager, [Ms Pratt] did not attempt to hide the hostility she felt towards the new appointee. She was obstructive and unco-operative and made no attempt to work with Mr Roberts, who was new to the organisation. In the evidence, there are many illustrations of [Ms Pratt's] aggressive and confrontational approach to Mr Roberts ….."
The Employment Tribunal considered Ms Pratt had sent a note to Mr Roberts that was "discourteous and hostile" and sent further memoranda unreasonably critical of Mr Roberts to [senior managers], which the Tribunal considered to be "aggressive, accusatory and confrontational".  They also considered as "inappropriate" her behaviour in a meeting with senior managers where, during the course of the meeting, she complained that Mr Roberts failed to communicate with her. She went over to where Mr Roberts was sitting:
"thrust her face into his and screamed "Communicate!" very loudly and directly into his ear. Mr Roberts found this very painful and was profoundly shocked by her conduct."
Ms Pratt appealed the tribunal judgment but was unsuccessful. The Employment Appeal Tribunal decision published in October 2003 includes a concise summary of the facts found by the employment tribunal.

It is hard to believe that two such diverse accounts could be drawn from the same experience.

1 comment:

  1. does it not scare anyone that this very person, who is herself a monstrous bully is the owner of an "anti"-bullying "helpline"?


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