Bullying in the workplace should be taken seriously and not just dismissed as ‘unintentional.’
Our Home Secretary Priti Patel has been found to have broken the ministerial code of conduct and bullied staff. Yet Boris Johnson decides to leave her in her post and excuses her behavior on the basis it was ‘unintentional’ and that she has apologized with ‘I am sorry if I have upset people in any way whatsoever.’ That ‘if’ doesn’t show any comprehension of the impact bullying in the workplace can have on victims. Johnson’s response is not only an ill-judged attempt to defend Patel it has dangerous implications.
This case has consequences far beyond the relationships between government ministers and the civil service because they set a tone and are an example for all our workplace relationships. If the prime minister again decides to overrule legal advice and to excuse bullying as ‘unintentional’ it opens the door for others accused of bullying to say, ‘it was unintentional and I’m sorry if you were upset.’ This reaction is trying to transfer the blame back on those who are bullied. As if, should you find yourself shouted and sworn at or threatened, belittled, excluded or subject to unfair criticism then it is your fault if you feel bullied.
The consequences of workplace bullying are myriad and can not only have an impact on victims’ work and career but also their sense of wellbeing. Being a victim of bullying can cause physical and psychological health problems, including anxiety, higher blood pressure, panic attacks, stress, ulcers and trouble sleeping as well as impacting on a bullied workers ability to perform their job well and lowering productivity. Bullying damages working relationships, damages friendships and damages people. It creates fear and can result in victims being excluded, as others fear becoming the next victim by association or friendship. I witnessed it in a previous job and it stinks!
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Bullying cannot be excused as ‘unintentional’ as the very definition of bullying is to “habitually seek to harm or intimidate” someone more vulnerable. This makes Priti Patel’s actions, tone, swearing and shouting look decidedly intentional and an attempt to deliberately harm in order to exert power and control over another person whom she considered as a rival or to simply mask her own inadequacy. Competent managers don’t need to resort to such behaviour.
I recently raised this issue with my MP, Laurence Robertson, but instead of actually answering my concerns his parliamentary assistant’s response stressed:
Laurence is a keen supporter of the Home Secretary’s pledges to reduce crime, recruit more police officers and to end free movement from abroad. It is vital that for such landmark reform to take place the Home Secretary has the full support of her department.
This is another politician not taking the subject of bullying in the workplace seriously. It’s not about policies, it’s about bullying behavior and the consequences on the victims!
For Priti Patel to behave in such a manner is inexcusable. There can be no apology which is adequate and no Prime Minister’s excuse which is acceptable. Our Home Secretary must admit the unacceptability of her behaviour and resign.
Ed: This tallies with my own working life experience. I saw (and called out) so much bullying in British companies. I hardly ever saw it in the German, French, Belgian or Italian companies I worked with. My European colleagues used to say that British managers assume people won’t do something unless they’re shouted at.
The British tactics in the whole Brexit negotiations have been to bully the EU into making concessions. Surprise, surprise, it hasn’t worked.