One of the most common reasons that people of working age sought counselling when I was working for the Plymouth NHS was related to workplace bullying and coping with power relationships.
As an interested onlooker I have noticed this myself in recent years and feel sad for people whose lives are made miserable due to a culture of selfishness and protectionism in the workplace. Most often I have observed that an insidious form of bullying comes from the very top, perhaps not overtly but present nevertheless. Why is this? There can be a lethal scrabbling for position in management roles, a need to empire-build and preserve positions of power. This frequently filters down to the very least amongst us. And it is the very least who most often need their jobs to keep body and soul together; it is usually the lowest paid who have to stay in an unbearable working role, simply to keep their families fed, a roof over their head.
Some years ago, I spent six months working for a very powerful woman. As I signed a non-disclosure agreement at the time of joining her, I cannot divulge her name, nor her highly visible role. But she was a monster. There were young interns working for her, being paid a pittance, working all hours. Bright, intelligent young people who needed the approval of this person and continued employment to show on their CVs in order to proceed further in their chosen careers. After a matter of months working for her, some were reduced to gibbering, stuttering wrecks. It was painful to watch. Nor did I just watch. The first time I resigned, I cited her behaviour towards these young people as my reason for wishing to leave her employment. The reaction was breathtaking. Either she was completely delusional or a fantastic actor. The shock that registered on her face when I accused her of bullying the staff members was as if I had slapped her. Actually, now I wish I had. I frequently felt like it. She belittled them, she humiliated them in public, in front of their peers, the public, the other staff.
Clearly this came from her need to feel superior and I won’t hypothesise the reasons for her feelings of inadequacy. She was universally hated, not just by her staff but by colleagues. I never heard a good word said about her from people who actually knew her personally. And yet she managed to hold her position of power for years and years.
To a lesser extent I am aware of certain people who rule by a culture of fear today. There seems to be a general lack of respect for the members of staff who actually get the work done. Many of today’s management appear to spend their days in meetings without achieving anything, they seem incapable of making decisions and certainly unable to make any good ones. Why is this? I wonder if perhaps it is a result of the very regimented and formulaic way that businesses are conducted today. All the courses and inductions and form filling and tick boxes seem to drive us all into the same channels, the same ruts, the same mistakes. Where is the humanity in working relationships? Do we really all have to perform to prescribed paths, achieve outcomes that can be measured on an annual basis? On this our progress depends; this decides if we earn more, earn less, keep our jobs, pay our bills.
Whatever happened to simply talking to our staff, getting to know their strengths on the basis of conversation and praising them when they do well, rather than ticking a box to say they have achieved specified outcomes.? I wonder where this is all leading us – how working relationships will fare in the future. It is quite a scary prospect.