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Annie Hayes



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Colborn’s Corner: Who’s a big bully?


Quentin Colborn
Celebrity Big Brother highlighted some interesting personality traits of the so-called famous and it was interesting to watch the talents or otherwise of politician George Galloway come to the fore not least for his Oscar winning cat impersonation but also for his policy of tactical bullying so what can HR glean from these playground antics?

Bullying is not just the exclusive property of reality TV shows like Big Brother and to be frank anyone who goes on such a show deserves what they get! So what about the real world? What is the current state of play when it comes to bullying?

Hopefully none of the members of HR Zone will subscribe to the view that bullying is okay so long as it gets things done, but what is the viewpoint outside this forum? I have recently been helping someone who has been on the receiving end of a bullying boss and hearing their story has made me reflect on how HR reacts when confronted with bullies and their victims.

Virtually all progressive organisations will have policies outlawing bullying, it will be in the handbook and probably part of the induction process. So do bullies still exist? Of course they do, even within organisations where it is clearly not permitted. And the bullies I have come across are not junior managers but those at the top of the chain. From my experience within HR they come in all shapes and sizes and can include HR staff (and directors!) as well. Frequently employees come to us when they have had enough and it’s up to us to produce a solution. Easy enough when it’s a junior manager, but what can be done when it’s a Director or even the Managing Director?

How do we go about challenging senior staff members who are themselves bullies? In many organisations HR doesn’t face up to the challenge, shame on them – but it’s not an easy task. It takes guts and determination – often found by the HR bucket load, but not always. So how should we handle it? There’s no easy answer except to have the courage of your convictions and be prepared to sit someone down, look them in the eye and explain that some staff find their approach to be one of bullying. Do we fear for our own career when we do this? Incidentally, where do HR staff have to go when they feel bullied?

Many will recall George Orwell’s 1984 classic in which the Ministry of Truth dealt in propaganda, while the Ministry of Plenty managed shortages of staple items. It is brought to mind by the current spate of ‘reality’ TV shows including Big Brother but many more as well. What I can’t get my head around is how these shows depict ‘reality’; George Galloway dressed as a cat doesn’t fit into my idea of what goes on in real life. But are we ever guilty of 1984ism? Why does the term ‘appraisal’ bring fear into the hearts of many? Could it be that the way we have managed it means it isn’t a two-way discussion but more a download of a bosses’ view and prejudices.

What terms do we use that don’t really mean what they say? How about ‘I’m in HR because I like people’ or even ‘I’m in HR, I don’t take sides’.

Which phrases do you feel are most abused and unrepresentative of what we really mean at work? When have you had to address bullying in your organisation? Is my view that senior people are the most difficult to tackle the case? If so how have you gone about addressing those issues? What tips do you have to pass on to your colleagues?

Simply post your comments and tell us your views in the box below.

Quentin Colborn is an independent consultant who helps organisations address bullying issues and on occasions conducts investigations on behalf of clients. To contact him T: 01376 571360 or e-mail him at [email protected]

Colborn’s Corner: series articles

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Annie Hayes


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