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Charlie Duff

Sift Media


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Workplace bullying – not only at Number 10


Recent headlines have hit the Labour party with a book claiming Gordon Brown is a bully – an allegation seemingly backed up by a national hotline claiming they have received calls from ‘several’ members of Number 10 staff.

However, this has now been hit with a backlash of its own as this has been perceived as a breach of confidentiality, which is discrediting the charity – so much so that engagement expert, Professor Cary Cooper has disengaged himself as their patron. Associated Press reported he resigned because he believed confidentiality had been breached despite the CEO, Christine Pratt, not ‘outing’ any employee by name. He was quoted as saying: "I am resigning now on the grounds that I think she breached confidentiality."

He continued: "One of the things that is really important for any helpline or any counselling service is to retain confidentiality of the people calling up."

He added: "Even though the names may not be revealed, particularly with something like bullying … an employer could maybe find out who they were."

His resignation has been followed by TV presenter Sarah Cawood and Conservative MP Ann Widdecombe, both of whom were patrons and have now resigned.

CEO Christine Pratt and her husband also run a consultancy, HR and Diversity Management Limited (HR&DM). This collaboration promotes the National Bullying Helpline as well as their business. Another charity, Bullying UK, have called on her to ‘consider her position’ after being ‘horrified’ by the story – especially after they were contacted by members of the public who believed it was their charity in the public eye over this incident.

The story has brought the continual problem of bullying at work once again firmly into the public eye. It’s not something which only happens at school and HR, management and directors need to work together to prevent a culture developing where bullying is permissible.

The Association for Coaching UK (AC UK) says allegations about bullying in Downing Street should serve as a reminder about how common this issue is in the workplace and highlight the lack of awareness of the problem.

Gladeana McMahon, chair of the AC UK said: "Nearly a third of all employees have witnessed or experienced workplace bullying. The public sector is not exempt from this, in fact evidence suggests that bullying is particularly prevalent within public services, in spite of widespread anti-bullying policies and the desire for inclusive practice."

Reports and speculation about Gordon Brown’s temper have appeared in the mainstream press frequently. As has been pointed out, many brilliant leaders have traits which are less than desirable, but this is no excuse to enable and tolerate bullying. Unfortunately today it is more common than ever – and this is partly put down to the effect of the recession.

The AC UK explained some may be able to cope with bullying behaviour and accept it as a strong leadership style, but many others will find it intimidating. People being bullied can often feel undermined; humiliated; overloaded with excessive amounts of work; vulnerable; anxious, or even physically unwell.  

It is quite usual for people displaying bullying behaviour not to recognise it as such, according to the AC UK. Fortunately, it is possible to help people overcome this type of leadership style, provided they recognise negative behaviours and want to change.

City law firm Speechly Bircham and King’s College London HRM Learning Board conducted their annual survey of senior HR professionals late last year. Almost a third of respondents, 29%, identified that grievances lodged had gone up in 2009, and 23% anticipate future increases in grievances (owing to a rise in stress and employment-related problems) in the coming year. The biggest causes of grievances have been bullying and harassment, and relations with senior or line managers. Grievances around pay and conditions, workload, career development, and stress are anticipated to become more important in 2010. A third of those surveyed also predicted an increase in staff turnover.

Reports of workplace bullying have doubled over the past 10 years and more than one in three employees have fallen victim to intimidation in the workplace in the past six months, according to figures from public sector union Unison.

Take action
If there are issues with bullying in an organisation, there are things every employee can do. "In the current financial climate there is extra pressure on managers and workers to get results, which has led to more aggressive targets, increased pressure, more criticism of co-workers and a very real concern for job security", says Dr Daniel Scott, author of ‘Verbal Self Defence in The Workplace’.

3 Responses

  1. Bullying at work

    Let’s face it, because the perception of "bullying" is in the eye of the bully, anyone can report bullying when in actual fact this is perfectly appropriate performance management.  It may be that the rise of reported bullying in the public sector reflects the need of senior management to demonstrate worth.

    This is not to say that bullying is appropriate behaviour, but defining the line is what is so difficult – what constitutes bullying in the eyes of one employee is merely a pep talk in the eyes of another. 

    The timing of the allegations against Gordon Brown certainly LOOKS politically motivated.  But I daresay there’s pressure brought to bear in any political party intent on changing the status quo.  Or indeed, keeping it the same.


  2. Bullying in the Workplace.

    I think that the Piece about Gordon Brown and Bullying at no 10 is taken out of context and is more than politicaly motivated by the Torie’s, whilst I understand that behaviours can lead to bullying, lets get real, recession causes stress in the workplace, surley we should be discussing what are the drivers of intimidation in the work place, I would like to bet that during increased pressure in the workplace leads to differing behaviours at all level’s of an orgainsation.


    I suppose what I am saying is that during times of extreme pressure somethings got to give, so lets get real people,during the good times, we paper over the cracks.

  3. Bullying
    The silly woman said she has received emails.
    Our IT department would find out who in minutes and no 10 will know already.
    To say confidentiality hasn’t been breached shows true ignorance of the way the world works these days

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Charlie Duff


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