Indiran Carpanen reckons over 3 decades of vivid experience as a trade union activist spread across various sectors. He is resolved in breaking the silence over the untold stories of so many employees, bearing pain in absolute silence, victims of bullying
Bullying at work place is an issue which is gaining relevance in developed countries. How far is this problem from our shores?
Bullying, victimisation and harassment have existed since long, even in Mauritius. Running down the history of human race, you would find that each and every chapter contains dark episodes of exploitation of man by man. Wasn’t slavery a raw form of bullying? The harsh life of the coolies and indentured labourers which followed abolition of slavery was also a new version of bullying. The supposedly developed countries to which you are referring and which are now discovering bullying at workplace were precisely those which have invented bullying centuries ago. But the only changes, is that: bullying is done today by the descendants of the salves, coolies and indentured labourers; violence is more psychological than physical.
At a time where we are focusing on sustainability, ethics, good governance and value based organisation, can our companies afford to tolerate such practice?
We need first and foremost recognise that the sole objective of any commercial company remains ‘Profit’. Everything else is just either picked up from a new management theory or a fad which is very much addictive. It is commonly the Human Resources Department (HRD) which oversees execution of policies regarding sustainability, ethics or values. But in most organisations, it is in fact the HRD which least respects what it preaches. We have today HRDs’ run by ‘des parvenus’ who are the least productive in the value chain, functioning in a vacuum, far away from the daily life issues. From my experience, I find that the HRD is an organisation within an organisation with no meeting point. Sustainability implies involvement of people and passion. What we see today is a total absence of emotion, which has made bullying and other forms of harassment an accepted practice whereby people suffer in absolute silence out of greater fear.
What are the factors which encourage bullying at work place?
Incompetence is one of them. When management cadres have been either recruited based on their birthrights or political acquaintances, bearing no whatsoever competences, it goes without saying that somebody else will have to do their job and it will be out of fear and through bullying. Sex is a widespread factor and a common denominator for many corporate bullies I have come across. Sexual harassment or bullying women employees for sexual favours is rampant in many organisations. Obviously the employees have to share the blame for tolerating such behaviour. But often they are helpless and fall prey to the whims and fancies of their boss. The third factor would be the work environment and absence of proper preventive barriers such as decent trade unions. In some organisations, it is the trade unionists who indulge in bullying and I have witnessed many cases whereby cases of sexual harassment have been lodged against trade unionists themselves. So how can we expect employees to gain in confidence as to resist to bullying?
What are the effects of bullying?
We need to understand the bully, who is in a way a victim himself. For example, the senior management cadre who gets bullied by his wife or suffers from inferiority complex due to his physique is prone to exert similar or greater violence on other people within his control. Though today, selection exercise for senior positions often contains psychometric tests, all means are far from being fool proof. Intangible influence such as free masonry, politics, social network, religion, caste always take over sensible criteria’s required for the job. These channels prevent the proper profiling of candidates. A bully can only bring down the overall performance of the company and create a non-conducive environment keeping away job satisfaction, creativity and obviously profit. The company holds the primary liability and in some countries, lawsuits have even led to closing down due to the hefty financial compensations.
Yet we have institutions like the Human Resources Development Council (HRDC) which are expected to watch out for such issues?
The HRDC is a blunder factory with outstanding performance. They have managed to create more problems than they have solved. After the fiasco of 24/ 7 they have now started distributing awards to their buddies, just as to increase their market value. Can you imagine, a company having known an unprecedented increase of over 500 % in their number of industrial disputes and lawsuits filed receiving an award for healthy Human Resources Management. It is an absolute idiocy. Either these people do not read papers or do not know how to read. So how can we expect that they will understand issues such as victimisation or bullying?
What should be done to improve the working conditions of employees and prevent bullying at work?
Going back to the basics is essential and this is what modern management gurus call de-learning process. For years we have on our own made the workplace very complex. Human Resources is about management of people which implies not only flesh and blood but also a soul. Since the early 90’s they all keep talking about sustainability and the need to refocus on mankind. But our every single action has led us away from this objective. The capitalistic model has converted people and the environment into a product with a price tag. It is high time for the world to stop for a single minute and ponder on one question, ‘Profit for what?’. We do need to produce but sustainability cannot be a step following profit. If we are to address issues such as bullying and harassment, we undeniably need to address the issue of what we really want. I don’t believe that merely introducing new laws or amending existing ones will bring about a change. It is man who makes laws and not vice versa.
As a trade unionist have you ever taken up such issues with the management?
We have been doing it since years in various sectors. In a company there are various levels of intervention. The board or the top management may develop the best policy but if, let’s say the HR director himself is the bully and is called upon to implement the policy, you surely cannot expect results. Despite all the technological progress, we are yet facing a serious communication deficiency. We also face distortion of facts and manipulation of information, whereby the board is kept in the dark. If the Board Members are fed with the wrong information, obviously their decision cannot be good. After all in the dark, everything’s possible. Trade Unions stand beyond doubt the real partners of the management with the interest of the company at heart. We may be tough at times, but our loyalty cannot be challenged. However forwarding our ideas to the higher management through delegated executives is often like casting pearls before swines.
Bullying: The Untold stories
We have often come across cases of “Victimisation” which has a special, technical, meaning in employment laws and refers to treating someone less favourably than others based on sex, race, disability, sexual orientation, religious and age. However in today’s increasingly stressful workplace new practices or should we say malpractices are gaining momentum. One of these practices is workplace bullying
Bullying has extended from the playground to the workplace making the daily working lives of many workers intolerable. Bullying at work can lead to work-related stress and ill-health causing untold misery to workers. This is bad for the workforce and also bad for management because the most productive workplaces are those where workers are contented. Workplace bullying often remains a hidden problem and may be accepted or encouraged by the culture of the organisation. It is an undeniable fact that employees have the right to be treated with dignity and respect at work and as bullying denies this right it is a totally unacceptable behaviour.
Workplace bullying can be defined as persistent unacceptable ‘offensive, intimidating, malicious, insulting or humiliating behaviour, abuse of power or authority which attempts to undermine an individual or group of employees and which may cause them to suffer stress’. Harassment can be defined as conduct which is unwanted and offensive and affects the dignity of an individual or group of individuals. Whether the harassment is intentional or not is irrelevant; the key point is that it is offensive. As both bullying and harassment are linked to an abuse of power there are clear similarities between the two types of behaviour. However, there is an important difference in that harassment springs from discrimination. While harassment is often aimed at individuals on the grounds of their race, gender or sexuality etc., it can also be a form of bullying.
As many forms of discrimination are outlawed by specific legislation, it is important that cases of harassment are identified as such. Bullying can occur in a number of different ways. Some are obvious and easy to identify. Others are subtle and difficult to explain. Examples of bullying behaviour can include:
● withholding information which can affect the worker’s performance
● ignoring views and opinions
● setting unreasonable/impossible deadlines
● setting unmanageable workloads
● humiliating staff in front of others
● being shouted at or being the target of spontaneous rage
Public Verbal Abuse
Employees are often blamed for mistakes in front of the entire office. Rubbishing employee’s work, public humiliation through doing a job not to the required standard. Setting unrealistic targets, being made to feel ‘unprofessional’.”
“I was threatened with job loss because I wanted a leave to attend my sick child. It has even occurred that a Chief Editor of a leading newsgroup, (whose father had just passed away and whose religious beliefs prescribed a moaning period away from any celebration), was threatened to be dismissed by the HR manager, upon refusing to attend the farewell party intended for the retiring Managing Director.
The Effects of Bullying
Bullying can have a significant effect on the physical and mental health of the workforce. In many cases, the effects can remain beyond the time of the bullying experience, sometimes affecting victims for years. Bullying has been found to be associated with anxiety, depression and aggression, as well as with high levels of stress. Typical stress symptoms such as insomnia, melancholy and apathy are commonly reported, as well as concentration problems, insecurity and lack of initiative. Modern management recognises the fact that bullying can cause severe stress. Stress at work can be triggered or made worse where, there is prolonged conflict between individuals, including … bullying or where staff are treated with contempt or indifference. Persistent exposure to bullying is also likely to affect the behaviour as well as the attitude of workers. It can lead to an increase in accidents, lack of concentration and increased use of alcohol and tobacco consumption. Exposure to persistent and regular bullying may also make it difficult for workers to cope with daily tasks.
Other effects of bullying can include: Anxiety ; Headaches ; Nausea ; Ulcers ; Various illnesses of organs such as the kidney ; Contemplating suicide ; Sleeplessness ; High blood pressure ; Loss of self-confidence
In addition to the effects on individual workers, bullying at work can also have a major effect on an organisation. Victims of bullying are likely to suffer from stress-related illnesses leading to significant levels of sickness absence. Given that a third of all sickness absence relates to stress, this can have a staggering effect on organisations. Moreover, where employers base recruitment and promotion decisions on sickness absence levels, bullying and harassment can have a major impact on the career of individuals. Failure to deal with bullying also costs the employer in other ways as it can have an effect on the culture of the whole organisation. If it is not tackled then it will be seen by others to be acceptable behaviour. If cases result in an individual taking their employer to an industrial tribunal, which comes to the attention of the media, it can have a very bad effect on the organisation’s reputation. Any employer who believes that the only way people will work is if they are afraid and anxious has got to be faced with the question of how they value and use their human resources.
Bullying at work is increasingly being treated as an important issue throughout the European Union. For example, Sweden has specific legislation against victimization at work while new European legislation agreed in 2000 outlaws bullying on the grounds of sexuality, religious beliefs, age and disability. However, the true size of the problem will remain hidden until all employers recognise that it is an issue that needs to be managed and until workers can feel confident that their complaints will be addressed fairly and that they will not be victimised for complaining about bullying.