This week David Cameron is seeking votes in the Commons to potentially give the authorisation to involve British armed forces in air strikes over Syria, a momentous decision. In the midst of such a critical decision he faces the distraction of a media frenzy following revelations of an unchecked and systemic culture of bullying and intimidation in his own Conservative Party.
Although some may sympathise with David Cameron’s personal predicament the pressure he faces could have been avoided.
Baroness Warsi released a letter which indicated that complaints about bullying in the Conservative Party had been made as long ago as January 2015 and had been ignored. One has to conclude that if those in positions of responsibility at the Conservative Party had addressed complaints of bullying much earlier, the damage to the party’s brand and the pressure on members of the party could have been avoided. Even more importantly a young activist may not have endured months of misery prior to his death and a life may even have been saved.
Sadly the Conservative Party has only commenced an investigation of the issues of bullying and intimidation following a media frenzy as a result of the revelations from Elliot Johnson’s grieving father, Ray Johnson. Elliott Johnson’s body was found by railway tracks in September 2015. At an inquest into Elliott Johnson’s death, British Transport Police revealed that they were investigating claims that prior to his death, Elliott had been subject to sustained attacks of bullying behaviour by Conservative Party members and campaigners. Police were embarking on this course of enquiry following the discovery of a letter written by the 21 year old activist prior to his death and left in his bedroom. In this letter he referred to named Conservative Party members and campaigners.
No individual wants the death of another individual on their conscience, and no organisation wants the publicity and significant damage to the brand as the Conservative Party is suffering now. No leader of any organisation wants to be making major decisions when distracted as David Cameron is having to do this week.
From time to time, any organisation can recruit an individual who has bullying tendencies. The definition of bullying includes persistent criticism, personal abuse and / or ridicule, either in public or private, which humiliates and demeans the individual(s) involved.
Within an organisation which has a ‘zero tolerance culture to bullying any emergence of bullying behaviours is quickly identified and the bully and victims dealt with appropriately. In organisations which are not ‘bullying aware’, the consequences can be devastating; with talent just drifting away, as people leave rather than endure it.
In some organisations, where management fails to identify the existence of bullying, the organisation can inadvertently reinforce bullying behaviours, as those who act in a bullying or intimidating manner become more powerful and others perceive that such behaviours are the ‘way to get on’. Even senior managers can become implicated and complicit by justifying their tolerance of the situation by statements such as ‘well he/she brings in good sales results’ and ‘it’s just what they do…it’s only a bit of fun/banter’.
In order to develop a healthy intolerance to a bullying culture, organisations need a two pronged approach; firstly implementing practices which provide managers with early indicators that bullying behaviours could be occurring. Simultaneously the organisation needs to implement preventative measures to communicate and inform everyone of the behaviours that are acceptable at work and the consequences of non-compliance.
Although some less high profile organisations may believe they are immune from the bad publicity currently being suffered by the Conservative Party, such organisations should think again.
Employees who suffer persistent bullying and harassment can pursue their employer legally and bullying can have a detrimental impact on productivity and add to other costs.
Early signs of bullying might include high levels of staff turnover, increased absenteeism, and complaints of stress.
Staff engagement surveys and a practice of effective and systematic exit interviews are good diagnostic tools, an employer can apply. However such diagnostic tools will only be effective if staff have confidence that anything they say will be treated appropriately and they have confidence that management will act appropriately to deal with individuals who exhibit predatory bullying behaviours.
Effective policies on bullying and harassment and regular training act as some of the preventative measures an organisation can use and having put in place such procedures proactively, the organisation then has an appropriate mechanism to deal with any issues as they arise.
If you have any concerns about the culture of your organisation please contact HR First 01962 676167. If you feel at the point of despair, please talk to someone about your feelings, don’t suffer alone, there is help available. The Samaritans have trained volunteers available to help 365 days per year and their number is free to call on 116123 www.samaritans.org. Finally thank you to Ray Johnson, who has not been daunted and who on behalf of his son has shone a light in a dark place and hopefully such publicity will prevent others suffering from the effects of bullying and our thoughts go to Alison and Ray Johnson.Last updated: February 12, 2016 at 22:28 pm