Hello Bully

Over the next few weeks this blog, and its younger brother The Resilient Manager  will be looking at bullying at work. You know it, you only come here for the laughs.

Despite a Siberian wind hurtling through my tatty little soul, I’m going to try to get us to the bottom of bullying. Honestly I don’t want to but as someone who works in employment relations and mental health I literally have nowhere left to hide. Every day last week I either witnessed, experienced or was told about bullying at work. Like  good  recessionary cinema, it felt like there’s a bullying epidemic spreading across the working world and the geeks haven’t cracked a vaccination yet. Will time run out for the human race?

I was profoundly shaken by two things last week. The first was a report that six per cent of doctors have patients who have attempted or committed suicide as a result of going through the new fitness to work test, the Work Capabilities Assessment. The tests used to assess disability are not credible, poorly set up and monitored, give distorting and inaccurate results and they don’t work. As if that wasn’t enough these assessments are being contracted out by the Department of Work and Pensions to private service providers including Atos, Capita and our old pals G4S. Yes you heard it, G4S. Not only is the WCA being used to bully disabled people, I tried to picture what it would be like for a qualified clinician to do this job. Having rendered aged parents homeless to fund their studies with possibly delusional hopes of helping people, what they actually are is overqualified temps and agency workers. Given that they too are vulnerable what are the chances of these people actually doing their job which is to assess disability rather than to reach targets of reducing disability benefits by 20%? I’m guessing that it’s not just the clients that are being bullied here, but also the professionals behind them being asked to drop ethical, clinical and professional standards to deliver someone else’s election promise of cutting the national debt. This is in a context where 50% of disabled people report experiencing bullying, harassment and hate crimes.  We have a disability support system based on the principle of hate and enforced through a policy of bullying.

The second thing that happened last week was that I woke up listening to an interview about the future of work, based on a report by a number of eminent organisations like the Royal Society, Royal Academy and Academy of Medical Sciences. The report explored future work scenarios where drugs, digital technologies and advancements in prosthetics could be used to help people work harder, longer and smarter. This includes the prospect that people with no mental health problems beyond having a bad attitude to their line manager or an unfortunate habit of speaking thoughts out loud, could be encouraged to take anti-psychotic drugs to restore self regulation. In the report they consider the use of drugs such as Ritalin to improve focus and Ketamine as an antidepressant. Well, that’s one way to solve youth unemployment. Apparently this report was written to initiate debate but in the meantime it did a mighty fine job of putting the fear of god into me very early in the day. If being an unenhanced human becomes a career deal breaker are you SURE you don’t want pop a pill to deal with the daily dilemmas of being yourself? The report reminded me of the use of “scenarios” in leadership training. Cue facilitator. “For arguments sake lets imagine a scenario where you refuse to take tranquilizers for work, let’s get into small groups shall we? Maybe Elizabeth you’d like to be in this group with your line manager and the head of HRM? OK, let’s discuss Elizabeth’s problem shall we? “.

It’s tempting to get all legal about bullying and indeed bullying is baaaaaaad, but you can’t ban it.  Not wishing to rain on your parade of human loveliness, but bullying is an ordinary part of life, which gets delusions of grandeur during a crisis. In a recession we live on the edges, rubbing along, bumping into each other and then sometimes we crash. Here’s the bulling problem.

Human beings + recession + power differences = fear= paranoia  + splitting = bullying

Voila, a problem with no solution. This is precisely why I am a big fan of psychoanalysis, because it doesn’t try to solve life. Bullying is a part of life and this means we can’t eradicate it.  This is not the politics of defeat, rather the belief that life is about making the best of a bad lot and that by understanding bullying we find ways to exploit it, limit it and give it a slap on the wrist. So I’m going to try to use this principle over the next few weeks to try to understand bullying – what it is, how it gets established and how to keep it in its place. In return I’m hoping to build my capacity to handle the inevitable presence of bullying in my life and you are cordially invited to join me in this process.  I regret that this is not a ride for the faint hearted because there is no psychic Ketamine to escape looking the bully straight in the face, including our own. However, I can promise that I will not duff you up behind the bike sheds or trip you up for laffs.

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