Workplace Bullying – a conspiracy of silence?

I have been working in the stress management field for over 20 years and still it never ceases to amaze me that some of the issues I was dealing with then are still prevalent today.

In my role as an Expert Witness to the UK courts I am often required to give a professional opinion to the court as to whether an organisation had anti-bullying procedures in place, prior to an employee deciding to institute a compensation claim against them.  Too many times, employees would have made an official complaint to the HR department yet no action was ever taken.   Was it that HR were just uncaring and unsupportive?  Not necessarily so.  Too often it was because HR really didn’t really know what action to take. A lack of agreed policies and procedures left them uncertain whether they should support the employee’s claim about being bullied or just minimise the alleged behaviour by telling the complainant that there was little they could do. 

A recent survey

I read last week that the UK January Employment Index based on a survey of 2,600 people showed that 25% of the respondents have experienced workplace bullying with incidents ranging from colleagues taking credit for work that they didn’t do to public humiliation at the hands of a colleague, and it made me wonder what more could be done to tackle this conduct that is so often responsible for employees taking extended periods of sick leave and, often ultimately deciding to leave the company.

It is easy for anyone to identify the most obvious cases of intimidation, the times when you see a manager screaming at an employee or humiliating them in front of their team.  This is overt bullying behaviour but what about the bullying behaviour that goes on behind closed doors. The psychological bullying that can now take place on social networking sites is a more dangerous style of bullying as it is a much more difficult phenomenon to detect. Individuals can often be humiliated even by an anonymous posting on a website and social networking sites can facilitate remote intimidation that can cause serious psychological damage to the victim.

Counselling support

I have counselled many clients who would describe such intimidation as a ‘reign of terror’.  They became reluctant to go to work but had little option unless they decided to leave or report sick. In many cases, because of extreme stress, some eventually did leave the company which meant a serious financial loss both to them and to the organisation.

So what can an individual do?

First and foremost, they need to check if the organisation has a formal anti-bullying policy and procedure code and if it does then they should use the procedures laid down to make a complaint. Where procedures are not laid down then they need to speak to someone in authority in the company.  Raising the issue with HR is the recommended way forward.  However, as we saw above, the HR department may not always know what action to take.  But this is a risk that may have to be taken as there is strong evidence to show that bullying behaviour creates stress and ultimately health problems.  I have seen and dealt with many cases where individuals have experienced a nervous break-down as a direct result of workplace bullying.

What should the organisation do?

Make sure that your organisation has robust policies and procedures in place to combat workplace bullying and that your HR professionals and line managers are fully trained to recognise and deal effectively with such issues. An anti- bullying policy should state that the organisation will not tolerate unacceptable behaviour.

If people are in fear of going to work and watching the clock to get back to the safety of their home, then those people will be poor performers, poor sales people, poor producers and a bad advertisement for your firm. That competitive disadvantage will be reflected in your company’s image and your brand.

The learning is not to accept bullying behaviour in your department or workplace.

Key Learning Points

  1. Beware of bullying in the workplace and on social networks
  2. Intimidatory behaviour can cause psychological damage
  3. Unacceptable conduct results in competitive disadvantage

[Reprinted with the kind permission of Gulf News]

Book Keynote Motivational Speaker, Entrepreneur, BBC guest-broadcaster and best-selling Author, Carole Spiers in person for your next conference for charismatic, high-impact workplace stress management presentations and organisational change strategies.

See Carole live http://bit.ly/TUWbX  or check-out our latest ideas about workplace stress, stress management training, instant access to stress reduction products http://bit.ly/FjL5L  and stress management training aimed to reduce stress and delivered to blue-chip clients from IBM to Abu Dhabi Marine Operating Company in UK, Dubai, UAE and worldwide at www.carolespiersgroup.co.uk

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Hard work never hurt anyone! Need some stress relief?

  • Are you being asked to work longer for no more money?  
  • Would you like your team to put in more hours without feeling resentful?

 Not easy questions, but ones that need to be answered.

Real estate prices have yet to reach the bottom, economic conditions are still difficult and it will be those companies who manage to get enthusiastic co-operation from their workforce who will gain competitive advantage.  It is a fine balancing act between getting your team to work longer hours but not losing their commitment and loyalty.

Hard Graft

Certainly one of the keys to success is tenacity and many people will be unlikely to achieve their personal goals without putting in the extra hour when needed.  To these men and women, ‘work is love made visible’, according to Khalil Gibran.

Some people may choose to work longer hours and it may well suit them.  Someone who has difficulties at home and who is throwing themselves into their job to try and forget their emotional problems or the young professional who wants to prove themselves to their manager.  So for them, the extra work that they do is welcomed and, in fact, it fills an unwanted gap in their lives.  They don’t see it as a sacrifice and certainly don’t go home at night with any regrets.

Long Working Hours

So for those who want to prove themselves indispensable, longer hours are no problem, but for others it can mean feeling stressed because there is an expectation on them to work more hours when they desperately want to be at home with their families or lead an active social life. It is these individuals that the company needs to be aware of and to make more accepting of the position.

We know that the impact of long hours can be significant and that it may not be what some people agreed to when they first took on the job.

So how can you ensure people still put in the hours without feeling resentful or become stressed?  Three simple solutions come to mind.

Communication

When people understand the reasons influencing situations around staff cuts, increased hours or changes in work schedules etc, they will better appreciate that the way to stay in the business is to work harder for a while.    Never take your team for granted and share your challenges with them so that they are on your side.

Being appreciated

When people spend more time at work than at home, some of their emotional needs remain unfulfilled.  The needs to be appreciated, recognised and valued for their contribution.  If you don’t want your team to become ‘needy’ and emotionally insecure, then a word at the right time in the right place can make a huge difference.  Simple strategies like bringing in coffee for those staying late, or maybe McDonalds vouchers to say ‘thank you’ to take out the whole family, arranging longer opening hours for the staff canteen with healthy foods available, ‘quiet rooms’ so that people can unwind and relax or maybe even yoga and relaxation classes to demonstrate to employees that their hard work is appreciated.

And don’t forget that a long hours culture doesn’t always mean effective working. Extra hours don’t necessarily mean more profits.  Just because your team stays late, doesn’t mean they are working productively.     Shorter hours with an enthusiastic, happy team are usually more productive than longer hours with a sullen, resentful staff.

Customers, clients and suppliers, all prefer to deal with a company that is clearly working as a cohesive team.  And successful teams are like chains. Each link is under pressure when there is a load to be taken. If only one link is broken or weak, then the entire chain fails and the load is dropped.  That is why chain slings are inspected regularly for any sign or wear or damage before being used, so as to avoid any possibility of accident or injury to those around.

So do you inspect every link in your chain, regularly for signs of wear, so that your company can lift a load successfully without anything breaking?   I wonder?

Key Learning Points

  • Enthusiastic co-operation gives competitive advantage
  • A long hours culture doesn’t always mean effective working
  • Successful teams are like chains, each link is important.

[Reprinted with the kind permission of Gulf News]

Book Keynote Motivational Speaker, Entrepreneur, BBC guest-broadcaster and best-selling Author, Carole Spiers in person for your next conference for charismatic, high-impact workplace stress management presentations and organisational change strategies.

See Carole live http://bit.ly/TUWbX  or check-out our latest ideas about workplace stress, stress management training, instant access to stress reduction products http://bit.ly/FjL5L  and stress management training aimed to reduce stress and delivered to blue-chip clients from IBM to Abu Dhabi Marine Operating Company in UK, Dubai, UAE and worldwide at www.carolespiersgroup.co.uk

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Stress management can be good for your heart

This week, I was interested to read that scientists responsible for research conducted in Sweden, have said that they believe that “stress management programmes can help decrease the risk of recurrent heart attacks and other cardiovascular illnesses”.

As we know, the word ‘stress’ is often used incorrectly and out of context in order to describe our reaction to everyday problems.  In fact, stress is actually the physical and mental response we experience to prolonged pressure that develops over a period of time.

Most of us have the coping skills that enable us to manage excessive pressure for short periods. We may feel stressed-out temporarily, but like a bungee jumper, we can and do bounce back.  And this is what we all need to do as to manage the problems and challenges of our everyday lives.

Healthy Response

A healthy person can respond to pressure and enjoy the stimulus. However a person who has been under intense pressure over a long period is unlikely to have sufficient coping reserves to manage cumulative stress. The first signs that they are not coping will inevitably show up in their work performance, in their behaviour and, ultimately, also in their appearance and persona.    It is rather like a car trying to run on an empty tank.

Poor communication, unreliable time-keeping, unnecessary outbursts of anger, sleep problems, over or under- eating, high-blood pressure, anxiety, depression and low self- esteem are all signs that excessive stress may be damaging your health and, in particular, your heart.

When the body finally gives up trying to respond to prolonged pressure, the individual concerned can suffer ‘stress burnout’ which manifests as an almost complete collapse in confidence and an inability to take even minor decisions. It has been described as a ‘black hole’ and it can take years, if ever, for such an affected individual to return to a life of normality and to resume work.   

Most of us do not appreciate the dramatic effect that prolonged pressure can have on our life and the lives of our families. When we no longer have the ability or motivation to work, then it can be catastrophic for personal relationships.

That is why stress must not be left unchecked or unmanaged over a long period.

So what can you do about it?

There is no doubt in my mind that stress management awareness training can make us much more aware of the signs and symptoms of stress and provides basic coping strategies. However, when stress escalates out of control, then the individual affected will need professional counselling and/or coaching support to help them take back control of their lives.  In the UK, it is often a company’s HR department that makes contact with me to provide stress counselling for one of their employees, but in the Gulf region, this type of intervention has yet to become part of the corporate culture.

Of course, stress gives us timely warnings but we often just ignore the signs.  Instead, we may become dependent on alcohol or drugs in an attempt to blot out negative feelings and, because adrenaline can run high when stressed, we may take unnecessary or unusual risks both at work and at home.

We may experience migraine type headaches and problems with our digestive system, and mood swings and temper outbursts can indicate the damaging effects upon our health and outlook.

Over the years, I have counselled many managers in my consultancy room, suffering from mental exhaustion.  Did they see it coming, of course they did but they ignored the signs because they thought they could beat the system but of course, they couldn’t!   Such symptoms are a hard wake-up call of which we must take note, and implement remedial action.

Let us learn from those who unfortunately ended up in hospital because they ignored the signs.  They may take months or years to recover. And sadly, some never do!     Don’t become one of them!

 Have you experienced “Stress burnout” or known someone who has? 

Did you see the warning signs and what did you do about it?  Leave your comment in the column.

[Reprinted with the kind permission of Gulf News]

Book Keynote Motivational Speaker, Entrepreneur, BBC guest-broadcaster and best-selling Author, Carole Spiers in person for your next conference for charismatic, high-impact workplace stress management presentations and organisational change strategies.

See Carole live http://bit.ly/TUWbX  Or check-out our latest ideas about workplace stress, instant acces to stress reduction products http://bit.ly/FjL5L  and stress management training aimed to reduce stress and delivered to blue-chip clients from IBM to Abu Dhabi Marine Operating Company in UK, Dubai, UAE and worldwide at www.carolespiersgroup.co.uk

So here are some tips to help you manage your personal stress?

  1. If you start to feel out of control, seek help immediately
  2. Ensure you maintain a proper  work / life balance
  3. Take plenty of exercise as it will reduce the effects of stress
  4. Eat a healthy diet and do not skip meals

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