OPINION: Recently, I had a fascinating conversation with former Hamilton City Council employee Allan Halse - a man who stood up and confronted bullying in his former workplace, and now acts as an advocate for others who have suffered from workplace bullying.
The conversation itself was something I found fascinating because his description of the process of how a workplace bully works is one I've identified in several past employers - the ones who get a little power crazy. They can say or do something in private but, in public, are a different person - making you question how much of the bullying was true and making it harder to substantiate your claims. I had that with a few different managers while I worked in a business in the CBD.
In public, it was all sweetness and light but, behind closed doors, there were arguments, lying and threats. They would give you limited information or make sure you were set up to fail - something not uncommon to find in managers who feel threatened by workers whose skills and potential are greater than theirs.
Especially when it's becoming far harder to get a job out there, the need to drag others down to secure your own position is one that's becoming far too common.
In fact, the limited availability of new jobs is one factor that encourages workplace bullying - because walking away sometimes isn't an option if that job you're walking away from is one that you need to support your family.
Talking to friends and family about the topic, I was blown away by some of the stories I heard: the manager of a major Hamilton complex telling staff they don't have a right to feel safe at work without paying extra for it; staff being given warnings for taking time off to stay with sick kids - because they obviously can't commit to work with children in the picture; threatening staff with firings for talking directly to senior management . . . the list goes on and on. Threats, condescending comments, back-stabbing, limited information, managing out employees to avoid direct intervention from the Labour Department - there's a long list of subtle tricks of the trade that the new-age workplace bully uses.
And the effects it has on those being bullied are just as varied and intense. It can make people physically ill, so stressed they can't work. The degrees of separation in a close community like Hamilton are small, and that should make it easier to create lines of communication to stop this.
I'm sure no-one actually wants to be a bully, no-one works to get that label and, in a community as close as Hamilton can be, that sort of social deterrent could help stop it from happening.
People need to speak out more, they need to confront the workplace bully and tell them they've crossed a line.
Not in a way that will cause stress or incite ramifications but in an open way that will hopefully wake them up to the fact they're causing someone actual harm.
It's this recognition that is behind the change in the way the law sees workplace bullying, so it isn't just an employment issue in the future, it has other ramifications as well.
Hamilton as a city works great as a microcosmos of New Zealand - if we're seeing a culture of workplace bullying here, permeating through various sectors like a cancer, then have no doubt it's happening all over New Zealand.
We can change this, though. We need to change this to make sure that the future isn't one where being bullied is something we expect at work. By speaking out about it, to anyone who will listen, we are fighting the issue - and shedding light on it.
Only then will we see it decrease - and wouldn't it be great to know Hamilton was a world leader in making work places a safer, better place to be?
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