Workplace Bullying: Blowing the Whistle on Conspiracies of Silence

Posted on 14 January 2011 by Jennifer Wilson in Society an article written by Dr Stewart Hase.

Australian Dr Stewart Hase is a registered psychologist and has a doctorate in organisational behaviour as well as a BA, Diploma of Psychology, and a Master of Arts (Hons) in psychology.

Please note any references to bullying being illegal refers to Australian Law as bullying in the UK is NOT illegal (yet)!

There is a conspiracy of silence when it comes to workplace bullying. In the many thousands of words recently written about bullying at work in the local press the conspiracy has been maintained.

A conspiracy of silence occurs when everyone knows that bad behaviour is
occurring but there is a tacit decision not to talk about it and certainly not to do anything. It was first used to describe incest in families and, more recently, other forms of abuse. People don’t do anything because they don’t want to rock the boat, to avoid conflict, and because it is just too hard. Sadly, by not speaking up or doing anything the observers validate the perpetrator and invalidate the victim.

As I have often seen in clinical practice, the effect of these conspiracies on the victims is monstrous. The victim feels as if he or she is somehow at fault, they are confused, and feel alone and unsupported. Most importantly they come to feel powerless and it is this that results in anxiety and depression, the most common effects of being bullied.

In all that is written about bullying at work there are two major conspiracies of silence that result in enormous pain and suffering for victims. It also seems that workmates who see the bullying can also be badly affected resulting in significant symptoms on their part too.

The first gaping silence is that senior managers in organisations prefer not to do anything about bullies. This conspiracy of silence occurs despite the fact that bullying is against the law and CEOs and boards of directors are in fact culpable by not acting. It is interesting to watch an organisation move a victim of bullying to another branch or even another job, and leave the bully in place: even after admitting openly that the bullying has occurred. Sometimes, it is easier to call a case of bullying a personality conflict and call in a mediator. The damage these behaviours do to the victim is enormous.

It’s also common to blame the victim. This is easy because the bullied worker has repeatedly made complaints, as instructed by the legislation and the bullying literature that is laying on the coffee table in the CEO’s waiting area. The victim, who has become increasingly distressed over time, can be simplistically labelled as unstable or over-sensitive: a troublemaker. Let’s not forget too that bullies often pick on already vulnerable people who might have a reputation already for being oversensitive.

There have been some notorious bullies in organisations in and around Lismore that have been allowed to get away with bullying behaviour time and time again: I have seen many of their victims at the clinic. Many of these bullies get promoted. There are also large numbers of senior managers that know that their staff are being bullied but do nothing. Under the legislation they are just as culpable as the bully and their organisation can be fined many thousands of dollars. But they still engage in the conspiracy and more often than not put the fox in charge of the chook shed.

The preferred personality profile of a successful manager (or one on the way up) appears to be someone who is aggressive, dominant, single minded, achievement-oriented, and task focused. Throw in a little pinch of narcissism, low empathy for others and an unsatisfied need for power and this is a nasty recipe for bullying behaviour.

These are not easy people to deal with which makes it so much easier to turn the blind eye. Bullies often appear so good at their job and they create the right relationships with the right people to protect themselves.

And it happens every day in organisations in which we all work. In a recent case a colleague of mine was told by the human resource manager of her organisation that it would be better to let a case of bullying drop because it was against a very senior manager. The reason being that the consequences would not be worth it in the end.

The other conspiracy involves an unholy alliance between the organisation and the insurance company. Despite the pretty advertisements insurance companies want to avoid liability. To do this they will find any excuse to blame the victim rather than make the workplace deal with the problem. Everyone’s a winner: the insurance company doesn’t have to pay out and the organisation’s premiums are protected.

The main way this is done is to find a pre-existing condition in the victim such as a history of previous abuse, anxiety, depression, previous bullying or any other negative behaviour. This is then used as a means of blaming the victim. This is easy to do by running an unbalanced investigation and being highly selective with ‘the evidence’. For someone who has genuinely been bullied at work this outcome is extremely damaging.

It is time for the conspiracies of silence to be broken. Those with the power to act need to make the hard decision and deal with the perpetrator rather than leaving it up to the victim who is already disempowered.

Stewart blogs at stewarthase.blogspot.com

Email Comments

  1. gerard oosterman says: January 14, 2011 at4:06 am

While the bullies might resist in their tactics by being exposed for what they are, even better would be prevention from them being spawned in the first place. I feel that the way of the inherited English type of schools encouraging hierarchies amongst students by appointing prefects and the like might often encourage the grooming of bullies.

The insane over the top of winning at all costs, especially in sporting events, again at school level also could well be a catalyst for bad behaviour.

Certainly amongst adult sport people, the raping and glassing of girlfriends, night club bashing, and drug taking seems to be almost the order of the day. They are seen almost daily on TV in sport courts, smiling as they come out, only to start all over again next day, bashing someone. “It is normal”.

Finally, our own government is hardly setting a good example by their own
form of bullying in ‘sending the boats back’, their tacit approval of naming
them ‘illegal asylum seekers’, the setting up of inhumane Baxter detention
centres.

All with the blessing of our government.

I wonder if any of that benevolence in those flood stricken areas, whereby
all are praised for setting shoulder to shoulder, and all the goodwill of so
many, with Anna Bligh’s tear stained face, will also rub off with extending the
same benevolence to those other people, also floating around on small boats.
The refugees.

Everybody talking to their pockets. Everybody wants a box of chocolates and
a long stem rose. Everybody knows Leonard Cohen

Reply

  1. Rudy Mcalmondsays: January 25, 2011 at 6:14 am

Appreciate it for sharing the information with us.

Dulcie Annarummosays: January 26, 2011 at 9:29 am

You’re so cool! I don’t suppose I’ve read something like this before. So nice to seek out anyone with some authentic thoughts on this subject. Really thank you for starting this up. this website is one thing that’s needed on the internet, somebody with somewhat originality. useful job for bringing something new to the internet!

  1. Peter Wakeham says: April 7, 2011 at 6:06 pm

Dear Dr Hase I think this is the best article about the conspiracy of silence around workplace bullying I have ever read – in all my 15 years of anti-bullying work. I will publish your article on my blogsite and send it around to people on my email list, I will include details of the source of the article with a link to your website.

Love and freedom from bullying.

Posted in Break the Silence | Leave a reply

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