The lesson from DJs: don’t just blame individuals

SO DAVID Jones follows a well-worn path and gets rid of a troublemaker, albeit a high-profile one. I am really sad that the ”name, blame and shame” approach adopted by David Jones in regards to Mark McInnes is another version of a knee-jerk, outdated, adversarial manner of dealing with people problems. Perhaps he was hit by his own boomerang, but in fact, nobody apart from lawyers actually gains.

In the first instance, I doubt he apologised to the employee he abused, who may be affected for a long time, the bystanders and any others who have been affected, nor the colleagues who respected his work and whom he has suddenly been pressured to abandon.

Once the dust settles, I doubt that staff will be safer at David Jones from any form of harassment. This will probably be due to the current fashion for “tick and flick” harassment and bullying training. I suspect that it will affect Mark McInnes’s career, which seemed to be otherwise very productive. As David Jones holds an esteemed position in the fashion stakes, one could even argue that shareholders, the public and everyone else loses from his sudden departure.

Given that we have had legislation or guidelines on bullying and harassment for some time, it’s not rocket science to assume that it will occur in many organisations and therefore, like dealing with weeds or dust, needs to be constantly addressed?

Surely a modern day organisation can implement a few simple policies as regards bullying and harassment, provide staff training for everyone, from the board downwards, instigate support for distressed staff, coaching for staff who need to reprogram inappropriate ways of behaving and implement consequences early on, as well as employ respectful dispute resolution procedures, long before an employee requires legal help and long before some reach the pinnacle of their career, to be sabotaged by knee-jerk reactions.

The research discussed at the recent Seventh International Conference on Workplace Bullying and Harassment in Cardiff, Wales, in June 2010, clearly demonstrates that harassment and bullying are condoned and enabled by toxic leadership cultures. According to the keynote speaker, Norwegian professor Stale Einarson, organisations who have either highly authoritarian or laissez-faire leadership styles foster abuse or allow it to fester. He believes that leaders are neither good nor bad, they can be both constructive and destructive.

Whereas Laura Crawshaw, an American expert on abrasive bosses, said that most bullies were unaware of the impact of their toxic behaviour on their victims and most employers were scared of intervening or lacked the skills to do so. But the majority of workplace bullies, and this may apply with sexual harassment, are coachable and “with appropriate intervention, can demonstrate interpersonal competence”.

Does this mean that the board of David Jones should take responsibility for Mark McInnes being allowed to continue his inappropriate behaviour? Surely in an industry noted for its attention to detail, his behaviour would not have gone unnoticed? Why didn’t someone take him aside earlier in his career and warn him about the impact of his uninvited, inappropriate behaviours?

Like other employees, was he not also subject to performance reviews as well as his relationships with staff? How many warnings did he receive? We push restorative practices in our schools, why weren’t collaborative solutions considered at David Jones?

Surely they are not blind, yet they turned the other eye until the situation escalated, thereby compelling Ms Fraser-Kirk to go in desperation to lawyers who specialise in bullying, harassment and Fair Work practices.

In an industry where a stitch in time saves nine, why wasn’t the situation handled with kid gloves rather than forcing a young woman to find legal weapons to intervene and obtain safety and validation? Although her case has been successful, I have seen many clients suffer high levels of distress that this creates, despite their validation.

Unfortunately, there are many organisations where the boards of management have no interest in the people they employ, their welfare or in creating a psychologically healthy workplace where employees who are respected work harder, and where performance and productivity improve as a direct consequence. Most, like David Jones, will blame the individual rather than their own shoddy values and managerial practices and maintain a blind spot to the costs associated directly and indirectly with stressed-out employees.

Clearly these are not psychologically healthy work practices. Although no director would be caught dead with a three-year-old mobile phone, they reflect an out-of-date approach to managing staff difficulties that devalues human capital and denies its relationship to improving performance.

I hope other organisations will take note and implement remedial action earlier and find collaborative ways to resolve harassment and bullying instead of waiting until the situation has reached a crisis point and then bully the employee who has experienced harassment, or their oblivious perpetrator, to leave, under a dark cloud of humiliation.


Employers have failed to help victims of workplace bullying

Targets are brainwashed into feeling powerless and paralysed.

MAGISTRATE Peter Lauritsen’s ruling on the culpability of those responsible for the subtle and sadistic workplace bullying that led to Brodie Panlock’s death in 2006 may reduce the acceptance of such behaviour in the workplace.

This is only a small indication of justice and the manner in which victims are further abused by adversarial employers and our insurance and medico-legal systems. Nevertheless, it is a sign things may be finally, although slowly, changing for the better.

But the most-asked question is why don’t people just leave a toxic workplace. It’s hard to understand how a victim can stay and become increasingly hurt.

Philip Zimbardo’s famous prison experiment, conducted at Stanford University in 1971 with bright, normal university students, demonstrated that they had emotionally deteriorated to the point where after six days of abuse by their peers he ceased the experiment.

We know about learnt helplessness, where women stay because they have lost the confidence to leave abusive relationships.

We know that some parents keep their children at the same school for years, despite their child’s constant complaints of being bullied. But why didn’t this young woman leave the cafe?

Bullying occurs at any level in the workplace and studies show that one in five employees will experience it, more in some workplaces.

Strangely, most employers don’t understand that employees who feel safe and respected work harder and achieve more.

The problem is that most employers don’t truly educate their staff to identify bullying, provide systemic solutions to rectify the causes, develop interventions and empower victims to create ways to block bullying behaviours. Most policies are superficial, formed without adequate staff collaboration, regular monitoring, comprehensive training programs, meaningful consequences or conciliatory, restorative dispute-resolution processes.

Instead of identifying bullying as a sign of a toxic culture and managerial incompetence, many employers address a bullying case by attacking the confused, hurt victim, whose brain has already been scrambled by the abuse from co-workers.

Thus the victims face a gauntlet of hazards. Do they ever get flowers, balloons or caring phone calls from their employer when they are home, too injured to work? In most cases, victims are sabotaged by adversarial, aggressive or passive managers keen to avoid liability.

Many wait for promissory notes about employee safety and justice to materialise. While they wait for assistance, the bullying escalates like a slow-growing cancer.

Most don’t understand that they are being bullied until they are injured.

Just like Humpty Dumpty or the terracotta warriors of Xian, they have fallen to pieces, curdled, disintegrated. Their spirit is broken, their good name trampled on; they have been humiliated in front of peers. Their fight/flight instinct is paralysed and they become stuck in time, obsessing over what is occurring but unable to take action.

According to Canadian psychologist Pat Ferris, brain scans will soon show the extent of their serious injuries. Unlike the victim of a hold-up, their injuries are often only validated when there is legal evidence of bullying, which is hard to prove when bullying is subtle or there are many minor acts, rather than by their medical and psychological symptoms.

Besides, the current state of research seriously restricts general practitioners and mental health professionals. Many can’t distinguish between the biochemically different injuries of stress versus trauma.

There are no adequate evidence-based diagnoses and consequently no suitable treatments for victims of workplace bullying trauma. Few mental-health professionals know how to identify their symptoms. No wonder victims face a potpourri of diagnoses when they confront a medico-legal examination. Few have had training to deal with this crippling injury, leading some to blame victims for their personalities, without assessing work culture, management, bullies, employers and bystanders.

Worksafe and Medicare pay scant attention to the needs of this seriously injured group and the many years of treatment they require. Many caring mental-health professionals make big financial sacrifices to treat them.

Despite the excellent work being done by the National Centre Against Bullying and by many schools, the rates of school bullying have not fallen significantly.

So what hope do victims of workplace bullying have when they are unaware of the hazards facing them, their employers don’t care, safety and legal justice is virtually impossible, mental-health professionals are under-resourced, bullying awareness programs are a farce and instead of restorative practices to deal with disputes, employers unleash a battery of adversarial tactics?

No wonder victims become brainwashed into feeling hopeless, powerless and paralysed.


Bully Blocking Blog

“Doing nothing and walking away does not work!”

No parent today wants to hear that their child is being bullied. It is awful to know that your child is feeling powerless. However, this is not true. There is a lot you can do to help them.

You can begin by creating a home environment with lots of discussion and confrontation. This means table talk, at least twice a week, without any interruptions, like mobiles and TV and ten have regular family meetings. It also involves less “electronic bla bla,” in their life, this only creates depression, poor self esteem and injures social skills.

Some children don’t know how to challenge or confront either parent, (who loves them), so if they can’t do that, how can they confront a bully, (who doesn’t)? Make sure you enable your child to share more of their actual day with you, not just the nice things but what they really think and feel. This means asking, “Who did you play with today, who was nice to you or mean today, who will you make arrangements with on the weekend?”

Now to your child, look for the everyday signs of happy or sad, angry or scared. Look at their body language and what they do. Do they enjoy going to school and meeting kids or not? Is their work suffering? How does their social life rate? Don’t wait for them to announce that they are being bullied. When they look miserable or denigrate themselves, ask them what is happening at school and what is wrong.

Once you find out what is happening, then get the full story, including what they do in response to the bullying, because something they do enables the bullying to continue. Without realising it, they make the bully happy!

Find out whether they can block the bullying themselves, or need help and read my book, “Bully Blocking” (2007) with them, and help them learn the six secrets of bullying blocking. Give them about three weeks if they want to do it on their own. If this does not suffice, then, make an appointment with the school and work with them to resolve the bullying. If the school is powerless to intervene, as many schools are, (there’s more bullying in staffrooms than classrooms these days) then take your child to a psychologist, who has training in dealing with bullying, ask the Australian Psychological Society for names. It takes on average six sessions to change them from miserable and alone to happy and social and they can use these skills to deal with bullies wherever they are in the future.

However, you can also give them some tips. DON’T SAY – “do nothing, walk away or please stop!” Tell them to look the bully in the eye, wear a neutral face, stand up straight, and block the tease, eg “You’re dumb”, reply, “And?” (there are lots more examples in Secret 5, Bully Blocking”). Tell them that they don’t need to get angry and retaliate, just block the tease and wait for the look of stunned surprise from their bully!

If they are being cyber or physically bullied, report it to the school or police immediately. If they are being excluded, encourage them to improve their social skills to become more friendly and caring or tell them just to find a nicer bunch of kids to play with who are more like them! Remember, generally it’s the nerds who become successful and drive BMW’s in their twenties, not popular kids who often fizzle out!

Finally, although you may have done the best you can, not all children are the same, some are more vulnerable and some may need to move to another school. Alternatively, you can help your school and parents’ association do more to stop school bullying, at present they lack funding, resources and training.

Good luck Bully Blocking.

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