May 31, 2008

Workplace bullying is a problem that cannot simply be denied

The reactions by Bill McGregor of the Headteachers' Association, John Stodter of the Directors of Education and Cosla's spokesman to the suggestion that bullying is "endemic" within six local authorities make interesting reading (The Herald, May 16). They seem to deny it is a problem on their own patches. Just a small review of existing evidence might be helpful.

Two years ago, Amicus and the DTI funded a national project that addressed the serious issue of bullying in the workplace, in which it estimated the cost to UK employers as more than £2bn a year in sick pay, staff turnover and loss of production. One in 10 employees said they had been bullied. Stress-related illness and absence levels in education were substantially above the national average.

In a recent study by Glamorgan University, it was found that nearly 80% of teachers had been bullied in the past two years, with many telling researchers that the problem was continuing and they were regularly bullied. Many said members of their school's senior management team were either the bullies or allowed bullying by others to continue, causing some teachers to think about leaving their posts or abandoning their careers altogether.

Nearly one in 12 staff working in the NHS has experienced bullying or harassment by their manager, according to Westminster figures. An official survey of doctors, nurses and administrators showed the scale of the culture of bullying that had to be tackled by hospitals and primary care trusts.

November 7, 2007, was Ban Bullying at Work Day - a message that doesn't appear to have got through to all parts of further and higher education. Academics at Leeds Metropolitan University claimed that 42% felt intimidated at work, 37% felt their work was belittled and 24% felt they had been humiliated by bullying. The University and College Union survey (with a 41% response rate) suggested a management culture at odds with the university's goals of challenging received wisdom, encouraging students to think and promoting collaborative inquiry. Some 96% of respondents said they felt inhibited about positively criticising policies and 63% reported witnessing bullying.

Denying the nature and existence of the problem without having proper evidence is not only to demean, insult and possibly harm those who have suffered; it is to sustain the corporate, structural and institutionalised hands (and voices) that guide a failure to properly address the matter. There is much evidence on our files to deny that substantial claims of bullying are "groundless", as Cosla suggests. This is a legislated Health and Safety at work issue. What is desperately required is for the Scottish Government at least to commission root-and-branch departmental research of workplace bullying so the truth can emerge and be properly inspected - and this is before tackling that which so much evidence suggests is equally endemic in the private sector


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