DGJ Detective: can bullying happen in a ‘do good’ workplace?

Posted by | September 24, 2015 | How to be awesome at your job, Work tips

bullying-do-good-workplacee

It was a dark and gloomy night, and I needed answers. I had stopped by the dirtiest joint in town (my kitchen table), wearing my trenchcoat (dressing gown), with my trusty notebook (laptop) in tow.

I was in need of a dame. A dame who would spill the beans on the darkest ‘do good’ secrets around… Does bullying really happen in ‘do good’ workplaces?

Just then, a shadowy silhouette glided into the bar. Was this the dame I’d been looking for? There was only one way to find out. “How do you take it?” I said, nodding to the glass of bourbon (rooibos tea) in my hand.

“Neat,” the dame replied, her voice was as smooth as buttered apricots.

I gestured to the barman (teapot), and he poured her a double. “Listen, doll,” I said. “I need a canary and I’ve heard that you sing. Tell me about bullying in the ‘do good’ workplace.”

“Well,” the dame said. “It’s a long story, and it isn’t pretty.” She lent in close…

Bullying in the workplace

Workplace bullying? Couldn’t happen to me, you say, I work at a ‘do good’ job! Surely there are no bullies here… they’re all out there working for mega-corporations selling french fries, caffeinated beverages and baby formula… right?

That’s where you’ve got it wrong. Bullying does exist in the ‘do good’ sector. It doesn’t matter whether you groom gluten-free gerbils or teach tap-dancing to pensioners, the criteria for doing ‘good’ work does not, unfortunately, always include being respectful to your colleagues.

What is workplace bullying?

Bullying can be defined as using strength or influence to harm or intimidate those who are weaker. In a workplace, the individual with more power is usually a higher-ranking colleague or boss.

Despite my casual Film Noir introduction, bullying can have huge and long-term impact, including effects to long-term mental health, the quality and quantity of work and the health of a organisation as a whole. Bullying is toxic, and not in a Britney Spears and Martin Henderson kind of way.

 

“Just as there are abusive people in relationships, there are abusive people in workplaces. This can affect people just as seriously.” – Dora Jones, Wellington

 

Case-study at a Wellington Not-for-Profit

I wanted to find out more about bullying in the workplace, and what to do about it, so I approached local ‘do good’ veteran, Dora Jones* with a few questions. Dora was working for a Wellington-based not-for-profit when she was witness to ongoing and serious bullying of colleagues by her boss.

When asked how working in a ‘do good’ job impacted her experience of workplace bullying, Dora said that under-resourcing meant that their were less formal structures to fall back on and that the complaints process was unclear and badly handled. However, she said it wasn’t all bad, “because of the organisation’s principles, I think that the board was under more pressure to take it seriously, and it was likely this led to a better outcome.”

The mental health of targeted colleagues was severely affected, some of whom developed depression and stress-related medical conditions. Dora says the experience reminded her that ” our emotional and mental wellbeing doesn’t stop being affected when we enter our workplace each day.”

What advice would Dora give to someone who was being bullied in the workplace? She is very eloquent on this point.Know your rights,” she says. “Collect evidence. Write everything down as it happens even if it is a conversation where you think you or others have been bullied. You will need details when you make a complaint. Talk to your colleagues. It is likely that if you have noticed bullying, they will have too.”

Dora says that her most valuable advice would be to unionise. ” People in ‘do good’ organisation often don’t join unions because they think bad experiences won’t happen,” she says, “but bullying and bad employment practice can happen in any organisation. Unions can provide the vital support and advice to help you stand up to workplace bullies.”

 

What to do next

When you find yourself in a workplace situation where there’s bullying going on, it can be very hard to know what to do. Firstly, it’s important to acknowledge that it exists. Second, find some support. Check out the useful links below for more info on workplace bullying in Aotearoa:

 

*Please note that Dora’s name has been changed to protect her anonymity.

By Liz Willoughby-Martin

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One Response to “DGJ Detective: can bullying happen in a ‘do good’ workplace?”

  1. Comment made by IAN FULLARTON on Sep 25th 2015 at 4:00 pm:

    THANKS FOR THIS,
    BOTH MYSELF AND MY FRIEND HAVE BEEN BULLIED BY EMPLOYERS.
    I TOOK MY CASE TO THE COURT AND WON ,ONLY A MORAL VICTORY ,AS MY EX EMPLOYER IS FUNDED BY THE TAX PAYER, HE “PAID OUT”I RECEIVED ABOUT 1/3 OF THE FINE HE WAS ORDERED TO PAY THE LAWYERS GAINED THE REST.MOST PEOPLE ARE AWARE OF THIS SITUATION AND IN MANY CASES I.E. “SMALL FRY” THEY JUST LEAVE THE JOB.
    MY FRIEND DID JUST THAT SHE FELT SHE DID NOT HAVE THE STRENGTH TO COPE WITH THE PROCEDURE, SHE IS STILL AFFECTED BY THE TRAUMA OF IT ALL…ONCE MORE THE EMPLOYER WAS GOVT. FUNDED.
    PERSONALLY I BELIEVE THAT EMPLOYMENT LAW IS WEAK AND DATED ONLY A FEW PEOPLE IN HIGH PROFILE JOBS CAN CHALLENGE THEIR EMPLOYER TO A SATISFACTORY RESULT. IT IS ALSO OF MY OPINION THAT SOME LAWYERS ACT TO THEIR OWN ADVANTAGE BECAUSE OF ANTIQUATED LAWS.

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