Will the sector ever be free of bullies?

Tamsin Russell; Andy Bodle, 01.11.2019
Tamsin Russell and Andy Bodle discuss workplace bullying
Dear Andy: 

I am optimistic. The steps we are taking with the research into sector bullying – detailed research for the first time – will enable us, individuals, managers, unions, human resources departments, organisations and other bodies to begin to act in concert to address the realities. 

One of the benefits of research is that it creates transparency and, as such, a choice to act or not to act, and I trust that the sector’s current focus on audience wellbeing will be applied to its workforce. The baseline research will enable us to observe the changes over time – which I hope will be the reduction and eventual eradication of bullying. 

Best wishes, Tamsin

Dear Tamsin: 

I share your optimism. In the wider world, movements such as #MeToo have broken one of the taboos, and expectations as to appropriate behaviour are becoming ever clearer. The focus on mental health and wellbeing has made us look at the subject from a different angle. 

What used to be passed off as “eccentric behaviour” or just “creative tension” have been outed for what they really are, and this must continue. Such issues will always surround us, hence the need to continue striving to address them. As you say, detailed sector-specific research will enable this approach. 

Best wishes, Andy 

Dear Andy: 

It is interesting that you highlight changes in expectations of behaviours. One of the ways I hope we can address bullying is by ensuring that those with a duty of care have the knowledge, skills and confidence to manage effectively, compassionately and pragmatically.

Exploring behaviours that could be received as bullying, as part of future leadership and management programmes, is essential. It will ensure that managers are able to manage competently and professionally, without adopting outdated tactics. But let me make it clear that bullying and poor management are not the same thing – the former requires intent, malevolence and persistence. 

Best wishes, Tamsin

Dear Tamsin: 

Detecting and dealing appropriately with bullying or harassment should be included in any management or leadership development programme. We can help people remain aware of the standards expected, where they can go for assistance and what they can do to deal with any unacceptable behaviour. 

Bullying can be upward as well as downward, or indeed lateral, sometimes from unexpected quarters. Having explicit policies and publicized assistance are also essential in today’s workplace. The difference between bullying and poor management can be defined as misconduct or poor performance. 

Best wishes, Andy 

Dear Andy: 

There are different types of bullying – serial, pair and group, for example – and understanding them should help managers and organisations take action and support the workforce. Needless to say, the ideal scenario would be to create a culture and climate where bullying isn’t a reality. Other than policy and training, what else could be put into place to create a bully-free sector? 

Best wishes, Tamsin 

Dear Tamsin: 

We must all sign up to establishing, supporting and celebrating a climate and culture that enables everyone to thrive equally. But we need to recognise that just being firmly managed does not constitute bullying. Fair management includes establishing agreed visions and values, behavioural frameworks and performance management systems to which everyone can contribute and therefore live by, with development opportunities available as appropriate, be they formal or experiential, coaching or mentoring. And should problems arise, then all involved, including HR and unions, have a role to play in resolution under fair procedures. 

Best wishes, Andy

Tamsin Russell is the professional development officer at the Museums Association; Andy Bodle is the director of operations and human resources at Royal Museums Greenwich

Comments

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Anonymous
05.12.2019, 14:34
I can't imagine any organisation completely free of any bullying, or attempts at it, as a few people just have that sort of nature, but robust policies and procedures can at least reduce it to a minimum.

Also, what one person will see as bullying, another will see as the above-mentioned 'firm management', and it is difficult to eradicate that, but again, carefully thought-out procedures will be helpful. I think things are probably better than they used to be as now situations are more likely to be articulated and not swept under the carpet.

I sympathise with the situation of the commentator below, situations like that must be very hard to deal with when everything is more 'under the radar' than any local authority institution would allow.
Anonymous
22.11.2019, 11:47
One of the problems with the discussion above is that is very much from the perspective of a large organisation with many layers of management.
In smaller museums the management can actually be the board of trustees who are unpaid and in many ways unregulated. The distinction is made between incompetence/poor management and malevolence/bullying but it is not always so clear cut. What happens when what starts out as incompetence and lack of concern for the welfare of staff then evolves into bullying and intimidation because management realises it has actually broken the law and has to cover its tracks?
What happens is a refusal to apologise or admit any wrongdoing, staff having to resort to the grievance procedure and a settlement agreement with an NDA to protect the reputation of the trustees and museum at all costs.
You can talk all you like about training for management etc. but what happens when the 'management' is actually the unpaid board of trustees? This is the case in main smaller museums. Unless the accreditation system demands that trustees sign up to a code of conduct and undergo formal training there is no requirement for bad practice to change.

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