Up until the early 1990's workplace bullying was more of a myth than reality in the UK, this may have been more to do with the lack of research and literature into the problem. However in the early 1990's Andrea Adams brought it into the public eye via a series of Radio 4 broadcasts called ‘An Abuse of Power and Whose Fault is it Anyway'. Andrea Adams was an influential campaigner who's aim was to raise awareness about workplace bullying, she dies later in 1995 and in memory of her death the Adams trust was set up to help address workplace bullying. Following this the continual media coverage and pressure from trade unions and the Adams trust caused this issue to be academically studied and looked into further.
Due to the lack of research defining bullying can be difficult. Einarsen (2003) said “Differing concepts have been in use in different European countries, such as ‘mobbing' (Leymann, 1996; Zapf et al., 1996), ‘harassment' (Bjorkqvist et al., 1994), ‘Bullying' (Einersen and Raknes, 1997) and ‘psychological terror' (Letmann, 1990a).
However they all seem to refer to the same phenomenon, namely the systematic mistreatment of a subordinate, a colleague, or a superior, which if continued, may cause severe social, psychological and psychosomatic problems in the victim.” (Einarsen, Hoel, Zapf and Cooper, 2003:2). Being more specific in 1994 Einarsen defines bullying as ‘when one or several individuals persistently over a period of time perceive themselves to be on the receiving end of negative actions from one or several persons, in a situation where the target of bullying has difficulty in defending him or herself against these actions' (Einarsen et al. 1994: 20, cited in Hoel and Cooper 2001:4). However this raises the issue of perception, and whether people realise they are being bullied.
The broadcasts made by Radio 4 gave people the language and vocabulary to describe and make sense of past and present situations. Lee (2000) interviewed 50 self selected individuals, 35 claimed to have suffered from workplace bullying. An extract from one of her interviews “It took me a long time to realise that it was actually bullying, but finally the penny dropped when I saw a programme on BBC 2”. This describes how people do not realise they are being bullied as they don't know how to describe it.
In the decade that followed the 1992 broadcasts academics became more interested in bullying at work. Liefooghe suggested ‘an important parallel between a concept of institutionalized racism and the employing organization as bullies, this alludes to organisational dynamics and broader processes in the changing nature of work as key drivers that provoke workers to use the rhetoric of bullying as a political act, and thus as a form of resistance' (Liefooghe 2003: 32). Showing bullying can extend to encompass everyone of a particular minority or even gender. In the legal profession, where ‘Male lawyers in general and the Professional Body fiercely resisted the entry of women. Firstly it is a conservative profession who oppose change. Secondly men felt the professional standards would be compromised through image and identity of female lawyers' (Wilson, 1999:79). Bullying forced out woman from law practices, and stopped them from entering the profession. As a result, woman only accounted for 30% of all lawyers in 2005 (Department of Professional Employees, 2006:2) and earned on average 20% less. This is a good example of institutionalised bullying which is becoming more common in professions especially those that have previously been gendered. This example could however also be linked to the fact that these firms were run by men who were comfortable with the status quo and worked in an industry and era where they never had to consider woman at work. Causing a defence mechanism in the form of bullying woman out of work.
However bullying can be institutional and part of the system due to the fact, ‘employers have extensive power to choose who they employ, a factor emphasized by deregulated labour markets' (Hoel and Cooper, 2006:248). Therefore an employer will be better off than the employee if an employee leaves as there is plenty of labour supply. This is especially important in the UK today, with the current economic crisis, labour is in abundant supply, and employers are not hiring as many new employees. Ironside and Seifert ‘reject the notion that workers have a real choice of whether to continue or quit their jobs, and many workers put up with bad conditions because the alternatives are often worse' (Ironside and Seifert 2003: 384). For the workers the alternative is unemployment. Therefore employers feel they can get away with bullying as they have easy alternatives, this can lead to currently employed workers to suffer as they believe they have no choice. A report by The Union of Skilled and Professional People (1995) said, ‘in context of increasing unemployment, the pressures of those who remain in employment are growing at an alarming rate' (MSF, 1995:1). This is backed up by Hoel and Cooper who found ‘pay, increased workloads and the intensification of work were obvious points of dispute' (Hoel and Cooper, 2006:254).
Changed organisational structures, focusing around a human resource management team, often this is used when you're a labour intensive organisation with a lot of low level employees, e.g. Supermarkets. However this has ‘led to greater pressures on line managers and supervisors to operate under the new principles of excellence and quality in an increasingly globalized and competitive marketplace.' (Liefooghe & Davey, 2001:376) Pressure placed on lower level managers often gets passed onto subordinates as they struggle to deal with performance targets. There is evidence to suggest this pressure can turn into aggression and bullying as managers try and get workers to be more efficient and work harder, to reach the managers targets. This pressure is particularly high in organisations that compete in a high labour market, as there is always someone to take the managers position they feel have to perform to keep their jobs. Lee (2000) said ‘in a competitive economic climate, unproductive employees will be sacrificed in the interest of the organisation as a whole' (Lee, 2000:600). Showing how little value is placed on any one individual employee. This expendable attitude threatens employees and managers alike, forcing managers to think for number one and take a survival attitude, causing them to bully and harass workers into meeting their own targets. Ironside and Seifert (2003) back this up believing there has been, ‘a seemingly higher incidence of workplace bullying since the 1980s to increased profit and/ or performance target pressures on employers and managers' (Ironside and Seifert 2003: 386). This was majorly influenced by the Conservative government of the time run by Margret Thatcher, their aims was to increase Britain's productivity and competitiveness by removing power from the unions and workers and giving it to employers. This could be the start of aggression in the workplace in Britain, a more pressured environment.
One of the affects of the Thatcher Government was the confidence it gave employers to say no those employees that supported trade unions. ‘At the height of Thatcherism, most new workplaces excluded trade unions and there was a growing trend in some sectors of the economy towards de-recognition' (Gall, 2003:11-12). One of the roles of the trade unions is to deal with bullying from employers and colleagues, if they suddenly have less power, employers don't have anyone to answer to, with employees having no representation. This culmination of loss of protection for workers and transfer of power from unions and workers to employers caused a more aggressive and pressurised work environment during the 1980's and early 1990's; leading to increased bullying both more frequent and more severe, by employers trying to get as much as possible out of employees. ‘The challenges facing trade unions are widely recognised, both within and outside the labour market movement. Recognition of these problems is one thing, action and resolution is another' (Blyton & Turnbull, 2004:366). Therefore we can attribute a direct link between trade union's loosing their power and increased bullying in the workplace.
Mobbing could be described up as the experience of smaller day to day events that occur and culminate to someone being bullied. How many times someone is mobbed depends on the amount of conflict that exists within an organisation ‘If various organizational circumstances contribute to the total number of conflicts, then the number of unresolved conflicts should also increase, thus leading to a higher number of mobbing cases in the organization' (Zaph, 1999:72). It is assumed as adults people should be able to deal with conflict both within and outside of work, sensibly and rationally, and as such most conflicts are left for employees to sort out themselves. However if that is the case and we are all rational individuals, conflict would not lead to mobbing as it so clearly does. Therefore part of a manager's job is to look after the well being of its workers, reducing conflict, and dealing with potential bullying. This time spent by managers has the opportunity cost of removing focus away from the core business objectives of making money. As Zaph said in 1999, ‘the more unresolved conflicts, the more cases of mobbing that take place within an organisation', therefore someone needs to resolve the conflicts. ‘Every incident is unacceptable and that workers should always be treated with respect and dignity' (Lee 2002: 205–6). Resolving the early conflicts could go a long way to preventing the mobbing and bullying from taking place, it just involves better management skills, more awareness and greater effort from managers.
Due to the new economic uncertainties and added pressure of keeping their jobs, workers have been taking industrial action to secure their futures. A prime example is HMS Prison Officers on Merseyside walking out without notice due to colleagues being bullied by superiors. ‘The dispute started after one of the prison officers was sent to an employment tribunal and claims of bullying and harassment were made' (BBC News 2009). Strikes by the prison guards are an indication of changing times, workforces are no longer willing to put up with bullying tactics by managements, despite the economic climate. This could be due to the acknowledgment by society of its existence; this is probably the main difference between now and the 80's. Also importantly trade unions are showing their worth and supporting employees in their industrial actions despite their loss of power and pull over employers.
Recent publicity over workplace bullying has thrust it into the public limelight, causing it to become a more sensitive subject, employers have to be more careful and it has caused key actors within the employment relationship to change their position towards the subject. ‘The abundance of workplace bullying victims has prompted individuals to set up support/campaign groups, telephone help lines and web sites' (Lee, 2000:596) These groups and campaign's help support the trade unions, for example the Adams Trust, in supporting victims of bullying but also organisations in how to prevent and deal with bullying properly. Other key actors with greater influence are also needed to get involved. Possible future Prime Minister (PM) David Cameron spoke out at a National Bullying Helpline event where he strongly put forward his no tolerance for bullying, ‘Stamping out bullying in the workplace and elsewhere is a vital objective. Not only can bullying make people's lives a misery, but it harms business and wider society too' (Unity, 2009:1). As PM David Cameron would have a key role to play as policy setter for the government he could encourage organisations to stamp out bullying, and holds a position of power his voice would be herd. Although traditionally a conservative government would place more power with employers and not with trade unions, thus giving more rights and powers to unions to help prevent and protect workers from bullying, David Cameron has shown he is keen to put an end to the problem, whether he knows how or not.
‘UK trade unions and researchers have insisted that workplace bullying is easily distinguishable from one-off or infrequent disagreements of social banter' (Lee, 2000:596). This statement shows how important it is to distinguish between the two different situation's however as this is always down to the victim's perspective, it is all relative, as everyone has their own tolerance levels. Some would argue that ‘banter' has a positive impact on an organisation and improves moral within the working environment, so it is not to serious. However if this is at the expense of someone and becomes unprofessional, whether through harassment or a group of three or four people aiming abuse at one individual this can become more than banter and be classed as mobbing or bullying over a period of time. Another key actor within employment, is the institutions to which managers and organisational leaders belong to, one such, the Institution of Professionals, Managers and Specialists, believes ‘eradicating bullying from the workplace does not mean preventing people from enjoying harmless social banter. It is to prevent offensive behaviour which may hurt our colleagues' (IPMS, 1997:6). A balance needs to be struck between the two, to make sure the work environment stays relaxed and stress free. The more relaxed and happier employees are the more willing they are to get on and work.
Due to the tough economic climate we now live and work in, with increasing globalisation and an ever growing labour market, pressure on workers and managers alike is harder than ever. ‘During periods of economic difficulty, the potential for conflict of interest that lies at the heart of the employment relationship is starkly evident.' (Williams and Adam-Smith 2010: 380). Due to this, conflict will inevitably be present in the workplace, this cannot be avoided, however minimising and defusing these situations before they escalate into anything more needs to be a number one concern for managers. If managers want their workers to perform for them, they need to provide a safe environment for them to work productively in, if workers are always worrying about their job security or dreading coming to work due to bullying the will not perform as well.
Key actors need to take responsibility for bullying as well; trade unions despite limited power are helping workers within organisations, by representing them and counselling them on their experiences; however they can't do much to stop a situation from occurring that is down to other key actors namely the employers themselves. Organisations are taking steps to learn how to prevent bullying and mobbing occurring within organisations, the Adams trust is one of many charities set up that help to teach organisations how to deal with bullying in the workplace, drawing on their own experiences. If organisations show they are making a genuine effort to help solve the problem and stop it, then workers who feel they have been bullied may be happier sorting it out within the organisation rather than striking like in the situation with the prison officers. Therefore limiting disruption and causing workers to remain productive. ‘Long term commitment and motivation on the part of workers is more likely to happen if management are prepared to offer jobs that are stable, well paid, interesting and ones in which employees views are adequately represented and protected'. (Blyton & Turnbull, 2004:365).