An employee’s health and wellbeing in the workplace is a human right. A person must feel they can have a sense of self-control for their personal safety and wellbeing in the workplace. A sense of belonging, safety, equality, purpose, inclusion and respect are human requirements. If any of these requirements are violated it can have a devastating effect on the performance and wellbeing of an employee. Psychological abuse goes deep and the effects on a target of workplace inappropriate behavior are long-term. Usually, a target copes or survives for as long as possible, but sustained exposure to bullying can lead to profound psychological issues, e.g. panic attacks, breakdown, burnout and mental health issues will arise, including anxiety and depression, which could lead to suicide. Ostracism has devastating effects on the target’s ability to function socially which is essential for work and for life. Ostracism is a wall of silence or a wall to prevent a two-way communication that alienates and devastates people.
The affects are even more devastating when the target is targeted by more than one person, than it is called mobbing. We see this in many ways in the workplace, cliques, ingroups etc. This type of mobbing inflicts psychological injury, blame and makes the target feel that since they are alone or worse that they are the problem. Overt or covert unhealthy behavior can further decrease the target’s ability to function or feel safe. It is extremely hurtful and damaging enough to end a person’s working career and in worst case scenarios even could end their life. It is essential that we raise awareness and open a space for people to talk and support to happen. The more we open up the hidden aspects of workplace bullying the more we can advocate to make the workplace safer for everyone.
Workplace Bullying Awareness Week
This year will be Ireland’s 3rd year taking part in a Workplace Bullying Awareness Week (17th October to 23rd October 2021). The genesis for this awareness campaign came from Linda Crockett who joined Gary Namie (founder of the USA Workplace Bullying Institute) and his “Freedom from Workplace Bullying Week” about 7 years ago. The Workplace Bullying Awareness Week October (17th – 23rd October 2021) is Linda’s initiative with its inspiration for Gary’s work seeks to broaden awareness of this very important workplace issue. Three years ago Linda invited others around the globe to join in the advocacy of making Workplace Bullying Awareness Week a world- wide event. What better way is there than the power of WORLD energy building awareness of this epidemic! Irish workplace bullying expert Judith Carmody joined this global event in 2019. It is going from strength to strength and this October will be Ireland’s 3rd year contributing to this global event. Join us! Raise awareness and help de-stigmatic this devastating and unjust work practice.
Organisational Culture is the in-house shared behaviours, values, beliefs, vision, mission, and goals that exist in the every day to day running of a business or organisation. Culture is the backbone of an organisation; it steers and creates the overall workplace environment, directs the inherent employee’s connection and engagement. The organisational powerhouse influences the culture that empowers innovation and leadership in line with the employees shared goals.
Cultural values and norms are a powerful means of stimulating innovation. Successful innovation may depend on organizational cultural norms that groups develop and the extent to which the group’s cultural orientation aligns with, and is supported by the organization’s overall orientation. (Ethem Duygulu and Emir Özeren)
How can we cultivate an Ethical Culture, a culture wherein employees are creative, safe, happy, engaged, empowered, rewarded and motivated? And how can we transform a workplace that is abusive, brutal, unsafe and psychologically violent?
An Ethical Culture is safe, respectful, diverse, inclusive and equitable. Emotional intelligent leaders, inspire, empower, respect the boundaries of safety, and model healthy interpersonal behaviours. Conscious organisations aspire to create a legacy of moral business conduct and are tuned to the importance of conscious human culture. They are committed to environmental sustainability, economic inclusion, safe workplace practice and social responsibility. The key indicators of an equitable culture are having a “speak up” culture, an ethos of collaboration and an active Power Statement of Safe Communication. Problems are challenges which are addressed and resolved without personal trauma or injury. There is a policy of speak up, treat the challenge, learn, transform and innovate. An empowering culture is a safe culture that offers opportunities, nurtures talent and encourages creativity. Intelligence in the World of Work embraces employees’ physical, mental, spiritual, psychological, emotional safety and well-being. An enlightened culture recognises that this results in a higher retention of qualified employees, contributes to higher profits, production, innovation and has the ability to evolve and retain global leadership in a fast changing economy. There is minimum time and financial waste/loss from employee conflict litigation. The organisation shines in its reputation of being an active just and fair leader in its successful business.
There is much evidence of abusive cultures with historic practices of subservience, abuse, exploitation and strict cohesion. Many traditional institutional structures are still a restricted, controlled culture that reinforce immoral behaviour and set a tone and atmosphere of coercive control, manipulation, sadistic behaviours and dark energies. The abuse is often covert and is conducted by a group(s) who abuse(s) their position of power and authority.
For this discussion I will examine the role of an unethical manager(s), BUT there are other forms of unethical behaviours in the workplace.
Toxic or Vulture Culture, is the abuse of Power and Authority and is a key factor in psychological harassment and violence in the workplace. An unethical manager(s), exploits the resources (inc. human) of the organisation; partakes, enables and is a bystander(s) to abusive behaviours. A callous aggressive manager(s) can destroy the heart or stunt the growth of an organisation. A toxic manager(s) is often the instigator, gatekeeper and controller of the hostile environment while often (covert, overt) attacks, ambushes, gaslights, manipulates and ostracizes those who question “the authority” or “chain of command”. An unethical manager surrounds him/herself with a close network of bystanders and enablers to reinforce his/her abusive power. He/she has little interest in the survival of a targeted employee(s). A toxic leader lacks the human skills of empathy, honesty, safe communication and is basically self-serving. At all times, the mismanagement of the workplace is for the perpetrator(s) own gain and benefit. A perpetrator of dishonest and dehumanising behaviour leaves a legacy of atrocity and hardship. This includes stealing or taking credit for someone else’s work, self-promotion, plagiarism, nepotism, favouritism, racism, sexism, ageism, and free access to resources (overtime, benefits, salary, time in-lieu). A target will suffer huge personal losses including, health, career, financial and family stability. A toxic manager(s) motivation is greed, self-interest and he/she loves the prestige, glory, power, and personal financial gain. He/she loves to look successful which he/she gains through unethical means and usually at the expense of someone else’s survival. There is a total lack of transparency, guidelines are unclear and he/she is constantly changing the goalposts to suit their underhand plan(s). A key indicator of a toxic culture is an atmosphere of collusion and secrecy and there is a FEAR to “speak up”. This ruthless corrupt behaviour becomes the norm in the workplace.
Inside Google’s Culture of Success and Employee Happiness (Neil Patel)
Human resources, or People Operations, is a science at Google. They’re always testing to find ways to optimize their people, both in terms of happiness and performance.
Today, companies like Google and their teams are lifting the anchor of archaic oppressive cultures. Innovative companies promote and validate happy productive co-operative workplaces while they still sustain competitive advantage and retain motivated, competent talented employees. A wellbeing culture is a healthy and lucrative resource; (for the organisation and its employees) it embraces opportunities, nurtures talent, co-creates, collaborates, innovates and is an inspiration for generations to come. It retains the most talented employees in their safe “hub” and boasts of an invigorating atmosphere that propels the dance of evolution. Safe Leadership is recognised and rewarded.
A conscious culture is an ethos of justice, empathy, fairness, equity and safe treatment. The Power of Ethical Culture, organisational strategy and communication along with leadership innovation influences the reputation, legacy and longevity of an organisation. Ethical Culture is exemplary when those at the top of an organisation consistently act as a model for all employees, inspiring trust and unity. Leaders’ intentions define and live ethical beliefs, accountability and co-create an imprint that is measured by its influential legacy. There is a continuous cultivation and transformation of mindsets. An authentic workplace promotes not only physical safety but understands the importance of psychological safety and emotional well-being in the workplace. There is a zero tolerance of inappropriate menacing behaviours that devalue the core moral of the organisation. A culture of safety is a priority and unsafe behaviour is not tolerated. An atmosphere of trust that empowers leaders and employees to deliver the company’s mission, collaborate, overcome challenges and inspire innovation. 2021 is now in the full realms of global networking. Localised faction fighters cannot be enabled to collapse innovative organisations or be permitted to desecrate non-aggressive employees’ careers and lives.
Pioneering companies lead the way proclaiming the human right to safe workplaces and inspire healthy workplace cultures. Authentic leaders exhibit high awareness of the importance of psychological safety, trust and effective communication. Organisations are consciously aware, actively respond and protect the most talented employees who may fall under the savagehand of perpetrators of psychological violence. Organisations, Occupational Health and HR must now look at how they promote someone to a management position, and whether they may be a psychological risk to employee safety and wellbeing. HR is now including psychological safety as a requirement for promotion to management (Dr Timothy Clark).
It is time ethical and enlightened leaders transform structural, institutional and systematic unjust abusive workplaces and end the inherited repeated patterns of immoral behaviour. “Supremacy is a dangerous notion”; “redefine what it is to be a human being”. (Larry Ward 2021). Organisations need to uphold the human in humanity and put an end to workplace psychological traumatic violence, grief, unsafe practices and protect targets of abuse who have a legal right to Psychological Safety at Work.
Companies that achieve market recognition as great innovators must also earn the reputation of being ethical employers who ensure that their employees are safe, secure and happy. Employee talent is what makes organisations’ giant leaders in the global market today and employees must be rewarded with a culture that cares, shares and dares to be a global leader in ethical workplace behaviour. Change starts within and is a moral compass of an organisations level of ethical awareness. In order to affect change or transformation an organisation firstly needs to understand how individuals work in relation to an organisation as an entity, as a culture. An organization’s vision, perception, attitude, value and intention must include the restructuring of harmful ways. The Power of Ethical Culture celebrates the enlightenment of human worth and invites humanity into the 21st Century.
Ethem Duygulu and Emir Özeren : The effects of leadership styles and organizational culture on firm’s innovativeness (Amabile, 1996, cited by Poškien, 2006). Published 20/8/2009
We are delighted to introduce a guest blog by our colleague Teresa Shiels, whose insights encourage us to think about some of the challenges faced by students with disabilities in higher education.
The environment of third level education is an important site of power that facilitates the dominance of certain groups over others through language and discourse (Freire, 2000). The focus of this blog is on the sometimes oppressive culture in the environment of higher education that often leads to the marginalization of disabled students. Discourse is the medium through which power is exercised; it is associated with the transmission of norms, values, and beliefs, which leads to intended or unintended assumptions about members of the disabled community. Creating knowledge that is dominated by popular culture and medical discourse overemphasizes normative physical and cognitive abilities, downplaying the recognition of difference and diversity. For example, the International Symbol of Access (ISA) is signified by a picture of a wheelchair and represents the dominance of a simplistic view of access for students with disabilities, that is, physical access. This depiction strips away the embodied experience for students whose impairments are not always visible, but still have adverse impacts, for example neuro-diverse students. This image “produces, capacitates, and debilitates disability in particular ways” (Frisch, 2013, p.135), which is often not valued within the neoliberalist higher education community.
Having a disability or “impairment, activity limitations or participation restrictions that results from the health condition or from personal, societal, or environmental factors in the individual’s life” (Falvo, 2013, p.5), makes a student more likely a target of incivility. Uncivil behaviours such as interrupting and talking over someone, use of sarcasm or demeaning tone and language, character criticisms and insults are rude and discourteous and display a lack of regard for others (Anderson and Pearson, 1999, p.457). Disabled learners are particularly vulnerable to these insulting and sometimes unconscious behaviours with the rise of performativity and competition. Given that incivility is subtle, these uncivil social interactions can create many adverse emotions. Students internalise these and can become burnt out from the stress of navigating this environment. In this context, Reeve (2006), refers to the feelings that one incorporates about themselves that hinder or prevent them from participating as fully as possible in these settings. In so doing they demonstrate the embodied experiences of students and processes of meaning making, self-image or self-understanding (Tajfel, 1979), which impact their well-being and ability to participate. Therefore, they can often fail their academic subjects; experience stress and even drop out of college consequently.
However, the creation of a more inclusive environment is possible through voice, and advocacy. Open and honest dialogue is vital for the creation of a safe and an empowering educational space for students with disabilities that facilitates participation and learning. There has been several advances within positive organisational behaviour advocating the ideas of psychological capital. This concept includes ideas of hope, optimism, self-efficacy, and resilience. Evidence shows that these attributes enhance performance, satisfaction, happiness, and organisational commitment (Youssef, Luthans and Avolio, 2007). But these ideas place too much of an emphasis on the individual rather than focusing on the environment and the organisational response. Members of the higher educational community should treat students with disabilities with care, dignity and respect that recognizes difference and their capabilities to participate within the organisation and call out destructive behaviour that aims to destroy one’s character and professional development.
Andersson, L. M., & Pearson, C. M. (1999). Tit for tat? The spiraling effect of incivility in the workplace. The Academy of Management Review, 24, 452–471. doi:10.5465/AMR.1999.220213117
Falvo, D. (2013). Medical and psychosocial aspects of chronic illness and disability. Jones & Bartlett Learning
Freire, P. (2000). Pedagogy of the oppressed (30th anniv. ed.). New York: Continuum, 35.
Fritsch, K. (2013). The neoliberal circulation of affects: Happiness, accessibility and the capacitation of disability as wheelchair. Health, Culture and Society, 5(1), 135-149.
Luthans, F., Youssef, C. M., and Avolio, B. J. (2007). Psychological capital: Developing the human competitive edge.
Reeve, D. (2006). Towards a psychology of disability: The emotional effects of living in a disabling society. Disability and psychology: Critical introductions and reflections, 94-107.
Since March 2020 the world of work has changed considerably for me, I wager that the world of work has changed for many other people also. No longer do I navigate public transport in the morning, no longer do I communicate with colleagues or students face to face. I work now mostly in a virtual world where meetings and classes are held online. Many of us have had to battle with laptop cameras, audio settings and latest versions of Google Chrome in order for our computers to become effective communication devices.
Sometimes, it can be difficult to see how “normal” work will ever be the same again. At the start of this global crisis, it was all amusing, the idea of being at home while being at work. During breaks we could fill the washing machine, check the post, even make a meal. As time went on, the utopia of being at home while being at work faded. The lack of interaction with colleagues and not physically being in our workplaces left some of us a bit empty.
Working from home also seems to blur the lines of boundaries between work and home, and raise some potential new problems for work conflicts. Miscommunication, polarisation and difficulty with measuring productivity may be more prevalent in this new online world. There may be also other implications for workplace conflict. Conflict that occurred in the traditional sense may have changed. In the UK it is surprising to read that there was an increase of 18% in tribunals between April and June of 2020 compared with 2019. An interesting article on this from Oliver Mundy can be accessed on this following link. https://www.thehrdirector.com/what-does-the-wfh-revolution-mean-for-workplace-conflict/. This suggests that working from home is not the panacea for workplace conflict like one might have assumed.
Most of us have adapted well with working at home, we have now mastered how to be productive by understanding the virtual tools we must use, taking appropriate breaks and having a routine that includes some exercise. There are things beyond our control however. Interruptions to our work have taken on a new dimension, children bursting through our office doors with what they think is very important news, family pets jumping on to our laps or the postman calling to the front door with a parcel, all while we are on a very important conference call with our manager.
I sometimes get the feeling that technology uses us as much as we use it. That technology is infused into our everyday lives in more ways than we might imagine. I do miss interacting with colleagues face to face and for me, nothing beats the physical presence of working with a colleague in a meeting, classroom or office. For now, though many of us will have to use emojis to express our emotions and reactions online.
When we think of the future when this declared pandemic is over, many of us wonder will the world of work ever be the same again. If you are like me, you probably have many questions. Will we all have to trudge into an office to have a simple meeting? Will all of our work be in a physical building again? It may be fair to say that there is a lot of uncertainty around the world of work going forward. But to borrow a quote from Heraclitus, “Change is the only constant in life”, so it is probably best to embrace what ever comes in the future and try and learn from it.
Never has workplace health
promotion been so important. With the realization that COVID-19 will be with us
for some time yet, and an employment rate of almost 70% (OECD, 2020), meaning most adults are
working, at home or on site at least one day per week, work and workplaces
stand to play a central role in preventing or aggravating the spread of the
The pandemic is being partially
contained, but is neither genuinely retreating nor beaten. If we indulge
ourselves with a war analogy, we are fighting in the trenches, employing
weapons that are effective only in keeping the enemy at bay, but not destroying
it. We need the tanks and big guns of vaccines and anti-virals to end the war
but until we have these, behaviour is our only weapon. Behaviour change is what
health promotion does, but this takes many forms and it is timely to look at
what behaviours we should be focusing on in workplaces, to maximize the
potential for health protection.
Workplaces are currently promoting
and supporting behaviour change, albeit with difference degrees of diligence,
through providing social distancing markers, requiring face coverings, and
reminders of respiratory etiquette. These measures target the behaviours of
individual workers, and although important and necessary are not sufficient in
and of themselves to protect against illness and promote good health and
The position taken by the World
Health Organization is that the workplace itself is a determinant of health. Accordingly,
there are many avenues of influence over health and well-being in the workplace
Health Organization (WHO), 2010) and in order to take a
comprehensive approach to promoting health at work, we need to address
occupational health and safety practices and organizational culture, as well as
voluntary health practices (The Health
Conmmunication Unit, 2000). This takes us well beyond
workplace wellness programmes.
The choice of and implementation
of regulations and policies, including managerial actions and practices, encompass
a complex package of behaviours enacted by senior managers, than in turn
influence the health of all workers in the organisation. These behaviours are
critical in the protection of workers, and the extended communities, against
illness and disease.
The crisis levels of COVID-19 in meat packing plants in Ireland some weeks ago brought this matter to public attention. The working conditions in factories and the treatment of workers in respect of minimum wages and sick pay demonstrate very clearly how higher order behaviours are of critical importance when it comes to protecting workers, and the communities in which they reside, from the illness. Although representatives from the industry have defended working practices, trade unions are reporting that most workers in the meat packing plants where we saw COVID-19 clusters, were not entitled to sick pay. While specific features of the meat packing work environment that aggravate the spread of infection, such as cold temperatures, the need to shout over noisy machinery and the need for proximity on factory productions lines are integral to the work, access to sick pay is not. This is a fundamental employee right and an essential protection for workers in respect of mitigating the effects of personal illness and the health and well-being of their fellow workers. The International Labour Organisation has been an advocate for paid sick leave for many years, maintaining that it plays a crucial role especially in times of crises when workers fear dismissal and discrimination when reporting sick. There is evidence that the absence of sick pay played a role in the spread of swine flu in the US in 2009 (International Labour Organisation, 2010). The virtual absence of sick pay, ultimately tracks back to the behaviour of one person, owner, director or manager. Someone, in the organization, decides to deny workers their basic rights, presumably to maximize profits. These behaviours, more important than remembering to wear a face-covering or stand back in a queue, need to be addressed.
Health promotion is often perceived to be concerned with personal behaviours, such as physical exercise or ceasing smoking. However the behaviours enacted as part of management in the workplace setting are of greater importance insofar as they affect the health and well being of many people. Workplaces cannot just tweak existing safety policies. Enforced home working is not the same as choosing to work from home, and a radically different approach needs to be taken. The way in which management in the workplace views workers and treats their workers is a critical influence on many aspects of mental and physical health and well-being. The preparedness of a workplace to address its own leadership, work practices, and management structures is the core of good health promotion practice. Particular challenges – and opportunities – presented by COVID-19, in addition to sick pay and return-to-work policy are the policies for ergonomically safe home working, communications policies to protect against cyberbullying, cleaning services and improved ventilation systems. Enforced homeworking will require more than a tweaking of pre-covid home working policy. When the home environment doubles as a work environment the provision of suitable equipment is essential. Companies will need to invest in higher spec frequent cleaning services, and may need to change the physical space to reduce surface touching. These actions involve responsible management behaviours which in turn will facilitate personal behaviours that protect health and well being. This is our best defense in the workplace in the war against COVID 19.
The global pandemic known as the Covid-19 virus has been devastating to the lives of many and has directly or indirectly caused hardship to all since its emergence. The discourse is overwhelmingly worried and cautionary regarding Covid-19, and with good reason. Often times when listening to this, I am left wondering what positive if any, can be taken from these challenging and unprecedented times. It has left me reflecting on the impact that all of this has on the workplace.
As my esteemed colleagues have outlined in their blogs, organisations are heavily influenced by culture. Culture as we know, has been commonly defined as “the way we do this around here”. I listened to someone recently say in passing that “culture eats strategy for breakfast”, effectively outlining just how dominant the influence of culture is. The impact of culture can vary in an organization for the benign to the coercive, from empowering to utterly disenfranchising. What we are inclined to forget is that we too are part of that culture. What we say and do contributes to whether it is benign or otherwise. For those of us working remotely we are fast approaching the 7-month marker of working from home and this adjustment has radically changed the nature of how we work, how we feel about work, and how we will envision our future work.
Apart from drinking an abundance of coffee daily, the most significant change to my working life is the lack of human contact. As a PhD student, a journey already known for its potential isolation has become even more distant. Yet, I do not feel alone. Ironically, I have had more connection with my peers through virtual coffees. I have been able to attend more seminars, because they are online, often at lunchtime and are delivered in time-bounded ways that ensure that I can give the time that is needed for them. Due to the online nature of remote learning I have had access to a wide range of educators that otherwise I may never have experienced. I have received access to so much upskilling on creative teaching methods and online pedagogies because this became a priority for the university. While the motivation for the priority has not been good (i.e. a global pandemic), the outcome, that of continuous professional development has been so worthwhile. Above all, I have been part of a community that has come together in an emergency to care for one another.
While I am aware that the experience is not positive for everyone, I do think that we have become conscious of supporting and encouraging each other during difficult times, and we have become more aware of the wider facets of each other’s lives. How my colleagues are carers for their families or their loved ones as well as the bright and capable academics that I was seeing every day before Covid-19. We hope soon that this pandemic will cease. It is my hope that we will continue to care for each other in the same way, that we will make the same effort to meet each other for coffee, to check in to see how each other are doing, and to continue to share with the same intensity the ideas, resources and creativity as has just been happening.
So maybe it is time to use this change of environment to recalibrate, to adjust, to heal and to grow. To take a step back and change “how we do things around here” to ensure that we value and appreciate each other and that our organisations will see just how flexible and deeply committed we have been in academia. Let’s return to fill our currently empty office spaces with the positivity and enthusiasm that has surfaced itself in a time of emergency. We each create new culture and this is something that we can most certainly do in the workplace post-Covid-19. I most certainly am ready to try fill the office space with positivity, will you join me?
We are delighted to introduce a guest blog by our colleague and teacher Laura Griffith, whose insights challenge us to think about who and how we are in our education work.
‘Separation anxiety and how teachers can deal with it’ – that was my top
Google Search for my first three weeks of teaching. I was very hard on myself
about this, it seemed perfectly fine for a Junior Infant child to cry before
school but I taught Senior Infants. I questioned my teaching, if only I knew
what I was doing ‘wrong’, I could change it.
Looking back on it, I still wonder why that child suddenly became so anxious about going to school. I think about a literacy assessment I carried out that first week of school. I wonder did I excessively focus on measurable outcomes and subconsciously lose sight of the emotional needs of the child; her need for care, understanding and encouragement. Did these values that should have been at the heart of education become less valuable because they can’t be measured. The results of the OECD’s PISA 2009, contributed to the development of ‘Literacy and Numeracy for Learning and Life – Ireland’s national strategy to improve literacy and numeracy among children and young people 2011-2020’. I began my initial teacher training in September 2011 and I remember this document permeating my experience of School Placement, improving literacy and numeracy was an urgent national priority. When I reflect on the practice of league tables, metrics, flow charts etc., I think about the negative consequences these practices have on teachers and students alike and I wonder who is it that benefits from this and who doesn’t benefit? Is it our economy that gains? ‘The Literacy and Numeracy for Learning and Life’ document promotes ‘raising standards to continue to attract high-value jobs through inward investment’ and is ‘essential for the rebuilding of our economic prosperity’. While it is important, economic gain can’t be the sole purpose of education, and I wonder if we do not become clear about our educational values, do we run the risk that league tables will make decisions for us?
Maybe the child’s anxiety around going to school had nothing to do with assessments or lessons but something completely different, I’ll never know. Albert Schweitzer tells us that ‘sometimes our light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.’ I think that’s the wonderful thing about teaching, our connections with our pupils and colleagues can have a big impact. Michelle Obama’s wish for young people is for them to know that they matter, that they belong. She urges them not to be afraid, to be focused, determined, courageous and hopeful. Michelle Obama wanted to measure her success by the impact she had on people’s lives. That’s the funny thing about impact, it can’t easily be measured. You never really know the true impact you have on those around you. You never really know how much someone needed your kindness or how much someone needed you to believe in their capability.
Sometimes when I think about an excessive focus on measurable outcomes
in education, I wonder about how this neo-liberal culture effects human
connections that are so essential in education. I think about its tendency to
harm relationships by promoting aggressive competitiveness as people protect
their own interests in order to ‘get ahead’. Maybe it’s not surprising that
some people are reluctant to share information and openness required for
organisational learning to take place. Perhaps then it’s no surprise that our
workplaces are stressful making the perfect breeding ground for ‘scapegoating’
where people displace frustrations on others which breeds further spirals of
Sounds like a toxic culture, doesn’t it? Mahatma Gandhi says ‘Keep your thoughts positive they become
your words, keep your words positive they become your behaviour, keep
your behaviour positive, it becomes your habits, keep your habits positive, they become your values’. Your thoughts, words, behaviour, habits and values become ‘the way we
do things around here’ or the culture of our school. Culture manifests itself
at the deepest level though people’s values and these values, attitudes and
behaviour drive decisions and actions in schools.
Every member of staff has a part to play in maintaining the culture of
the school. Our voice is our power and our power (formal or personal) is our
potential to influence others, but power is value neutral. It is how we use our
power that impacts people’s lives. It can be constructive or destructive,
positive or negative. It can be used to empower rather than to control and to
humanize rather than to measure.
John Wooden states; ‘No written
word nor spoken plea, can teach our youth what they should be. Nor all the
books on all the shelves. It’s what the teachers are themselves.” So who
are we who teach? What are the values that we hold dear?
The term virtual self is a relatively new concept but one that is becoming normalised very quickly. The term virtual is used in the computer sense of a person not physically existing but rather existing as a simulated computer digital image. Until recently virtual self was evolving on social media on a gradual basis or on a client demand basis. Covid-19 a global pandemic literally changed that course overnight, changing casual users to emergency users. Covid-19 changed how we live, work, socialise, exist and connect globally. The pandemic disrupted and repositioned the workplace/ school/communities with unprecedented speed. In early April 2020 in the span of two to three weeks, organisations across every sector sent millions of employees/students home to work or to school remotely. Without warning and in many cases, without preparation of any kind governments, workplaces, schools, were forced into the position of connecting, communicating, emerging and leading virtually, many for the first time.
A virtual self is a computer based replica of a
person’s self which is the form, platform or profile used to explore the
virtual world independently. We communicate with others and access the
World Wide Web. Each virtual user has his/her unique personal virtual
identity to connect to a digital connection or platform. A user can participate
in activities by voice, text, two or three-dimensional graphical representations,
real time videos with auditory and touch sensations. Virtual worlds can
allow single users, multiple users and may be described as a digital platform
with artificial intelligence.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) is an advanced
technology, made possible by the Internet that influences our everyday lives.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) refers to an artificial creation of human-like
intelligence that can work and react like humans.
A virtual self has access to a computer simulated world which involves social, relational stimuli while connecting to other virtual populace. Virtual self represents the intended, devised on-line presence pre-planned or prepared by the end user. The virtual user is in control of his/her on-line profile and can manipulate it how he/she wants to appear and interact in the virtual world. This may be positive or negative; honest or dishonest. Virtual users need to be consciously aware of their online presence. Virtual worlds are not just game play but include real life virtual classrooms, conferences and chatrooms.
Governments and Giant Tech of the 21st century must collaborate and deliver educational resources to promote virtual safety and how it relates and can affect personal safety and wellbeing. Introduce global virtual safety-security-privacyprogrammes for every virtual user. They need to acknowledge and protect the human cost of the evolving virtual profit and mandate to uphold the value of the human self.
A friend of mine uses an expression sometimes when describing people – he might say ‘That’s just Mary’s way of being in the world’. It has a nice air of tolerance about it, (at least as he says it!) but it can also be more sinister, and it’s a phrase that comes to mind when trying to explain why workplace bullying is more common in some organisations than others. Some organisations have a ‘way of being in the world’ that makes it far more likely that the workers in that organization will be bullied. But in the case of an organization, we cannot be so blithely tolerant. Mitigation is necessary, as bullying leads to serious damage for those who are targeted but also those who witness it. A given that ‘way of being’, mitigation is required at the deepest level.
It helps to consider the problem of workplace bullying as an iceberg. Icebergs appear to be floating on the surface but in reality they are large masses of ice that are mainly below water and this is the part that is potentially the most dangerous.
The visible, above water, aspect of workplace bullying is usually negative behaviour enacted by one person, systematically, to another. Because this ‘tip’ is the visible part, it is often the focus of organizational interventions – attempts to address specific behaviours in isolation from the root causes. Focusing on what is visible is problematic for other reasons. It is not entirely straightforward as what is considered ‘negative’ can be subjective, at least at one end of the spectrum of negative behaviour, what Parezfall and Salin (1) call the ‘threshold’ for bullying. It varies between individuals according to experiences and their interpretations of a situation, and can vary within an individual according to context or perhaps because of other things going on in their lives at any point in time.
from an organizational responsibility point of view it is important that this
subjectivity element does not allow the organization to ‘kick to touch’. Organisations
can rather conveniently consider bullying to be in the eye of the beholder, a
very dangerous positioning for workers in that organisation. In the interviews
we have conducted, there are many clear examples at the other end of the
spectrum of shouting, rumour spreading, ritual humiliation, which are negative
and damaging in anyone’s books. It is
important that those who are responsible for protecting staff in organisations are
aware that bullying can move along a spectrum to become very damaging. Whether
the senior management of an organisation is willing to consider the fact that
bullying is a process and that the less aggressive, ambiguous behaviours are early
warning signs and to keep a watching brief depends very much their way of being
in the world, and that is really what is below the water.
There are certain ways of working that have been established to be closely
associated with higher levels of bullying. Excessive demand or work pressure,
ambiguity or lack of clarity about roles, and poor levels of personal control
over work are all associated with work-related stress but also with bullying(2-5).
While for certain jobs, regardless of the organization, high demand and low
control (for example waiting on tables in a restaurant, or working as a nursing
aide) are the norm, for the most part organisations can take steps to mitigate
against allowing their workforce to be constantly working under these conditions,
if they wish it.
Other below surface factors include internal reward systems that
foster intense competition(6, 7), such as what might be found in sales organisations, or
Universities. Such systems do not have the explicit aim of fostering bullying
but provide ample breeding ground for the micropolitical behavours that are
common in accounts of workplace bullying.
And it suits the employers to ignore this feature of the work environment
they have created.
This brings us to the deepest level below the water and the most pernicious
way of being in the world.
While psychosocial risk factors such as
excessive demand, low control and role ambiguity are seen as causes of
workplace bullying, these causes have causes of their own. The purest
expression of an organisation’s way of being in the world is its culture.
Implicated in many qualitative studies as the root of bullying problems, it is
clearly at the deepest level, and the hardest therefore to surface.
Culture is essentially about values and
beliefs. How the founders or senior managers or in essence the top\powerful
people in an organization view work, workers and how to motivate and manage
their workers is the key to the organisations way of being in the world.
Cultural beliefs that cause the causes of bullying are likely to include a
belief that workers need punitive working conditions to ‘motivate’ them, need
to be pressurised to achieve results, and if they deign to raise the issue of
bullying, they are perceived to be slacking or a troublemaker. Also, the ‘target’ can be considered
to be resisting being managed. If profits are valued over people, then it is
inevitable that people will be mistreated.
researchers go further, exploring the idea that in some organisations, bullying
is blind-eyed because it suits management to do so. For example.
as part of the labour process, management
can and will use various means to maximise production and maintain control, and
this can include bullying tactics, as the boundaries between unacceptable
behaviour and legitimate management practice can be either inadvertently or
deliberately blurred (8, 9).
But also, bullying can be blind-eyed because
employers do not want the negative publicity that a case will bring, or simply
because they do not try to understand the process and the costs incurred on the
individual. Their way of being in the world is to see relationships between
workers as fixable by mediation, a little like broken machines, with no real
knowledge of human relationships and the complexities there forth.
Organisations can change. They change and adapt to survive in turbulent economies, so they can change too, to become more humane and ethical. Although our mental images of icebergs see then as large mountainous masses, apparently icebergs can flip over. And when they do, they are particularly beautiful.
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3. Tuckey M, Dollard M, Hosking M,
Winefield AH. Workplace bullying: The role of psychosocial work environment
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Hauge LJ. Testing the Work Environment Hypothesis of Bullying on a Group Level
of Analysis: Psychosocial Factors as Precursors of Observed Workplace Bullying.
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bullying behaviours and support from co-workers and supervisors: a three-way
interaction and the effect on health and well-being. International Archives of
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The key to why toxicity thrives in today’s workplace is contained within the widely accepted definition of economics proffered by Robbins (1932) i.e. economics being the science of human behaviour as a relationship between ends, and scarce means that have alternative uses. Some vital words within this definition of economics purvey the perfect ingredients for the cocktail known as ‘Toxicity’ to thrive within interpersonal work contexts – human behaviour, scarce resources, ends, and alternative uses. Does this sound familiar? It should do because these words reflect a reality germane to most workplaces resulting in the habitual engagement in what is termed as distributive bargaining.
Distributive bargaining also known as zero
sum gain describes interpersonal approaches to working with each other where the
outcome must represent a gain for one
party, and a loss for the other in areas such as compensation and benefits, and
the allocation of scarce resources (Fischer 2013). It is important to appreciate that the
entities in which we achieve gainful employment are continuously under attack
from largely uncontrollable external forces.
For instance, in the private sector we face a multitude of competitors
whose raison d’etre is to be the most competitive in their marketplace. So, if we make something or deliver a service,
someone else is trying to make and sell the same or better at less cost to the
market. In the public sector, we
continuously face reduction / removal of funding and we endure competition from
other institutions seeking to avail of the same limited funding on offer. In both public and private sectors, such
external pressures create a veritable greenhouse for toxicity to blossom
According to Durrè (2010), distributive
bargaining leads to the creation of conditions in which toxicity is rife. Toxicity refers to individual or organisational
behaviours that are propelled by power struggles, personal gain tactics,
financial disputes, status claims, unethical conduct, vindictiveness, and
sometimes illegal means, manipulation and annoyance. Toxic situations often involve actions that
are ultimately defeating to organisational objectives, to other employees, and
to ethical and professional standards.
We are all aware of large environmental disasters such as Chernobyl 1986 and the Deepwater Horizon oil spillage of 2010. These events occurred due to the failure of protective mechanisms designed to ensure that toxic agents are contained within a controlled environment. At a much more subtle, but equally malignant level however, basic workplace protective boundaries are eroding more-and-more, exposing us to noxious behaviours, antecedents of poor work related mental and somatic health. It would appear that accredited workstream improvement methods such as lean quality systems in fact perpetuate the very catalysts for toxicity to thrive by expecting more from less-and-less. Regrettably, theoretical predictions about trends in work-pressure tend to be unanimously pessimistic. For instance, scholars anticipate an intensification of work pressure in more highly skilled jobs that carry greater responsibility, involve more complex tasks, and that require the constant updating of skills (Steiber and Pichler 2014). In conclusion, within our work contexts, our pie is continuously shrinking, the kitchen is getting hotter, and it will get harder and harder to stand the toxic heat for us all.