11 thoughts on “Sandpit

  1. Workplace Bullying.

    Some news reports indicate that workplace bullying is on the rise. In the UK Guardian in 2014 the claim was that “survey after survey has pointed out that workplace bullying is on the rise”. Questions certainly can be asked about such surveys. Are there ways to objectively measure bullying? Does more intensive investigation mean we find more evidence? In that case, how can we measure a rise in bullying over time?

    My belief is that workplace bullying is on the rise in our society. Certainly, workplace bullying and harassment are gaining more prominence as issues. Governments and their agencies give the appearance of taking the problem seriously and seem to be attempting to address it. Some notable failures in policy and procedure have occurred. A case in point was alleged workplace bullying in Worksafe Victoria in 2012. The irony is clear when the supposed watchdog against bullying itself becomes subject to allegations of a bullying management culture.

    Authorities appear to be baffled by the apparent rise in workplace bullying. To them it seems to be coming out of nowhere, socially and culturally speaking. It is assumed to be an individual problem. Each bully is regarded as a problem individual. Often the victim attracts implicit blame for being vulnerable or inept at dealing with being bullied. When it comes to organisational or corporate culture, it is again the case that a discrete bad “actor” gets blamed. In this case it is the single government agency, private company or corporation which gets blamed.

    One possibility seems to be absent from these explanations. This is the possibility that bullying is inherent to and thus systemic to some modes of economic production. Clearly, a slavery system is an extreme example of workplace bullying, among other things. Regulated capitalism is not comparable to slavery, jibes about wage-slavery notwithstanding. However, left unchecked and unregulated, capitalism clearly trends back towards slavery with child labour, sweatshops, stolen black wages, unpaid internships and so on all reappearing. The evidence is extensive. As capitalism is progressively deregulated, the economic culture of our society once again becomes an enabling factor for workplace bullying by bosses and managers. In turn, peer to peer workplace bullying, as a divide and conquer strategy, can be deliberately overlooked or even encouraged by managers.

    The rise in power of neo-conservative economics and managerialism, as intensifications of capitalism seems a real and likely candidate for the cause of a rise in bullying. On this view, bullying is inherent to the system itself. An ultra-competitive system which creates winners who take almost everything and losers who get the scraps seems purpose-built to generate any and all tactics which will support the unjust division of the spoils of production. In other words, late stage capitalism enables bullies. Bullying and intimidation in turn support the processes of exploitation and appropriation.

    Management bullying in workplaces replicates all the characteristics of an abusive relationship. There is an inequality of power; especially with worker conditions, rights and protections being severely eroded as they are now. There is exploitation producing unequal costs and rewards. There is threatening behaviour which signals potential injury in the form of loss of status, position, income and security. Even health is threatened; physically in some cases and psychologically in almost all cases. Due to the way our overall political economy works, most workers are now trapped in situations (boss-worker relations) which if not abusive yet have the potential to become abusive at any time. Bullying is an integral component of capitalism.

    In the words of Professor James Petra; “What neo-liberal economists and journalists call “labour market flexibility” is really all about increasing the power of the bosses to impose reductions in wages, dominate and dictate work rules, intensify management bullying in the workplace and fire workers without just cause or redress. Likewise “wage flexibility” means giving management the exclusive power to unilaterally lower wages, to alter work contracts, to stratify payments between workers , to downgrade job categories in order to lower wages and to increase output, and to pit unemployed workers against employed workers, temporary workers against long-term workers.”

    Petra’s entire article is well worth reading.

    http://petras.lahaine.org/?p=1994

  2. Looking a climate change, could there be an international policy saying that if you reduce so many tonnes of CO2 (and other greenhouse gas emissions) you get X amount of dollars. The argument for this is that by reducing greenhouse gases you are reducing the effects of climate change if the future and therefore have found efficiencies etc… in the market. Instead of money spent in the future to fix the problem (wasted money), you can receive that money now as a reward. This could then be a form of perpetual growth, where people can continually fund there abatement strategies and become more proactive.

  3. Looking a climate change, could there be an international policy saying that if you reduce so many tonnes of CO2 (and other greenhouse gas emissions) you get X amount of dollars.

    A variation on this policy was put in place under the Kyoto Protocol, and was called the Clean Development Mechanism. The biggest problem it faced was rorting. The Australian government’s ‘direct action’ policy also uses a variation of this approach. The evidence is that it’s much less effective than imposing a cost on emitting.

  4. @Ikonclast
    ‘One possibility seems to be absent from these explanations. This is the possibility that bullying is inherent to and thus systemic to some modes of economic production.’

    What about the possibility that bullying is inherent to and thus systemic to all modes of economic production? Why don’t you consider that possibility?

  5. @Ikonclast
    I do question whether workplace ‘bullying’ is actually on the rise as is suggested. I have no argument with the suggestion that there is more exploitation of workers and that in the last few decades there has been a significant shift in the employer-employee power relationship in favour of the employer.

    However, it is likely that the workplace culture of the 1950’s through to the early 1980’s did not create an environment or indeed legal framework for employees to raise the issue of bullying without being subsequently side-lined in their career prospects. The 1980’s Thatcherism has certainly created cultural change with the focus on the individual (‘greed is good’) which has probably been reflected in the workplace environment insofar as it has become less empathic towards colleagues concerns and more about ‘me’. Consequently, if indeed bullying has increased my own anecdotal observation is that it is the peer to peer bullying that may have increased. It is also the case that people are more likely to name unwanted behaviour as bullying because it immediately commands the attention of management. About a year ago I had to facilitate mediation between employees who were each accusing the other of bullying.

    As the CEO of a business that employs about 50 people I am frequently surprised by the egocentricity of some of our younger employees and their failure to be able to put themselves into the other’s shoes. Whenever I have someone having difficulties with another person in the workplace I first ask them to ‘walk in the other’s shoes’ and then to speak to me again when they have done this and the if matter remains unresolved.

  6. @John Turner

    It is complex and the bad old days for sure weren’t good. But I tend to think we have peaked in terms of workplaces getting better in this regard, which they did in the 1980’s and maybe early 1990s. We now appear to be on the downhill slide again but without data this is my anecdotal evidence only. Googling “workplace bullying on the rise” gets plenty of media claims for “evidence”. Whether this stacks up, I do not know. I do not know if there have been any authoritative studies recently.

    You state “I have no argument with the suggestion that there is more exploitation of workers and that in the last few decades there has been a significant shift in the employer-employee power relationship in favour of the employer.” I believe that this can and does lead to more bullying in some places but it is not yet across the board. There are workplaces (including clinics and hospitals) where workers sometimes cop bullying and abuse from “clients”. This could engender internal worker-management agreement and solidarity leading to a lower tolerance for in-house bullying.

  7. @J-D

    “What about the possibility that bullying is inherent to and thus systemic to all modes of economic production? Why don’t you consider that possibility?”

    I agree. It is quite possible. The issue then is a matter of degree. And of course the matter goes right back to the issue of the individual against society; autonomy versus conformity.

  8. @Ikonoclast

    If it’s the case that bullying is inherent to and thus systemic to all modes of economic production, there are at least kinds of response that are possible.

    One response is to conclude that since bullying is inherent and systemic and always will be and that therefore it’s pointless to try to do anything about and attention might as well be turned elsewhere.

    Another response is to decide that since bullying is inherent and systemic it will never be possible to eliminate it but that it is still worth looking for ways to reduce its frequency and severity and to mitigate its effects.

    My view is that it is going to be worth looking for ways to reduce the frequency and severity of bullying and to mitigate its effects whether or not it is inherent and systemic, and that trying to decide whether it is inherent and systemic is a diversion.

  9. Remember that bullying starts from the very top and flows downhill increasing in severity as it goes. The best example of this is the unrealistic and all pervading management tool of KPI’s

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