Academic journal article Organisational and Social Dynamics

A Perfect Storm: The Rise in Claims of Bullying in the Context of Change

Academic journal article Organisational and Social Dynamics

A Perfect Storm: The Rise in Claims of Bullying in the Context of Change

Article excerpt

Abstract

This paper uses a systems psychodynamically informed approach to consider the significant breadth and complexity surrounding the issue of rising claims of bullying in organisations. It identifies multiple factors that coincide around role, system, and context. In particular, it considers the role of management in contemporary organisations, tasked with implementing reforms in an environment characterised by continuous and turbulent change, with diminishing resources and increased accountabilities. Frameworks used to consider these issues include Emery and Trist's (1965) work on turbulence in organisational environments, White's (2013) work on the psychodynamics of bullying behaviour, and Schwartz's (2011) recent work in which he claims an increase in bullying cases may be a simplification of more complex phenomena, including the rise of the "pristine self". In responding to the "storm" conditions the authors endorse Winnicott's (1971) work on the importance of the holding environment, as the basis upon which managers and organisations should consider their responses.

Key words: bullying, management, change, systems psychodynamics.

INTRODUCTION

Conversations about workplace behaviour and bullying invariably give rise to strong emotions. People often reflect passionately upon a personal experience of being bullied, of witnessing bullying, or on the increasing incidence of claims against managers of workplace bullying. The topic of bullying evokes such great passion because it gets us in touch with a range of primitive experiences about conflict, vulnerability, loss, dependency, and betrayal. The authors have a keen interest in this area, and have consulted to an increasing number of professionals caught up in the "bullying" phenomenon; either through claims being made against them or by those wishing to bring claims. In this paper we explore some of the complexity surrounding this issue by taking a systems psychodynamically informed approach.

In Australia, claims of bullying (and psychological injury) in the workplace appear to be on the rise, with high profile cases being regularly reported in the media and a number of government inquiries looking into this area (Commonwealth Government, Department of Employment, 2013; Commonwealth Government, Productivity Commission, 2010; Commonwealth Government Inquiry, 2012; Hunter, 2011; Kontominas, 2010; Pearce, 2013). Recently, a case involving an allegation of bullying in the workplace came before the Fair Work Commission (FWC), which is Australia's national workplace relations tribunal. New workplace laws have recently been enacted that enable workers who believe that they have been bullied at work to apply to the FWC for an order to stop the bullying (FWC, 2014).

This case was the first contested bullying case determined by the FWC and was unusual in that it involved a manager who claimed that she was bullied both by her subordinates and her superiors in the wake of unsuccessful bullying claims brought against her. Ms SB had recently been appointed as a team leader in an organisation that was undergoing significant organisational change. One of SB's team members initially a made an internal bullying complaint about SB's behaviour, which was subsequently investigated by the employer and dismissed. Shortly thereafter, another of SB's team members also made a complaint about bullying by SB and again this was investigated by the employer, with the result that it was partly upheld and partly dismissed (SB (2014) FWC 2104 (12 May 2014)).

It was following the outcome of the second internal investigation that SB made a bullying complaint to the FWC, alleging bullying by her subordinates, and bullying by management. She claimed that, among a range of behaviours, her subordinates had bullied her by making complaints against her and that her managers had bullied her by failing to adequately support her in the face of these bullying complaints against her. …

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