Magazine article The Spectator

Watch Out: The Office Management People Are Going to Bully Us into Being Nice

Magazine article The Spectator

Watch Out: The Office Management People Are Going to Bully Us into Being Nice

Article excerpt

It was one year ago this week that I left the BBC. At the time, people thought it was because I'd written something unflattering - and therefore redolent of bias - about the Countryside Alliance. And that was, indeed, the official reason. But at the back of my mind there was something else, a growing fugue of disquiet inside my head and the feeling that I might not last much longer in the job, no matter what I wrote for the newspapers. I thought I was about to become a victim, you see. A victim of Greg Dyke's Nice Police.

The Nice Police were created to hunt down and exterminate, in the nicest possible way, managers who were beastly to their staff. They wandered the floors listening for telltale signs of managerial transgression. Bosses who shouted things like 'How did you get to be such a staggeringly useless bastard?' would be reported and summarily dealt with. Nobody, the argument went, should be subjected to nastiness, not even the most bone-idle congenital imbecile - of which the BBC, like most large corporations, has a fair smattering. The idea was that we should all work together in a spirit of peaceful, mutually uplifting benevolence, a bit like the Branch Davidians at Waco just before the siege.

'So,' I thought to myself, darkly, at the time. 'We can't sack anyone unless they actually kill a person. And now we can't even tell them they're bloody useless. We can sneak on them to the personnel officers, behind their backs, but we cannot allow our anger or exasperation to show in person, and we cannot upbraid them on the spot.'

As I say, the Nice Police were, I think, Greg Dyke's idea. Greg's a likable man and a very good director-general. Perhaps all he wanted was for everybody to be happy. But I suspect his reasoning on this occasion was rather more pragmatic. I suspect that he was sick of seeing the BBC being stuffed by employment tribunals, during which useless staff members would complain of being 'bullied' (because of their race, their sex, their disability, their uselessness, etc.) and consequently awarded large wodges of licence-payers' money. We've seen an excellent example of this in the last week or two, with the BBC Newsroom South-East presenter Laurie Mayer moaning about 'bullying' during his own employment tribunal. It is quite true that his various managers, so far as one can judge, do seem to be quite ghastly human beings, but 'bullying'? Are you sure? I suppose it is a bit antediluvian of me to ask: why don't you just read the bloody news, Laurie, and shut up?

The thing is that 'bullying' has become an indispensable part of this decade's political lexicon and something which, like paedophilia, we can all become terribly worked up and angry about, quite out of proportion to its actual occurrence. Bullying these days does not mean getting your head kicked in by someone bigger than you, as I seem to remember it once meant. These days it means a raised voice or a harshly articulated imprecation, a quietly uttered oath or even an inopportune glance or injudiciously raised eyebrow. It means - in a multitude of ways, all defined by the victim - being not very nice. And there are large industries dependent on this warped definition of the term: the employment-tribunal monkeys, the massed legions of human-resources managers, lawyers and counsellors and so on. The cultural hegemony enjoyed by these people is one reason why it is impossible to talk about bullying without feeling required immediately to issue a full statement pledging your fundamental opposition to bullying in all its many and various forms. …

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