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OPINION: Businesses must stop Bercow-style bullying

Published:
8:30 PM March 10, 2022



Those of us who have been in workplaces for 40 years would have found the outrageous conduct of “serial bully” ex-Commons speaker John Bercow all too familiar.

You’d be lucky to hit 50 and not have witnessed an egotistical tyrannical (insecure) boss have a puce-faced toddler-like tantrum and hurl some office equipment missile across the office and kick furniture around with foaming spittle from his, or her, mouth a la Bercow.

If you work today in a small business, in particular a small family business, this might still be a regular occurrence, with the team treading on eggshells not to trigger a shouty outburst from The Boss with self-control as fragile as those eggshells.

Picking on the easy target ‘weak kid’ in the team was par for the course back in the 70s and 80s before the term ‘human resources’ was invented, and the personnel department was more time and motion diktats than worker wellbeing. Employer wellbeing back then was making sure workers were still breathing and were where they were when they should be.

The sort of ‘intimidatory’, ‘undermining’ behavior and ‘threatening conduct’ the parliamentary commissioner for standards heard about in a dossier of 21 separate incidents by three members of staff, including verbal abuse, mimicking and mocking staff, displays of anger, creating a hostile environment and seeking to humiliate individuals in front of others, went on unchecked years ago because there was nowhere to turn.

Put up and shut up or leave with Jekyll and Hyde bosses were worker choices.

Bercow’s punishment was a life ban from Parliament. His dinosaur behavior from him demeaned a privileged and trusted post and illustrated a massive disconnect with respect, real life and acceptable behaviour.

Thankfully, this “confrontational, malignant and mean” conduct, as it was described in the dossier will be alien and horrifying to most Millennials and Generations Zs, working in larger, responsible and well-run businesses. They can’t believe that people once behaved like this at work.

We have come far in the conduct we tolerate in the workplace, thank goodness, with a clear legal line between acceptable and unacceptable, and staff in larger companies and organizations have processes and procedures laid down to complain.

However, often in small businesses, in particular family businesses, this type of behavior is still being endured by loyal and long-suffering staff.

In family businesses everywhere workplaces are rife with sibling rivalries, parent-child resentments, deep rooted dysfunction and long-running feuds harking back to days when one had a superior Action Man to the other.

The board room and office are like their family kitchen table with deep rooted grudges and resentments always on the bubble.

On top of doing their jobs, staff have to navigate and negotiate the nuances of family relationships, often caught in the crossfire and trying to figure out lifelong ‘in family’ communication styles, which are perplexing and befuddling, and a general minefield.

There are accounts that will make your toes curl, of brothers having fist fights over desks, underhand plots involving staff being sworn to secrecy against other siblings and regular screaming matches when staff know when to take their leave and take a break leaving the family to it .

Dysfunctional to everyone else but perfectly normal to the family. In small companies, staff can either seek legal advice or leave.

What shocks me about the Bercow story is that he was clearly comfortable giving these performances of zero self-control, decorum and common decency. And that there must have been other people that did put up and shut up leaving him to go on unchecked for so long.

Now this demeaning and dismissive behavior has been exposed at the land’s highest levels, I hope more staff suffering in too many small businesses where Bercow-style bullying dominates as the norm will have the courage to speak out and act and make it stop in every workplace .

Ukraine’s national pride is admirable

Listening to the passion and determination of ordinary Ukrainians fighting to defend and save their country and identity is overwhelming.

Would we do the same for our nation under invasion? Fighting for your country is something those of us under 80 and not associated with the military just don’t understand.

The women of the Ukrainian resistance are unfaltering in their resolve to fight the enemy Russians. A fortnight ago, they were living ordinary lives, doing ordinary jobs, dropping children at school, going to work, going to the gym and getting on with life.

Today, their children, elderly relatives and pets have been dropped off to head for safety at the border and they have returned, dressed in camouflage gear, to fight.

Couples fight together, women stand in front of tanks, all ready to do their bit.

Where does this come from? The inspirational leadership of Volodymyr Zelensky or deep-rooted national pride?

Whatever the motivation, their commitment and action is awesome, in the true sense of the word and is stopping us in our tracks to question ourselves. Would we be so courageous to fight and face armed enemies to preserve our country’s independence?

It’s a sobering and soul-searching thought