Bullying with a smile

Even smiling at the wrong time can be considered workplace bullying.

IT was another interesting example of political correctness gone crazy. My friend, a senior manager, was asked to attend a retraining course on workplace bullying in the light of tough new laws. As someone who has had her fair share of bullying rising up the ranks in media, I welcome any and all legislation that protects employees from this often subtle and insidious form of cruelty.

However, my friend was told that even cocking an eyebrow at the wrong time, with a smirk on one’s face or a sarcastic quip, can now be considered an act of bullying. I have to say that, well, frankly, the new laws are making me feel bullied.

Who’s to say that one person’s interpretation that they are being bullied isn’t just another person’s sardonic sense of humour? My partner is a sardonic smirker and a lover of the sarcastic quip. I don’t feel bullied, I often burst out laughing at his gallows humour.

Whatever happened to appreciating that laconic Aussie grin? Nowadays, if you do it to an employee you could be up for the maximum penalty of 10 years’ jail.
My manager friend says he was told it’s all about intention. Is the smirk intended to humiliate or demean, or the act of a bemused boss being a buffoon?

Various websites give the guidelines of their states. The site for Legal Aid in Victoria says that bullying behaviour is a course of conduct that includes: making threats; using abusive or offensive words within hearing of a person; doing something that is offensive when a person is present; acting in any way that could reasonably be expected to make a person feel apprehension — ie, think that something bad is going to happen.

In NSW, bullying may be ‘‘active or passive, direct or indirect, physical or psychological’’ but it does include: unacceptable language and rudeness; coercive behaviour directed against someone; unreasonable teasing; all forms of intimidating behaviour; mockery; marginalising or ignoring someone; demeaning behaviour, whether business or personal, which serves to denigrate the individual — ah, the smirk!

I’ve had one former boss who threw objects at people; another who threatened me with a red pen — tearing to shreds a document I’d worked on for a month. When I was young I had a bully boss who took liberties. I’ve had a boss who used ‘‘accidental’’ punishments, including things forgotten, such as salary payments not made — ‘‘Oops!’’ he’d say, staring me down.

But ‘‘the smirk’’ I’ve never had. In this world of correctness gone insane, bosses must now be warned off laconic humour. With potential million-dollar payouts to wronged individuals, workplaces of the future will be dour places indeed.

Have you been bullied at work? Have we gone too far?

Full story today’s The Australian

Please  “Comment” below


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6 Responses to Bullying with a smile

  1. Liz 21 November 2011 at 9:44 pm #

    Bullying? Oh, yes, I’ve had my share. I spent 20 years in the hospitality industry – say no more! In the not-for-profit sector I also suffered, to the extent of taking a claim to the Anti-discrimination Commission. My union urged its members to talk to them if we were suffering bullying, but as it turned out, they refused to admit that members could bully each other – to them, only bosses could bully.
    And finally, working for a large accountancy firm, I was mocked for using words that tertiary-educated accountants could not understand – one I remember was ‘lurgy’ (for illness), another was ‘knees-up’ (party). The worst thing about that was that my boss mocked me – in a team meeting – for my vocabulary after I complained to her (in private) about the team leader mocking me for the same thing.
    Now I work for myself, and any clients who mock me don’t last beyond their next and final bill. It’s taken a working career of 35 years, but finally I’m getting tough, and my word, it’s a good feeling. (That is to say, tough – not abusive!)

  2. Lucy 20 November 2011 at 9:12 pm #

    Well Tony, all laws can be discussed and debated “outside the boundaries for which it was intended”. What are those boundaries? These have all to be tested in courts and, as I said earlier, lawyers will be the main beneficiaries of this nanny-state legislation. We cannot create a perfect would through laws – particularly when many of them aren’t even policed these days. I’m thinking of people who drive with fog lights. Many thousands of motorists in Australia use these illegally, without penalty. Here in Austria where there IS fog hardly anybody uses them. So making laws is one thing, upholding and policing them quite another. It will come down to who’s got the money in the end!!

  3. Tony Alexander 20 November 2011 at 1:10 pm #

    To answer your question, yes. At work by a female employee who was mentally unstable. She had a history of causing problems and physical altercations with other staff. I put in a formal complaint, I was vindicated.
    Of course, what you refer to is a law that’s being interpreted outside the boundaries for which it was intended.

  4. lilianna 20 November 2011 at 11:27 am #

    Ruth yes we know polically incorrect jokes and more affect a lot of people, but the fun and humour has gone out of the window with it! The old comedians and raconteurs all made P.I. jokes and they WERE funny, in fact most of the old humour was. So let us not go too far, ethnic jokes can offend, but that was always so and we always laughed. Bring in a bit of lightness and sarcasm back. My husband always made jokes at work and I met those people and they loved it, He would be in jail now I am sure, Keep writng , you go girl !!!!

  5. Lucy 19 November 2011 at 7:32 pm #

    This is another outrageous piece of ill-conceived legislation which PREVENTS people from developing their own life-skills and strategies to deal with the world. The lawyers are going to have HUGE benefits from this, while the rest of us will look on in amazement at how the nanny state is once again in evidence. I was “bullied” when I was in the workplace, yes, but there were avenues to address this in the teaching profession – and I developed my own strategies. You know, I was far more bullied by the students than by any member of staff AND NOBODY WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT IT. So, hypocrisy is another side issue in this legislation. When young people are becoming depressed and opting for suicide because (as psychologist Carr-Greg has speculated) they are ‘protected’ from life’s realities by having their precious self-esteem kept intact, who knows where we’ll go with this latest legislative rubbish. You’re so right, Ruth, to feel bullied by this!!

  6. Sabrina 19 November 2011 at 11:15 am #

    Ruth, I believe political correctness went ‘too far’ a long time ago. I can’t believe that a smile or a smirk or raised eyebrow could land you in trouble with the PC Police. Pity James Bond! I would venture to say that anyone who complains about a raised eyebrow, smirk or smile might be a professional troublemaker. Suck it up, princess, and get on with your work and do your job! Be better than that. Glare back if you have to.
    I used to work in the motor trade in the 1980s; I was a young woman in a blokey industry and copped my share of sexism and inappropriate behaviour. And bullying too, when it was the end of the month and we HAD to get cars registered, invoices typed etc etc. Shouting at admin staff like me wasn’t uncommon. Swearing at us, too. I didn’t let it worry me unduly. (When the pressure was on, I swore back.) I had, in fact, some great laughs with my workmates. It couldn’t happen today. We’d all be locked up for our language, behaviour and jokes.
    These days I work for myself and have done for 11 years. Based on some HR policies I see from time to time I’m glad of that. I would be utterly miserable in a sterile organisation where I had to watch every word I said and every action I took. (That car dealership was a golden time in retrospect.) Mind you, society has become so that we have to watch every word and deed outside the safe haven of our own homes and families. Another little stress of daily life.
    We have become a nation of wusses and complainers. Young people entering the workforce have left an education system where nobody ‘fails’ and kids get a certificate for anything and everything. Nobody’s feelings are allowed get hurt in this artificial world that doesn’t prepare young adults for real life. It is part of that culture that is driving the creeping, insidious influx of insane political correctness.

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